anger control is a must. at my job i have access to many innocent-looking objects which could be used to inflict serious pain upon annoying customers. when in a trying situation try to think of an activity which brings you joy and imagine yourself doing it. i like to imagine myself using innocent-looking objects to inflict serious pain upon annoying customers. this is probably not an ideal suggestion, but it works for me.

learn to smile. you don't have to mean it. i doubt i have ever been so overjoyed at work that i just had to express my feelings by smiling. the only time i came close to this was when my boss told me i could clock out 5 minutes early. even then i just sort of smirked.

become an expert at astral projection. this may sound like hard work at first, but in fact, you'll soon be doing it without even realizing it. i have many times thought myself to actually be in bed asleep only to find i have fallen comatose-like upon a pile of adult diapers.

when someone buys condoms, embarrass them by saying "have a good night" then quickly say, "oops...errrrr...i mean...you know...not....uh...heh."

repeat this phrase after me: thank you and have a great day/night. eventually this will become your most commonly used utterance.

time goes by faster when you mess with the customers' heads. sometimes a customer will ask you how your day is going. instead of replying with the obligatory "fine, thanks, and how is yours?" launch into a 3-hour dictation on the oppressive nature of capatlistic ventures such as the one you are currently employed at and how they are contributing to the degradation of society. segway into your unhappy childhood and bleak future and end it all up with a desperate plea for help.

when in doubt, smile and nod.

try not to listen to muzak. it just makes things worse.

spend as long as you possibly can straightening the store, and then try to beat your record the next day. it helps to purposefully knock whole shelves of merchandise onto the floor.

don't show the others how smart you are. just like in a pack of wild animals, if a group thinks one member has the potential to rule them, or in this case, improve their current working condition and encourage them to think, they will attack the individual. this might lead to possible termination of employment and subsequent rehiring after they realized that you are the only person who has any clue as to what you are doing.
I thought it would be different than most retail. I've worked in a department store for about a year when I was in college, one of those small chains that are now extinct. I liked it there. I wore a smock and a name tag and was expected to help people only when they asked for it.

It was a quilt store on Decatur, a tiny shop selling something I didn't think anyone in New Orleans would need: warm, durable, handmade blankets. The Help Wanted sign seemed like it had been in the window forever, and it was weeks after I applied, weeks after I was thinking they'd call back, that they called me; I'd set my sights on other things by then. It was a cute store, and the elderly black ladies there seemed nice enough, so I gave it a shot. My first day was yesterday.

I once tried working at another store. It was a kite and toy store in the Riverwalk, a mall on the Mississippi River. It was very small, yet we had at least two people working at any given moment. With the quilt store we had six. The whole store was about the size of my apartment and un-air-conditioned. They were telling me all the neat stuff that I found pretty interesting. One of the owner's sons had come up with a design that was a mix of two designs, Card Tricks and Log Cabin, called Milky Way. The owner also had acquired a patent on another design, called the Crazy String. I pick things up pretty quickly, and all the women in their roomy jumpers and bright pants and shirt ensembles were cute and helpful. I really thought I could do it: I could sell quilts and material for quilts. Then the owner came in for the afternoon shift.

The ladies had warned me about the floor. It was tile over concrete. I had already called Carson to bring me over some better suited shoes. There are no stools in the store and we're forbidden to sit down. There is a bench littered with stuffed animals made from old quilts beyond repair and throw pillows, and it taunted me during the entire shift.

Mr. Garrett said that we needed to greet every customer when they crossed the threshold, and mine were muted, lacking air and sound and uttered with a downward glance and folded arms. I felt so useless as other employees followed their customers around like tour guides trying to corral their paying visitors. I was to tell people that came anywhere near the large hanging quilt with the Crazy String design was made by the owner, who was a member of four generations of quilters. I did that, but not all the time. Marcy, a woman who had only started a week ago, would nudge me toward new customers with a "go get em" smile, which made me want to slug her. Then the Dixie band started playing outside.

Since we're not far from Jackson Square and are on a strip of stores a block from Cafe Du Monde, the Dixie band plays the strip on the weekends, stirring up droves of little grandmas sipping beer from cans in brown paper bags into a little sidewalk jig. They were only one door down, so few people wanted to come in, leaving 5 women and 1 man to alternate lunch breaks. Since I had spent my hour walking home and back to change into better clothes and munched on a Hubrig's apple pie and a YooHoo, time was crawling on its back wanting its belly rubbed for me by then. My lower back was pinging in twitches of pain, and with every glance from Mr. Garrett, I felt like a failure. I lasted until about 4 before I had what he calls "a visit."

I don't think I can do this.

(smile) It's your first day. You even got a commission. You just need to give some more time.

No, you see. I don't belong on a sales floor. I can't befriend people. I've tried this before and I'm just not cut out for it. I belong behind desk in front of a computer. That's what I'm good at.

