It's Work Week on AOA. We'll be talking with people about their jobs and working. Part of that includes anonymous conversations with people about what it's like to do their jobs.
First up: The Retail Clothing Store Manager.
She's worked at six retail stores during the past 16 years. And she has lots of stories -- about the good and bad of working with the public, a flesh-eating zipper, and people who have sex in the dressing room...
What is the best part of working in retail? Why do you enjoy this career?
I love interacting with people and engaging with people. You meet all sorts of different people everyday. And then you get to make them feel good about themselves.
I do like fashion. I do enjoy the concepts behind clothing and the history of clothing as well. But I think for the most part it's interacting with people and making them feel good about themselves.
Clothes do make you feel confident. Think about the biggest moment of your life -- you probably bought something to wear for it. You just didn't throw it on the moment you had to get ready. We prepare.
Clothing makes you feel confident, and that is what I like most about the clothing aspect of retail: that you get to make those people feel confident.
What is the worst part?
Dealing with angry people. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you can't satisfy a customer, whether they are asking for something you just can't do -- you don't have that power or ability -- or nothing you do is going to help them. Sometimes people don't realize that you are a person as well and they use terms and words that are not very friendly.
We've heard rumors about what goes on in dressing rooms. Are they true?
Well, if you listened to Fly 92.3 you'll know that the mens fitting room in [Young Women's Clothing Store] is a place you can hook up. There was a day I was driving to work and listening to them talk about places you can have sex in public. One of them was [Young Women's Clothing Store] -- in the fitting room there. And one of the DJs said, "I don't believe this. This is crazy. Anyone who has done this, call."
Well in the ten blocks I was driving down Western Avenue they had more calls than I could count. I went to work and asked, "Is this a thing? Do people really do this?" And the other managers told me. [Editors note: Retail Clothing Store Manager no longer works at that Young Women's Clothing Store.]
Before that, they didn't tell me that they had found condoms and other things that you use while having sex because they knew I would freak out. I have picked up more used condoms than I would care to count.
Fitting rooms are also sometimes used for children to go number 2. I have walked in and found little gifts for me. People have used fitting rooms to change diapers and left them there. The weirdest thing I have ever walked into was a couple that was actually having sex.
What did you do?
I asked everyone else in the fitting room to leave. I said there was a health situation in one of the fitting rooms and that we had to evacuate the fitting room for a few minutes. People obviously were not happy, but they knew what was going on because they could hear it.
And once things were done I very politely knocked on the door and said, "You guys have to go." It was one of those "I know what you did, don't come back" things.
That's a little shocking.
I was shocked, too. The first time I ever encountered it I was 17. I was the fitting room attendant at a store down in Kingston and I heard these weird noises and I called my manager and I said, "I don't know what's going on over here. And she said, "You realize those two people are totally getting it on." I died.
You work with a lot of young people now, and you're the manager.
I work with a lot of people who are going to school and they are in positions where they do not have the financial means to go to school without working -- and they work really hard. And it's really inspiring to see these young people working with the public. The public can be really good, and the public can be very crazy and these kids are handling it gracefully and they're balancing their work and their school. You know, you just see them and you're like, "Yeah, you're on the right path, you're going to be OK."
The worst part is that a lot of adults don't realize that the kid behind the counter is maybe 17 or 18 years old or maybe college age. And when you curse them out when they can't give you a full refund for something you wore for three years... that's someone's daughter or son. Would you talk to their parents that way? I don't think you would.
There was this guy who was being verbally abusive to this 17-year-old girl. I was her supervisor. This guy had this three- or four-year-old girl next to him, and he was saying all these very derogatory things. I very politely walked over and asked "Would you say those words to your daughter?" And he said, "No." Then I said, "Would you want someone else to say those words to your daughter?" And he said, "No, I'd probably kill them." And I put my arm around the young woman and said, "This is someone's daughter, too."
He was mortified. He just took the refund and left. You can really shame some people .
What does it feel like to have to stand up to a customer like that?
There's an adrenaline rush. Especially when people get violent. There is a little adrenaline rush, like, "I just handled that."
When I worked at a retailer for teenagers there was a guy who wanted to return underwear that had clearly been worn. He was upset that his daughter had purchased the style of underwear, but it had definitely been worn, and the cashier said it couldn't be returned. The man got very aggressive -- and she did the right
thing, she called over a manager.
I'm in the mall trying to get food and my cell phone goes off and I come over and walk into a situation where the customer is saying, "You shake your head again at me I'll shake it for you. I'll shake it right off!"
I go into full blown "don't mess with my staff" mode and say, "Did I just hear you threaten that girl?" And he said, "Maybe I did maybe I didn't." And I said, "Maybe you can get out of the store."
By that time the manager had called mall security. They tried to grab the guy and he violently shrugged them off. And I said, "You get out of here or I'm calling the police."
And for the rest of the day, all day I was like, "Don't mess with me." (laughs)
They're my kids... you don't mess with them.
What other kinds of strange things happen in retail?
My favorite is the day a woman tried to put on a dress that was definitely not her size, and everyone told her "This is not the right size for you, we're really sorry, we can't get it zipped up..." She somehow managed to zipper her skin in the dress -- and she wanted us to come in and cut her out of the dress. And then she wanted me to put bandaids on where she had ripped her skin and it was bleeding everywhere.
Did you charge her for the dress?
I wish I had because it might have been a teaching moment, but I felt so bad for how embarrassed she was I let her go.
When I was 18 there was a fire in the mall. Mall security came in and announced that it was not a false alarm, there actually was a fire in the roof of the store where I was working and we had to leave. And a customer came over and said, "But you're going to ring me out first."
Also when we had the tornadoes a few months ago, I have no power -- you can't see anything -- and a customer comes up to me and says, "So how do you ring me out?"
Meanwhile they're announcing in the mall that there are tornadoes, take cover, and I'm like, "I'm going to hide in a shoe closet ... goodbye."
It's funny how in the midst of disaster some people are more interested in buying a t-shirt.
I feel like with the retail stories you always tell the crazy stories, but most of the day it's just normal people doing normal things... but I just remember the crazy people.
I also have great customers. At my current job my customers are fantastic. One of them, I know every Wednesday she's going to come in, and every Wednesday we go shopping together. And at Christmas she brought presents for everyone... baked goods and calendars -- little day-by-day planners -- for everyone who worked there!
So most of the time you're dealing with good people or people who are just there to shop and have a good time. You do deal with some bad people but for every bad person, you have a woman who is going to give you baklava.
This conversation has been lightly edited.
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