Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: The Transfer

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For most people who work in retail, they will be stuck, trapped, and imprisoned, in one location and one location only, and that is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.

You will be familiar with the yard, the four walls that surround you, that weird spot on the floor that never seems to get clean no matter how many times that you scrub it, as well as everything else that grows on you as you come to work each day. Then there are those who have the fortune/misfortune to be transferred to a new location.

The first 8 months that I spent with my current employer, I spent in one location. It became a second home to me, seeing that I spent more time there than I did in my actual home. I got used to all the little things that made that store special and then one day I got called into the office. I was told that I was being considered for a promotion and that I would be sent on a series of interviews which might lead to a possible promotion (the story of the promotion will be of course a whole separate entry) And so I made my way to another store, sat in an office, answered some questions and then went home. A phone call led me to another interview, with more questions and more answers, and a trip home again.

Finally, a third phone call told me that I would be transferred to a new location that Monday for management training. I had gained an early parole from the life sentence that I thought I had been given and was looking forward to, and was being sent to a store 30 minutes away and one completely different than mine.

On your last day, you walk around and look at the familiar faces and the even more familiar stains on the floor, you make peace with the ghost who lingers in the stock room, the one that gets blamed for all the odd noises and the lights flickering on and off throughout the day. You get rid of the mail that sat in your mailbox that you never bothered to read, and take one last look around the store before you head out. Sounds easy enough.

Chris Devers via Flickr

What you just did was the easy part; the hard part comes the very first moment you step foot into your new store. First thing you do is walk to the office door and enter the wrong code, because you just spent 8 months mindlessly putting the same 4 or 5 digits into the keypad so many times that it became second nature. So you get the new code and then get into the lobby of the inner sanctum, the place which only employees get to see, the place where the holy grail is kept, or maybe just the stacks of outdated sales papers and unused shelves.

You stand there looking out of place, wondering what it is exactly that you have gotten yourself into with this move. Someone finally introduces themselves to you and takes you into the office, where you receive your secret code list and numbers as well as the keys that once dangled from someone else’s pocket and now will dangle from yours until which time it is decided that you will surrender them (for me, it was 18 days before I was transferred to another store, which meant that I was at 3 stores in one month, but that is another story). You are given a quick tour around the store. This is our stock room, which looks like any other stockroom with overstocked shelves and garbage that need to be emptied, not to mention the compactor and bailer which you will now have to learn or relearn depending on the situation at your previous location.

You will be paraded in front of the staff, with all eyes on you, looking and wondering and betting just how long you will be their boss/supervisor before you are pushed out the door and someone else takes your place. They have been through this before and will be through it again and again and again, such is the nature of things in retail.

You walk around your kingdom, taking it all in and thinking to yourself, I’ve got this, even though deep down you know you don’t. You miss that cashier who couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the phone, that spot on the floor that would remain long after the store was demolished and they put up a parking lot, that ghost you knew on a first name basis and you referred to as ‘Chuck’, on whom you could blame anything and get away with it.

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But you make the best of it, get used to numbers and codes and customer quirks and odd co-workers and think to yourself, this could work, I could make this work. And then one day that phone rings, you are called into the office, and hear that word again, you have been transferred, and it begins anew. (For me, that would be my 3rd location in one month. Once I got to store number three, I thought I would be there for a while, but less than 2 months later, on the road I was again. This time I would stay 4 months before getting transferred to a new location where I would be 5 months.)

One day I got called to the office and was told that my friend wanted me. Friend in retail? I was not familiar with that word, but was curious. Come to find out, that one of the women who worked at my first location had finally gotten her own store and wanted me to work with her, so off I went, back to the store that had been my third location, so at least there would be familiar sights and sounds and smells. I was there 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days before the call came and I was off again; this time, for 15 months before I was out the door once more. This time I would not only leave the store behind, but also the title, because my blood pressure could no longer handle being a manager. So on to my new location to start all over again, new faces, new smells, new stains that will never get clean, and it is here that I have been 8 years this month and it is here that I will stay, with no more transfers on the horizon.

Just when you thought that your time in retail couldn’t get worse or weirder, you get transferred and see just how lucky or unlucky you actually were.

Cover image courtesy of Ben Schumin via Flickr

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