Three Things I Learned in Retail That Training Doesn’t Teach You

I’ve been working for almost twenty years.  Of those twenty years, less than a year has been with a non retail entity.  Working in retail has a specific culture that transcends the genre of a company.  It doesn’t matter if you work as a customer service rep for a cable company, make window displays for a New York shopping district or make French fries.  Most people follow the unspoken rules and complain about how boring and unfulfilling their jobs are.  It doesn’t have to be that way. Success in retail sometimes means breaking away from convention and standing out as an innovator. 

Rule 1: There is no job too small.

Be willing to jump in and do the work.  When I worked in a retail pharmacy, I walked in one day and saw an unfamiliar face at the pharmacist station.  I was pretty new, so it wasn’t surprising and I just did my job as best as I could. When the other technicians and pharmacists came in, I kept being pulled aside asking how it went.  I thought this was strange because they never do this when anybody else covers shifts.  What makes this unfamiliar lady special? Turned out, she was the district  pharmacy supervisor.  There weren’t enough pharmacists to cover shifts that day and she came in and did the job that was underneath her.  To be honest, she was so cool and friendly that I didn’t know she was higher up. Conversely, I’ve worked with pharmacists who have refused to take out the trash or ring up customers because it wasn’t their job.  I say, if it is legal and ethical, it’s your job.  Now, if you’re in management and your own duties are being sacrificed consistently, there may be a need to delegate more. 

Rule 2: Everybody is replaceable.

Have you ever had those people that thought the store would burn down if they went on vacation? Recently, I was asked “What is going to happen when I’m gone for four days?”  My answer?  “We’ll be just fine.”  It doesn’t matter if you’re the lowest in the pay scale or the CEO.  If you don’t show up, somebody else will.  The store won’t burn down, the world won’t end.  Humility will get you so much further than arrogance. 

Rule 3: Don’t kiss up to upper management.

This one is controversial but hear me out.  Remember that feeling of pure anxiety you got when you heard Mr. Smith will be here Monday?  Everybody ran around like chickens with their heads cut off in an effort to make your workplace look perfect.  Let it go! In my experience, upper management only actually shows up about 20% of the time.  Your workplace should always be beautiful for your customers.  They are your driving force.  Your customers, not your upper management are your employers.  Management is there to help.  If you try and pretend everything is perfect, when it isn’t, how can he help you?  If your DM or RM isn’t aware of a problem, he can’t fix it.  Do you need more hours, better equipment, suggestions to boost morale?  Swallow your pride and ask!  Just make sure to have the facts and figures to back up your request. 

Retail is a hard job.  It is thankless, ruthless and draining.  I’ll admit, some nights I go home exhausted from helping so many other people, and I wonder who is going to help me. But, most of the time, my heart is overflowing because my job really is about connection and helping people live better lives. 

I hope everybody has a wonderful week!


Kristina Bee


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