I know retail is a crappy job. The hours are long, you?re on your feet, the pay is minimal, the customers can be right idiots.
My father always reckoned I could sell ice to the Eskimos. This was high praise indeed coming from a man who made selling his business. He was a travelling salesman of sorts. He never spruiked things such as vacuum cleaners or life insurance, but traversed the roads of country NSW selling the likes of cigarettes and paper napkins.
My retail career began thanks to my father's profession. I would occasionally steal a carton of cigarettes from his stock in the spare bedroom and sell each smoke for a dollar a piece. By today's standards I wouldn't be making much profit but back in 1980 I made a handy amount.
Once I was old enough, I got a job as a checkout chick at the local Woolworths supermarket. There was something of a rivalry between those of us who worked at Woolies and the dead beats who had a job at Coles. I shop at Woolies to this day.
We're talking of the days when you actually had to enter the price of each item manually into the cash register and, if you were lucky, had someone standing at the end of the counter to pack the brown paper bags for you. If you were really lucky it was the spunky new boy from the other high school. We're talking back in the days when checkout chicks were chicks and the packers were boys.
But standing behind the till didn't really give me a chance to exercise my selling skills and I soon moved on to working at the local Grace Bros store with late-night shopping and Saturday morning shifts. I liked this much more. Being able to convince people they really did need a bath mat to go with those towels they had already bought is a skill. So is convincing them to pay just a little more for this toaster, rather than that one. It's not so much about the con, though, it's about getting people to think about what they really need. That's an art.
And it's called service. Remember that? Remember when you could go into an actual shop and talk to an actual person who knew something about what they were selling and could provide you with enough information to make an informed choice?
I remember going to buy the children's school shoes one year and I stood in the shoe department for what seemed like hours until two boys, who probably still needed to buy school shoes themselves, finally noticed me and were no help at all.
Another time I went to buy myself shoes and miraculously found a shoe on display that fitted perfectly. When I went to pay for it, I said I'd like to take these shoes please and the girl actually asked me if I wanted the other one. I burst out laughing and said: ''No, it's fine, I'll just hop out of here on this one.'' She thought I was serious.
I know retail is a crappy job. The hours are long, you're on your feet, the pay is minimal, the customers can be right idiots. I've been there. But that's your job. To sell people stuff. To give service.
I know I'm not alone when I say that, if I go to a store and someone actually pays me attention and serves me well, I will go back to that store.
That was one thing I prided myself on. Serving people well. It might not actually mean selling them anything. As much as I liked the sell, the most satisfying times were when I helped people realise that they didn't really need that sausage machine today. But when they did, they would come back to see me.
One particular time, this worked both ways. I was working in the intimate apparel section of David Jones in the old Canberra Centre while I was at university. I loved this department. It made me feel all Mrs Slocombe. Not that my pussy ever factored into any discussion.
An elderly gentleman came in one night looking for some underwear for his wife. It was their anniversary and he wanted to get her something nice. He said she only ever wore granny knickers, well, those weren't his words, but he steered towards the beige cotton. What do you think she would say if you bought her something a little, shall we say, more daring, I suggested. Oh, my dear, the gentleman said, my wife's a little on the plump side. Well come have a look at this lovely range from Maggie T, I said.
He was sold. The full set of lacy black knickers and a flattering camisole, if I remember rightly. Weeks later he came back with flowers for me and an order from his wife. They hadn't had an anniversary like that for years, he said.
And here's the point to this one. Let's bring service back to the service industry. A few weeks ago I was in Adelaide and went shopping to buy my husband something for his birthday. I wasn't sure of the right size for this particular garment, so I explained my predicament to the most helpful salesman, that I wasn't a local and how could I return this item if I needed to, seeing that the Canberra branch of this store had recently closed down.
''No worries,'' he said. ''My name's Blake and here's my card, you post it back if it doesn't fit and we'll send you the right size free of charge.''
I had to do all this, and the right size turned up just now.
I asked him for his supervisor's details and will email her to let her know that young Blake has been most helpful. And regardless that this store is in Adelaide, if I need a particular item from this nationwide store, I will ring Blake and get him to send it over.
Is it so hard to be helpful and nice to people and realise that if someone wants to spend their hard-earned money in your store you should earn your hard-earned money and actually help them? I'd love to hear about some of your retail woes. I'm sure there are plenty out there.