Today’s post was supposed to be me shouting about how excited I am that I get to travel to the UK in a few days, but alas, it’s not happening. Due to the growing concern around the coronavirus, we’ve decided to postpone our trip until things have settled down, and while I’m pretty angry about it, there’s also a silver lining. Almost all of the places that we pre-booked tours & events for are offering full refunds, with the exception of British Airways, who told me that I was going to have to spend money no matter what, which is just great, thanks for profiting off of a literal pandemic. I don’t really want to talk about it more, so instead, we’re going to talk about something else I’m passionate about–retail!
Oh boy, time for the memes.
My first job ever was a paper route, but once I was old enough to work in the state of MA, I applied for a job at BJs Wholesale Club. I distinctly remember dressing in my nicest sweater and a pair of business pants, despite the fact that I was just applying to be a cashier, and also remember being absolutely terrified to leave my mom’s car to go for the interview. But, I did, and it was a fortuitous interview indeed.
I spent eight years working at BJs. I started out as a cashier on the frontline, and I worked to make myself indispensable so that the supervisors and managers took notice. I started to build a relationship with both, and they started to look at promoting me. I had to be eighteen to be a supervisor, though, and it still amazes me, to this day, that they literally had a count down until I turned eighteen and offered me the promotion the day after my birthday. I was really excited about the possibility of being a supervisor, so I accepted.
By then, I was approaching high school graduation, and while it probably didn’t make sense for them to promote me in the long run, since I would be living far away at college, they did, and I’m forever grateful for that.
Throughout college, they took me back again and again during summer & winter breaks. They gave me shifts, they let me continue to work as a supervisor, and they slowly trained me on other items across the frontline. I learned the member services desk, I learned how the registers worked & how to fix them when they didn’t, I learned the self-checkout machines. I grabbed every bit of knowledge that I could so that, when I was approaching college graduation, I could lay it all out to my general manager and ask for another promotion.
The customer service manager position was opening up, and I wanted it. I had more than proved my worth, and I was going on my seventh year there. Luckily, they saw all of that, and about a month after I returned home from college, I was promoted. I’m not going to go digging for it, but I proudly took a picture of my name next to the CSM title and posted it everywhere. I had been their youngest ever supervisor, and I was now their youngest manager.
And I worked my butt off. I started searching for more knowledge. I carved out time for the food court to learn how it ran. I went down to tire services to understand the basics of their customer service interaction. I wandered around to the different departments to offer help in whatever way I could. I stocked produce, checked dates on meat cases, learned how to pipe in the bakery, took in trucks in receiving, and started learning the murky waters of HR. Even in my own position, I did scheduling, worked with security and returns, taught one of my cashiers cursive, took apart registers and fixed them without IT aid, spent nights in the cash office so I could cover for them if necessary, started convincing the cart guys to cross-train in other departments, and vouched for my teenagers. Everything that I could do, I did.
Here’s the funny thing about retail, though. My second job was at an office, working as an admin. They told me they were taking a chance on me because the only experience I had was retail. I had over five years of management experience, and eight total years of customer service, but an office setting had to “take a chance on me” because retail is somehow not considered real experience.
I’m in a new job now, and I absolutely love it, and do you know what one of the biggest reasons in? When I was interviewing, they focused on my retail experience. Admin work is fairly easy. Almost anyone can do data entry & management. But in-person customer service? That shit is hard.
Because here’s the thing. Retail is literally going to be the most important job you ever have. I firmly believe it’s the basis for all of my work knowledge. Sure, data entry taught me how to do a monotonous job every day and schooled me in federal & state laws concerning tax forms & such, but that’s about it.
Guys, this post would be thousands of words long if I tried to describe everything BJs taught me. If you’ve worked in customer service, you know the basics. I can talk to an irrational person who is literally taking off their clothes in a rage without dropping my smile. I can listen while people swear at me and degrade me, and then ask them how else I can be of assistance. I can clean up literal poop, assist someone who’s fallen, and lift heavy shit, all while in flats and assuring people it’s all no problem. Sure, the customer service voice is a real thing, but it’s also a powerful thing. A smile is so disarming. If you’re screaming at someone, and they smile at you and then deliver their next line in the customer service voice? Whewwwwww buddy, that knocks you back a step.
And even beyond that, working as a manager gave me the tools to create a complex schedule concerning people from the ages of 16-60 that includes mothers or guardians with small kids, high school students with extracurricular activities, college students on break, parents or just adults with a second job, and all sorts of other things added in. It helped me talk to these different types of people in the ways that best benefited them. It also made me a goddamn master at multi-tasking. When a customer is shouting at you because the freezers are broken, that’s a two-headed monster that you need to deal with at the same time.
But the most important thing that retail gave me is opportunity. And I’m not just talking about the fact that they gave me the tools to help train & open an entirely new location, they trusted me to do that based on nothing more than my previous experience with them. An office setting might think they have to “take a chance on you” because of your retail experience, but there is so much opportunity to learn in retail that it’s just so asinine to think that way.
I understand federal laws concerning an I-9 from my office job. But I know how to be human from BJs, and every single skill I use, in both my work and personal life, I learned in retail.
I believe in the title of this post down to my bones. Working in retail will literally prepare you for everything in life. Not only will it give you skills, but it will make you a better human. So the next time someone tells you that your retail experience is not worth their consideration, that’s pretty telling on what kind of customer they are.