Retail sucks. It does at the best of times. I didn’t need to tell you that as we’ve all worked in retail at one time or another. The endless repetition. The daily frustrations of the till roll. The shop that looks like it had been invaded by half the attendees of Glastonbury Festival at the end of every single day.
However not all of us have worked though in retail when the retailer that you are working for falls into administration. The shop that I worked for did in 2008. My part-time job was at well-known high street tea merchants and china shop and it fell into administration just before Christmas. It was unexpected. Half the shops closed in the first few days. We were later bought out of administration and the store continues to trade (and I hope, prosper to this day), but those few days of half price stock and looming closures were without doubt, some of the worst days of my entire life.
I’m not joking. It wasn’t because I wanted to work the rest of my career in retail (I didn’t). It was because of the customers and management. They absolutely made everything about my life, and all of my colleague’s life, a living hell.
On the first few days after we went into administration customers would come in and start buying anything that they can get their hands on. One woman came in on the first day, squeezed her hand behind all the stock of Earl Grey on the shelf and then pulled all her hand forward, pushing roughly 50-60 packets of teabags into her basket at once. Another customer nearly bought all of our plates. ALL OF THEM. It meant, being a reasonably small shop, that within three to four days we had sold nearly two thirds out of our entire stock. As we had no deliveries on the days before administration and the days after, it eventually left our shop looking like the world’s worst bring and buy sale.
Customers didn’t care about this. Some customers wanted an exact item they had set their eyes on for weeks beforehand (but had never got round to buying), now at half the regular price. If they didn’t, they were angry and you were guaranteed to hear either one of these two rants:
“No wonder you have gone into administration.”
“What a great load of help you were. I’m glad that you’ve lost your job.”
Seriously. The first rant implying that it was your precise job that caused the entire company to fall under, disregarding anything to do with management, consumer habits, the recession or heck whether stock was available. The second far far worse. That we didn’t deserve our jobs. That we deserved to be unemployed. The fact that they were glad that we had complete uncertainty about our future.
And it wasn’t a throwaway remark either. We would hear this sometimes, two or three times a day from different customers, sometimes even four or five. One colleague went into the stock cupboard to cry for twenty minutes after someone yelled at her about there being no china available in the style she was expecting. Another customer went on at me for so long about how we didn’t deserve our jobs because of this and that, that for the first time in my life I felt like punching somebody in the face.
I really did. I mean, have you ever seen me? I’m practically a twig with the arms of some pipe cleaners attached.
When do you close?
The second painful element of working in a shop during administration, apart from the fact that everyone hates you and that you aren’t selling anything, is the fact that you are asked when you are closing for good nearly thirty, forty times a day.
Okay, the question doesn’t sound as threatening as let’s say, demanding why you haven’t got any teacosys in sale and that I hope your shop goes to hell, but it kicked our moral even lower. It was like you had to confirm the countdown till THE END of it all – a bit like someone asking you during your last week of University or your travels abroad about when exactly does it all end and you move back home to your parents in Basingstoke.
The other thing was that when we first went into administration we weren’t told when approximately we were due to close, so we had nothing to say to customers. It could have been that day. It could have been tomorrow. Our boss didn’t know, neither did his.
And then there was management. OH, MANAGEMENT. We only heard from them in incredibly patriotic communist style press releases that said that they were hoping for “A BETTER TOMORROW” and that deals were ongoing, without any smidge of detail. Detail such as whether we were all going to be paid next week, and whether our jobs mattered to them… or anything.
Then the other branch at the other end of the town closed. It was a small shop, only selling a few specialist items, but we were then informed by management that the shop had closed and that we would have to empty and transfer all of the stock from the shop to ours… by hand. Boxes upon boxes of unopened items, dragged across the city centre one at a time for hours on end… followed by a weekend bashing out all of its fixtures and fittings before transferring all of those as well.
A lot will be written about HMV today and in the next few days about what a loss the chain will be for the customers and for the music industry, but there won’t be anywhere near as much written about the employees who work for them.
So spare a thought for the staff of HMV. They probably weren’t even told that they were possibly going to lose their job until the media told them. Don’t go in there aiming to blag a bargain by harassing the people who work there. In fact, stay out of their way.
Their lives are shit at the moment. They don’t want to see you either.