There are thousands of jobs out there; some are entry level, some require years of schooling or training. Regardless of where you come from, we all will work the same for our money– HARD!
That being said, I feel many people look down on retail. However, only those who have worked in the field know how difficult (but fun!) It can be!
This year marks my second year with Journeys, a shoe distribution company owned by Genesco that is focused on that “rough around the edges” style. We sell nearly everything, from Van’s and Converse to Jansport and Tom’s backpacks. I started at the bottom as a part-time sales associate in one of the lowest volume stores and now run a higher volume store as a manager. In these two years, I have learned so much more than ever anticipated. However, with all that I have taken away from working in retail, I feel there are a select few things that have immensely impacted me not only as a professional but as a person.
Never Underestimate the Workload
When I started at Journeys, I was in high school. My local mall was hiring, and it seemed like an easy enough gig for decent pay. I figured I would float my way through high school and work, while still having that extra spending money (something I was desperately in need of). I had worked with Publix prior to this and knew that customer service was one of my redeeming qualities. I loved people, and for some reason people loved me! I signed with the company as a part-time sales associate at an outlet store, and started immediately! My typical hours in the week were the simple 5PM-9PM, when the customer volume had died down and they really just needed warm bodies in the store. The first day, I was introduced to the stockroom. At the time, it fit my description of massive…. borderline overwhelming even. There were hundreds of boxes of shoes, stacked from floor to ceiling, and boxes with accessories such as backpacks and shirts splayed out to the sides. My heart sunk as I realized how much time it must take to maintain such a place. However, I never let it detour me. I did my online training courses and set out to work with a purpose!
Things were easy going with Journeys. I could wear everyday clothes, they didn’t mind my tattoos being shown, and overall I could be myself while making money! I never anticipated the job to be difficult, as everyone I’d ever been around had talked down on retail with statements such as “That’s the easiest job!” “All you do is ring people out!” I went into the job with those expectations; Looking back, I wish someone who had experience in this field had reality checked me.
It wasn’t easy, by no means.
Ringing people out is one of the EASIER parts. However, that task is one of the hundreds that go into keeping a store functional and afloat. Before I knew it, I was having to meet sales goals; I was staying late into the early morning hours to do audits (Inventory is the exact reason the stock room terrified me!) and covering shifts that were cringe-worthy on weekends. This was JUST as a sales associate.
About six months in, I got promoted (woohoo!). I was now the proud keyholder to one of Genesco’s stores. This was a huge achievement, as I was still in high school pulling great grades and technically considered part of management on top of it! My pay increased, but so did my responsibility. I was in charge of closing stores, doing stock counts, checking payroll, and managing other part-timers. It sounds simple enough, but all theories do. It is the execution that becomes significantly less than flawless. Walking in half-cocked with low expectations was a mistake; It was a complete culture shock. Because of this, I have learned to never take tasks at face value. Always go in with the impression that the work isn’t easy, have high expectations for the job! You never realize how much goes into it until you’re doing it yourself!
Balancing school on top of this was my first TRUE struggle. Even as a part-time associate, I found that finding time to study was difficult on top of work. This is where multitasking had to be something I could do.
I found myself loading up my backpack with my books and dragging it into work more often than not. Most nights were slow, which allowed me to study for upcoming tests or to complete my homework. But the job brought forth a bonus I never really anticipated: working with other kids my age. These other part-timers went to my school, had the same classes, and even the same teachers. So, while work was sometimes an obstacle, it provided me with a great network both professionally and in my educational fields. I could study familiar material with someone while at work, while running a store, and get paid for it all on top of things!
My ability to multitask really flourished here! While it doesn’t seem difficult, it can be. But even when it seemed impossible, I found balance. I learned that regardless of how busy I may be in life, there is always a balance to be found. That alone was more valuable than anything I had anticipated to get out of the job.
Before working in retail, I truly believed myself to be a patient person. I could be out in trying situations and remain fairly calm (unless things escalated).
However, looking back, I realize how short my fuse was in comparison to what I’d initially thought. Working with the public is a lot of fun! That being said, life always throws curveballs. Some days I would be faced with customers giving unreasonable demands, employees who didn’t want to do their job, and outrageous tasks given by upper management. I could feel myself reaching my boiling point.
There were many times where losing my cool seemed like the only option. I never did let it get the best of me though.
You have to remind yourself that none of it is impossible; Its just a part of the job. There will always be days that try your patience, whether it’s a work or in your personal life. Blowing up on someone, or over something, will make you feel better at that moment, but in the end, does a lot more harm than good. Patience is a virtue and one worth learning. Over the years, I’ve learned to try and accommodate difficult customers to the best of my ability. I’ve also learned when to admit that things are out of my hand, and how to explain this to a customer in a reasonable manner. I’ve learned to politely keep other employees on task without coming across as a dictator. But most importantly, I have learned to never let a situation get the best of me.
Strength (Mentally and Physically)
The trials and tribulations brought forth by retail are intense sometimes. There are moments still that I consider giving up, even after persevering through hundreds before.
More than a few times, I have dragged myself into work exhausted, both mentally and physically, with my only thoughts being “I can’t do it. I won’t make it I’m going to ask to leave early.” I’ve faced hard emotional impacts, crippling ones even, and gone to work anyways because it is what I HAD to do. Looking back, I am glad I did. I have shown not only the world but myself, just how strong I am. I was selling myself short as far as strength goes, and it took the hard push of responsibility to reveal that I am far more capable than initially perceived.
There are still moments that I wonder if I will make it through, not just at work but in life. Nonetheless, I push forward. I have done it before, therefore I KNOW I can manage it again, no matter how daunting it seems in the beginning.
This is one of those unexpected lessons; it took a sometimes mentally and physically strenuous job to show that I am well equipped to keep moving forward, regardless of the situation… it is a lesson I wouldn’t trade for the world.
While these things can be taught in any situation, I feel that working in this field was one of the better ways to learn. On paper, they seem simple enough; it is putting these skills to work each day that can sometimes be tough.
To those working in retail, or those about to start, understand the job is by no means easy all the time… but the benefits, such as life skills and social aspects, are well worth the work.
To anyone who says retail is easy, please think again. While there are much harder jobs, it does not diminish the obstacles that sometimes accompany daily tasks in this field. I think everyone should have to work it at least once!