You don't want to finish out the day, even?

My back is killing me. I'm just not able to stand up for hours on end. I'm sorry.

He asked me earlier in the day if I had any computer knowledge, did I know QuickBooks, that sort of thing. Said he might need help with his website for the store, where people can special order things or send in their old quilts to be repaired. He said he would pay me for the day on Tuesday and may call me to help with the books for the store.

I walked home in the heat and rush of the typical Saturday in the Quarter foot traffic, feeling like I'd failed but not at something I considered that big a deal. I simply cannot force myself to badger people to buy things under the false pretenses that I'm doing them a favor by being so pushy and helpful, so convincing. I mean, these quilts are several thousands of dollars and require months of work to make. If someone wants one, I didn't think my convincing was in order, because since it is folk art, folk art lovers would know what they wanted. Usually they do. I'm just not a salesperson. I don't want to survive in retail. I want to avoid it at all costs.

A great deal of retail is what you make it--looking at the bright side, and so on; it's no secret that if you think something will be (or is) awful, it will likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, not all retail jobs were created equal, and it greatly helps survival prospects if you can find one of the better ones.


Caevat emptor: this is based upon my own experience on one very good job that I have had for the majority of my time in high school, and therefore any comparisons to other jobs are not my own experience, but based upon anecdotes from various sources. For reference, it's a small, tourist-oriented operation.


There are three major factors that will affect the quality of your job, independent of your actual duties. (If you're in a small location, you may expect to do a fair amount of everything, from the most awful janitorial work to sales.) These are the customers, co-workers, and your boss. Uncontrolable? Perhaps. But there are ways of dealing with them and picking.

Customers are the bane of retail. Many of them are curt, even rude, and the vast majority really couldn't care whether you exist or not. Which is fine, if they're leaving you alone, then at least they're not being extremely upsetting, and have a chance of buying something, though you won't be able to daydream with complete abandon. Every so often, of course, there will be a fantastically and utterly rude person, who feels that you owe them something, or that your lack of their shoe size is a personal insult. There is only one way to deal with these people: be as pleasant and efficient as possible, for this will both get them out of the store faster and, with any luck, put them off. The second best sort of customer is the one who comes in, picks out something expensive, and pays for it, all within 5 minutes--a very rare breed. The very best sort of customer is not quite so rare, which is indeed a blessing. They are patient, plesant, and occasionally take an interest in what you're doing. If you should end up helping such a person, then by all means take advantage of the situation. Ask them where they're from, what they're doing in town and all that--that is, make small talk, if you can, for as long as possible. (I grant that this becomes easier as the store becomes smaller and caters more toward less practical items.) If they're not native english (or whatever the local language is) speakers, and you happen to be even moderately competent in their native tounge, it's not amiss to try and use it--it will likely brighten their day, serve for good practice, and, depending on skill levels, aid in communication. This will give interest to your day, help pass time, and I find (to paraphrase Andy Rooney, I think) that making someone else's day is usually enough to make mine.

Co-workers are the second most important factor--customers come and go, but you're stuck with your coworkers for 8 hours at a time. To deal with them, the best way I have yet found is to try and see all the good that someone has, and try to take an interest them. Likely as not, they'll have interesting stories, or something to say. Even if they're not the brightest or most well-spoken, they probably have something that's worth listening to, on slow days when no-one comes in. Mind, almost anything's welcome relief when the monotony becomes palpable. Of course, one may always have a truly awful, shallow, complaining coworker, who, despite all efforts, really doesn't have anything worthwhile to say--I can only say that this is when monotonous tasks become a godsend. The best case scenario is, naturally, that all the employees should be intelegent and well-read; this is most likely the case when the major source of employees are high-school and college students, since it is not as likely, though not unheard of, for long-term retail workers.

A good relationship with your boss (especially if that boss is the owner, or a reasonably powerful manager)can make or break a job. They are the ones who will O.K. your requests for time off and similar, and so it is natural to want a good report. However, if the boss is someone you can talk to, and debate with, and who takes an interest, then the job becomes vastly better, simply because it takes away some of the pressure, among other things. I often found that, with my boss, most, if not all, of the employees developed a strong loyalty to Mr. Baker, simply because he was understanding and took the time to listen.

The question now becomes one of finding such a job, if the prospects of dealing with people have been overcome by the need for money. Go small and personal if you can, but not excessively so; it's nice to have other employees to talk to. If you're in high school or college, ask graduating seniors, older neighbors, etc where they would recomend working, since their departure should free up whatever spot they're occupying, and with any luck they'll have valuable experience you can use. Also, a store that has been around a long time will likely have developed a reputation in the community, especially in small communities. Pay attention to such things. And remember: book stores count as retail, too.

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