The summer between my second and third years of university was 2003 and Toronto was the ‘victim’ of a SARS scare.
This was possibly my first experience of seeing economic theory in reality. All of a sudden, Toronto was showing up all over the international press and tourists were afraid to visit.
For a student looking for a summer job, this was a bit of a nightmare.
After a few weeks of ‘pounding the pavement’ (I wish JobLoft was around back then), I ended up with a full-time retail job in the concourse below one of Toronto’s tallest buildings.
In short: I totally, absolutely, completely hated it. I hated it so much that in my third year, I wrote an essay for one of my university courses (Organizational Behaviour!) on why it was so bad, and how, with better management, it could have been much better.
The company I worked for is one of the biggest retail clothing giants in the world, and while I used to enjoy wearing their clothes, it took several years before I felt happy re-entering one of their stores.
Here are a few of the reasons I didn’t like working in retail:
Extreme Corporate Culture
Every morning, we got together and had the same meeting that every other group of sales associates was having at every other store across the country and even across the world. We listened to the same, head-office-approved music and folded our clothes in the same head-office-approved manner.
Everything Was Repetitive
The same three hour tape played, on a loop, for a whole month.
I’m not a genius, but I think I could have figured out how to work the cash register. Alas, working with cash was only for SENIOR sales associates. How can they expect people to excel if there are silly boundaries between even the most simple ‘levels’ of responsibility?
It Was Boring
In any given shift, I was required to spend part of my time at the front of the store being the ‘hello’ person. I didn’t like it.
From the title, you may have guessed that this job didn’t last long. At the start of my 4th week, I kindly informed my manager that I didn’t think it was working out.
I have to say, to be fair, that while retail didn’t work for me, I have lots of friends who absolutely loved it. Here are the major pluses and benefits:
Great Sales Training
You can learn a lot about sales, how to talk to people, the difference between selling something you love and selling it just because you want commission, etc. One of my friends in particular was consistently ranked a top-seller at his store and absolutely loved it. Interestingly enough, there wasn’t even a commission aspect- he just plain enjoyed it and the recognition that came with it.
Fun Co-workers and Customers
Retail stores are often full of other people your age and with similar tastes. It’s a great way to make friends and integrate your great social skills into the workplace.
This is the fun part. When you work in retail, you can expect to get 30-50% off of the clothes and merchandise in the store.
So there you go. Even though it wasn’t right for me, its right for a lot of other people, and with time the career progression can be fantastic: One of my friends went from being a sales associate at a high-end retail clothing store in Minnesota, to running the entire British retail organization!