The reality of retail.

Tonight while I was at work, I had a customer literally make me feel so humiliated that I broke down and cried in the back room. Don’t bother with the “you cried?! Grow up!” comments, because we’ve all got our own shit and when someone hits it, we break down. This one happened to be aimed towards my acne, and if you read my last post, you already know why that struck a nerve. Luckily for me, she ruined my night right before closing time, so I didn’t have to bother with any more assholes after that point. I felt exhausted. I felt like giving up. I felt like I was dehumanized. I thought about her and everything she said to me and her words still hit me for hours, days after I left that night. So much so that I had to come home and write about it.

There’s a pretty good chance that I will never, ever forget that woman or the interaction I had with her. And there’s just as good of a chance that she will never remember me, what she did, how she made me feel, or that she had such an effect on me that night. Because to other people, we’re practically worthless. People think we’re not real. That we don’t have real feelings. They don’t think that something they say can have such an effect on us. We’re only salespeople. We’re just showing up to work with a phony smile and high pitched tone, working on minimum wage (not always true at all), not giving a fuck about our jobs or our positions (also not always true at all). That’s what the public eye sees us as. 

And let me tell you how wrong it is.

We have passion. We have feelings. We feel hungry, tired, sad, too. We get impatient. We get frustrated. We go home and have loved ones asking us how our day was. Just. Like. You. 

I wonder all the time, “why didnt I become a waitress, or a cashier, or a business woman at the office?”. 

“Why is this my thing?”

I recently came to the realization that it has to do with a sense of control. I have been, and most likely always will be, a bit of a control freak. I can do well when given direction by those superior to me, and especially with those whom I respect, but in general I like to be in control when I’m interacting with people. It’s not something I like about myself. That is probably similar among most Leos, though we rarely awknowledge the parts of ourselves that we dislike. I try to adjust this part of me all the time. I try to make it less significant and play less of a role on my social style and ego, but it’s just who I am (thanks, astrology).

When selling, I am technically at the upper hand. The shoppers that come into my stores have a mission, a vision or an inspiration, and it’s my job to figure that out and build a sale upon it. I hold the reigns of how much, if any, money they spend. Money that keeps my career in business, money that keeps me employed, and money that eventually trickles down into my pocket.

Servers, for example, do exactly what their title says. They serve to the general public. Their purpose is so make sure the consumers have anything they want, exactly how they want it, when they want it. Their job is to do as they are ordered by the general public. That is just not for me.

As retail employees, we are there to communicate, inform and enlighten our customers and shoppers. Most businesses have their staff do so in a very insensitive, fake, and ingenuine way. These are the ones that don’t really care about you or your concerns, the ones that will say and do anything to make a sale and typically the ones that don’t treat their employees too great. Then there’s a few companies that go about their business by different means, from a customer experience approach. I’m lucky enough to work for two of them. These companies sell by connecting with the customers. We truly believe that giving someone an overall spectacular experience is the best way to communicate our brand and products.

I’ve had a very extroverted personality my entire life, so selling to people is an easy thing for me to do. I’m charismatic, charming, easy to talk to. I got my people-pleasing nature from my dad and my firey passion and persuasiveness from my mom. My first job ever was at a gift shop/boutique in my hometown, within walking distance from my highschool, gym, and the house I grew up in. I had just turned 15 years old two months prior. I worked for a small family business, of which they made me feel part of too. That was the place that I learned how to handle cash and a register, how to stock and do inventory, and lastly, I learned that people are fucking crazy. 

You hear some funny shit when working in retail. You meet every different kind of personality, you hear every story, excuse and complaint in the world and get put into many uncomfortable situations.

My job is by no means an easy job, and it is sure as hell not made for everyone. It can be exhausting to exert 100% of your energy and personality into almost hundreds of different people per day, as well as your staff and coworkers. Not to mention the physical exertion – being on your feet for long hours at a time, more than likely wearing uncomfortable shoes made more for fashion than function. We go home at the end of some days and just simply don’t want to talk anymore or apply any enthusiasm in any way shape or form, because we have just done so non-stop for eight hours. It takes a special person to work in retail, not only for the reasons I just mentioned, but for the strength that it really takes. You have to act like a raincoat and let everything that would normally bother you, roll right off your back and let it go. 

“Well then Laura, why do you still do it?”

The rewards of my job are far greater than the lows, no matter how low they may be. I have had people (strangers-might I add) make my day go from grey skies to rainbows just within one interaction. I have met life long friends among my coworkers and even a few regular customers that I’ve grown to know so well. I have had numorous reviews on our company page mentioning my name and how happy I made people feel and how delighted they were with their experience in our store. All thanks to me. That is why I do it.

It goes without saying that I’m not going to spend the rest of my life on the retail floor. In being exposed to the business and marketing of retail I’ve learned what I really love and what I really don’t love. That knowledge is so powerful. Sometimes, intimidating. I will continue to apply all that I’ve learned in my career path, whichever road I go, for the rest of my life. I know I love business. I love money. I am fascinted by advertising and marketing and the right ways to do it and the not-so-right ways to do it. I would never know any of that without my retail experiences. While I’m not taking the typical road for a young person trying to make a living, I’m so happy with what I do and I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow and maybe even change a life or two.