Category Archives: Retail

Testing out the Creaky Writing Fingers Again

Hello? Hello? Anybody there?

I guess you can’t see all the blog posts that are in my mind, because they never got written down.

Remember? I started working at the grocery store in June. Two times I crept home from the store and wrote about my experience. Most other days, I collapsed on the couch and pondered the state of my aching knees, hips, feet, shoulders, arms, and hands. Even with that, it took me four months to quit the job, in tears, and begin to heal.

At first, I dreamed about the store. I missed it and had to clothespin my lips closed when I went in to shop lest I blurt out my desire to come back to the familiar pain.

A month of recovery later, my knees could bend without constant pain; my hips went back to their normally schedule programming; and the knot in my back had loosened.

Two months of recovery later, I can walk in the store, buy my pomegranates and cereal and grass-fed beef, and have but a distant memory of stuffing product on shelves, cleaning up after customers (such messy people), and rushing, rushing, rushing to get the unending and unreasonable to-do list a little smaller.

I do miss T., one of the store co-managers, and L., my remarkable boss, and N., a co-worker.

In the quiet of my home, the memory of the non-stop sensory stimulation continues to become more distant. No longer does the advertisement for Forever Stamps echo in my head. The ache in my hands from baling the cardboard has faded. Straightening hundreds of bottles of shampoo and body wash no longer takes up any space in my life.

Retail is kind of brutal, when all is said and done. Local store personnel, dedicated and committed, are constantly dealing with choices made by distant corporate types. Distant corporate types who occasionally come by, unannounced, and see that their minions are doing it all right. The pay is low, the hours are long, the work is hard, and the workers are faithful. Not all of them, of course, but the core group at my store were committed to providing the customer with a great shopping experience. And they did, as great as it can be when the shelves are mostly full of highly processed products, all crying out for attention — Buy me! Extra roll enclosed! See my colorful packaging! New! For a limited time! 

Plenty of other women my age, in my season of life, don’t have the luxury of deciding the job is too physically demanding. If nothing else, that brief foray into working in the retail grocery business opened my eyes to what many people have to do to earn minimum wage.

Testing. Testing. Check 1. 2. 

two weeks later

I’m back!

Since I last wrote, I’ve been focusing on adjusting to the many steps, constant kneeling and standing, lifting, and the unforgiving nature of concrete floors. Poor little feet! Poor back! Poor wrists! But, I think I am finally getting acclimated to the physical demands of my job.

From the first few days, when I was planning to quit every fifteen minutes, I have gotten to the place where I genuinely like this job. It truly is physically challenging, but there are so many little satisfactions with the job.

I love helping the people in the store. From the ones who have the “Which aisle is it in” look on their faces, to the elderly who so appreciate genuine interest and kindness, to people who have fewer financial resources, to the apparently grumpy people who smile when I greet them, each interaction makes me feel so thankful for the opportunity to give something to someone else.

Everyone I work with in my department is younger than I, but several of them have MUCH more experience than I do in this industry and I have much to learn. At the same time, my natural leadership abilities and my customer service orientation offer something to my co-workers, and of course, my customers.

Does this sound like a cover letter for a resume? Ooops!

To top it all off, the realizations just keep coming. Since I stock OTC, I have learned that there is a pill for everything. No, make that FIVE pills for everything. And for some things, there are literally hundreds of choices.

I feel like I live my life in a perpetual state of agog-ness, wherein I discover things that probably most people already know. For instance, Kepler had a couple bouts of diarrhea this winter. I did my preferred medical treatment: have him drink more water, and wait. Oh, and I would worry. He missed quite a bit of school. Color me agog when I see several items on the grocery shelf that deal with the symptoms of diarrhea! See? You already knew that existed, didn’t you. Not me.

In the picture of the tea, notice the box on top is oriented horizontally, and most of the rest are oriented vertically. When I first started stocking shelves, I was all indignant that some of the packages came in with horizontal packaging and sometimes the SAME THING came in with vertical packaging. I attributed this to the evils of marketing, as a secret ploy to get people to BUY MORE! IT’S NEW! It only took me, oh, FOUR WEEKS to realize that most items have horizontal on ONE side and vertical on the OTHER side, so that you can have the product name oriented correctly no matter how you stock your shelves. Doh!

As with the package orientation, I learn much of my job on my own. The instruction is sparse, and if I don’t have my “listening ears” on, sometimes I miss it! The area I am most uneducated in is the merchandising aspect, and I look forward to learning about that.

All in all, I feel like I am a valued member of a team that is serving my community well. And that’s very satisfying to experience in a job.

I may have spoken too soon

“If you will recall,” the reason I decided to look for a job outside our home is because I am just a LITTLE too good at solitude, and I thought this particular job would meet several needs:

1. Sounded like fun. As my friend called it, “the zen of shelf stocking.”

2. Money could change hands. Me doing work in exchange for a few pennies every so often.

3. Gives me a reason to go somewhere and see people. Talk to them. Listen to them. Ask questions. Be seen by people outside my home, so they know I still exist.

Then came the bandaids, which are something I don’t want to have to pay a lot of attention to, because there’s NOT ENOUGH SAND.

But, please refer back to #3.

