16 August 2009

Books: Retail Hell: Confessions of a Tortured Sales Associate by Freeman Hall

This book is for anyone who works in retail. And its for anyone who shops and wonders why most retail employees hate you. Author Freeman Hall details the life of a retail slave, one who has to put up with an endless parade of people who live by the mantra that the customer is always right (a fallacy created by the retail stores themselves. I’m with Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David when he says most customers are wrong. And are probably assholes. I’ve always found that living by that slogan day in and day out is a miserable way to run a company. It seems unfair that abusive people will and should get better treatment than nice ones).

Anywhoo, Hall’s hilarious rant on customers, customer service and working for The Big Fancy - a probable combination of Macy’s and Nordstroms where he used to work - hits many spots. As an aspiring screenwriter, Hall’s dose of customer insanity will remind anyone of David Sedaris and ultra hyper-reality in which he lives.

For some, they’ll say his stories are absurd, that the situations in his book could not happen. Hell, after 12 years of working with Borders (and add on 22 years in the book business and 29 years in retail overall), I can tell you stories about catching three men having sex in the men's bathroom, or the ones shooting up in the stalls; of hearing a story in my old store about a teenage boy completely naked -for whatever reason - in our bathroom. Then there's the story of me cleaning up a trail of wet, sloppy poop from the front of the store to the back. Yes, what we do for the unforgiving love of our customers.

So, what stories he tells are far from his imagination.

Interspersed, he tells his tale of coming to LA to become a screenwriter, and how working for The Big Fancy is crushing that dream. All of us know that our off days are truly not ours and even though we plan to grand things when we get those days off, we usually fail to do it, because exhaustion usually gets the best of us.

And while other jobs -ones outside the service industry - can be soul crunching, for some reason retail is worse. It’s all about numbers, quotas and reaching a higher quarter than the previous (even though, theoretically, along with the law of averages, is something not possible.

Anyone can quote leadership gurus like John Maxwell and Peter Drucker, but the reality of retail -and of Freeman Hall’s book - is that while the customer is always right is a good idea, in reality it’s a poor excuse to let people screw you up and down the month.

And who gets blamed for poor sales? Not the slumping economy, surely. Nope. It’s the guy, the girl behind the counter who gets blamed. I mean, how many times do we have tohear if we just sold $5.00 more bucks worth of merchandise, we would’ve made plan?

1 comment:

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