See, I realized a couple of things. At home, there are also mundane things that I do. Pick up the toys. A hundred times. Handle the extra packets that come with takeout food. (There’s an important job!) Figure out if we need more tissues. Flatten and roll the plastic grocery bags. You know what? Those are mundane things, but I do them because they need to be done. And, not that I need to get paid for everything, but I don’t get paid for any of those things. That’s ok.

I didn’t take this job because of the money. And everything I said the other day was true! If I had to deal with those bandaids all day long, I would definitely run screaming the other way. But, that’s not all I do. While I am doing these mundane tasks, some of which are quite zen-like, I am also being in relationship with the people I work with and for, the customers who shop at our store, and my co-workers. None of those people and I will have a relationship if I am at home.

Many of these relationships may be just a small step more personal than online relationships I have with people, but they are a small step more personal. I need people. People need me. So, I’m staying for now. And I’ll bring my kindness and joy to my work and to the people I work with, and I will be the recipient of the grace and poetry that is people in all shapes and sizes.

My boss was happy when I called and asked her to tear up my resignation letter. And so was I.

What do you find satisfying in your work?

On my Further Adventures in Retail

I gave my notice yesterday.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to give my NOT ENOUGH SAND speech, which I think is a good thing, considering how the folks who are working there are also spending their sand, and might not have taken too kindly to my pithy phrase.

As it further turned out, I realized that all the nifty box opening and box breaking down and whatnot has been making my poor little hands hurt — inside and out. Inside, I think I have some arthritis lurking in there, and some tendon issues as well. Outside, the cardboard keeps on biting me, giving me paper cuts (cardboard cuts?), ripping my fingernails below the quick (and THAT is jolly good fun, let me tell you), and generally just drying out my skin, and leaving me filthy to boot. The filth washes off, but the pain from the tendons and joints doesn’t go away so easily. So, I had the perfect reason to give for why this job is not a good fit for me.

I DO remember there are many people in the world who would love to have this job, who would be glad to be in such a well-lit, well-stocked place, and who would find my pay to be simply fabulous. May they find their way to my store and apply for the job!

Yesterday, on my second-to-last day, I had to face down the bandaids again. They were ornery as ever.

Yesterday, on my second-to-last day, I had a big aha moment. My passion is about simplifying life. Retail is most definitively, definitely, confoundedly NOT about simplifying life. Advertisers want us to buy MORE, MORE, MORE! Merchandisers set things just so in order to capitalize on our impulse buying, our attention span, our desires for gratification. Those are all honest jobs; I do not fault the people who do these jobs.

Even in such a short time, I got a very interesting glimpse into a job and a business that I was only familiar with from the outside. I am grateful for the opportunity to have tried this. And I am keen to discover what is going to come next.

Not Enough Sand

http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/

Did you ever play store when you were a kid? We did. We would climb up onto the stovetop and pull canned goods, oatmeal, teabags, cereal, and more out of that upper cabinet. Then we would go get some paper bags out of the closet, and carry it all into the living room to set up our store. There were three of us kids so we had a bagger, a cashier, and a customer. Sometimes we would strain the cashier’s capabilities and have TWO customers in line. Ah, it made for hours of fun.

I remember how fun it was to set up the store. When I started mulling over the possibility of getting a job in retail, my local grocery clerk actually asked me out of the blue if I would like a job, so I pursued it. There are some fun things about stocking shelves. Making everything look nice, filling in empty spots. The best part is being able to direct a customer to the product they are seeking.

And then the band aids happened.

Let’s just look at Johnson&Johnson, a popular brand of bandaid. The line that my local store carries includes comfort-flex plastic (60 count), medium comfort-flex adhesive pads (10 count), large comfort-flex adhesive pads (10 count), comfort-flex sheer (40 count), comfort-flex sheer assorted (40 count), comfort-flex sheer assorted (60 count), comfort-flex sheer assorted (80 count), comfort-flex extra large (10count), comfort-flex clear (30 count). And so on to the tune of over 40 varieties of type, size, and use.

Ah, but we would be remiss if we only offered 40 types of one company’s product. So we also offer another 40 or so similar products of the generic house brand.

Even if you skipped those last two paragraphs, that means EIGHTY types and varieties of band aids. And band aids don’t come in those sturdy metal canisters anymore. No, indeed. They come in paper boxes.

Paper bandaid boxes fall over at the whisper of a touch. So, the poor sod who gets the job of restocking the bandaid shelves — it’s like playing that children’s game “Operation” where the buzzer sounds if you touch the sides of the “incision.” But in this case, the boxes fall over, mix themselves up, turn their backs on me, slide, fall off the shelf, stand on their head, and turn on an angle. Anything but stay where they are PUT.

Of course people need band aids. And no doubt the magic Market Research has shown that people need band aids to come in all one size, and assorted, and waterproof, and extra large, and medium, and sheer, and clear, and flexible, and sport, and pre-treated with antibiotic ointment, and shaped for fingers, and shaped for toes, and extra-sticky, and less sticky, and the all-important travel pack.

But I don’t need to be the one who messes with the incredibly tedious job of straightening and

restocking the bandaid shelves. I felt the sand of my life descending into the bottom of the hourglass as I conscientiously did this job. NOT enough sand in the top to make this job worth me doing.

Not only band-aids, but allergy medicine, shaving cream, lotions, shampoos, vitamins, diapers, chocolate bars, hairspray, feminine products, toothpaste. They all come in MULTIPLE multiple sizes.

Not enough sand, my friends, NOT ENOUGH SAND.