Confessions of a Retail Manager OR I am a Professional Tongue Biter

retailWorking in retail is by no means a glamorous job, but it is honest, decent work, and if you stick with it, the best way for those of us who decided college was overrated to make a real living. (And yes, dear reader, I do realize the college decision was ill advised.)

The worst thing about being in retail has to be the stigma attached. Unless the person on the other side of the counter works in retail themselves, he or she invariably thinks they are better, smarter, richer, more cultured, more refined and in general, just more worthy of any sort of respect.

This is why I call myself a professional tongue biter. Truly, the first and foremost requirement of my job is that I never say what I am actually thinking. I am exceptionally good at my job, and I have a sadly deformed tongue.

I manage a high-end gift shop with handmade items and home decor. Independent vendors rent their own spaces and we have everything from bird houses to photos to handmade purses and homemade dog treats. At least once a day, someone will come in and ask for "something red... like to go in my kitchen..." or "it's a sign and it says something about love... I saw it when I was here six months ago." Keep in mind, I have more than ten thousand items in my store.

So, how does one politely say, "Look, Lady, you're just going to have to walk around yourself and look because I am not going to have you follow me around the store for an hour while I locate each of our 450 'love' items, only to have you tell me that, now that you think about it, you actually saw it at your friend Jeannie's wedding shower in April"?

My intelligence is insulted on a daily basis by people who make me wonder how they got to my store without first walking in front of a bus. One gentleman said he couldn't believe that a "cashier" knew proper English when I told him I was well. Then he proceeded to ask me if the Jackalope (a joke item: a stuffed rabbit with horns) was just a very small deer. I wanted to say was "Yes, Mensa Man, we shoot the twelve-pounders all the time around here!" Instead, I gave him the I-want-to-keep-my-job routine and politely explained the joke.

I have a friend at the Nike store who told me about a customer who came up to her just last week, held up a purple high top and asked, "Does this come in a Reebok?"

Then there are the people who let their children run amok through the store, destroying displays, disrupting other shoppers and damaging merchandise (No, suede jackets and half-sucked lollipops do not make good bedfellows.) These are the same parents who will threaten a giant lawsuit when Damien gets a concussion whacking his head on a fixture while playing Marco Polo in women's clearance.

Through all of this we retail idiots don't say a word. We sit back, rest on our lack of practical knowledge and get the haz-mat kit.

It would do people some good to think about what a retail manager does over the course of a day. During one ten-hour shift (yeah, shifts are usually ten hours), I wear the hats of a cashier, human resources specialist, carpenter, sanitation worker, data entry clerk, merchandiser, fashion expert, accountant and social worker. I hire, train, discipline and oversee an entire staff while doing the job that they do. I handle scheduling, forecast sales trends, do product placement and clean up after hurried, messy shoppers. It's a little like juggling babies while riding a tightrope on a unicycle.

Most people have no clue about what we do. They think we stand in one place, behind a cash register and smile all day. Then again, if that's what people think, I must be doing my job right.

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Retail Boy

Great article and sadly all of it is true. Of course there is also good with the bad :)

Retail Boy

November 29 2012 at 6:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael Gorman

I worked at Macy's selling men's shoes. You'd be amazed at the
number of clueless men who pick several display model shoes and say "I want a pair with this kind of heel, (pointing to another shoe),this kind of sole (pointing to another shoe) and this color." I just tell them "Sorry sir, we just sell shoes here we don't make them." Some people will buy luggage for a trip, use it on the trip and then return it when they get back.
Once when I worked as a clerk in a bookstore, a gorgeous blonde woman came up to me face to face and said, "Can I see your primitive area?" Biting my lip I directed her to the Anthropology

March 26 2010 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

GBO 'whining retailers"...obviously one of the uberized "ME"(first/always/etc) generation/brigade...Why allow oneself to have logical empathy or even extend such--Do Unto OTHERS as would have done unto self' is one of THE best admonitions to ever been attempted to BE implanted...More should follow it and perhaps a better world for all concerned could indeed come to BE !! Like yeesh, nowhere did the author state ONLY happens in retail, it happens anywhere and everywhere but the ME-FIRSTERS/only's are truly found obnoxious and often contemptible with due reason/cause. Such is as it is and consequently, the need--yes NEED, to bite ones tongues to keep from escalating far and wide and beyond in order to find some semblance /civility /civilization effect/affect. (frankly, was semi entertaining humorous account of and learn is best approach to such offered reportings, won't cause the collapse of YOUR world and might even give you a bit of a pause to be refreshed/found refreshing and another perspective for your OWN perspectivity which COULD be an advantage that proves worthwhile !!! A quote--Isn't it nice the thorn bush has ability to give us ROSES" comes to mind !!!!

February 17 2010 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
scott barone

need more info on web site please

February 12 2010 at 6:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hippi chic

I think that everyone needs to remember that the writer can only comment on what she does for a living. I also didn't see anything where she said nobody with an education works retail. She just said that she didn't go to college... and that it was a bad idea not to, so she is probably saying that if you didn't it's good work. Like there are chances for not educated people. Take it easy on the poor girl. I agree that she wrote tongue in cheek and was just writing an article, you know, not her whole memoir on the world or every aspect of her job. I work in retail at a convenience store, and just like anything else, there are good and bad things and good and bad people.

February 08 2010 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I totally understand what you are talking about. I used to work at a coffee shop and I had the same problem. One of my coworkers was black (or at least everyone thought she was, in reality she a mix of 5 races) She had it 10xs worse than any of the rest of us, plus she didn't get paid as much, even though she had more schooling. She is still one of my best friends and everywhere we go, people talk to her as if she is a moron. Being the fighting irish girl i am, I get mad, but she never does. she bites her tounge and smiles and allows these idiots to think they are better than her. when I ask why, she starts talking about loving everyone and peace and rainbows and blah blah blah. She is a very optomistic person, but i can tell that it really makes her sad and depressed. She has really changed the way i look at people; nomatter the color, origin or job someone can be smart, cultured, patient, loving, beautiful, and human.

February 07 2010 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My fellow tellers at my bank know that if "tongue biter" was a profession, I'd never get licensed. I say so many things to customers that go right over their heads and they either don't realize it or are too shocked to ignore it. I don't worry about the Branch Manager or ever District Executives finding out, because they already know the stuff I tell customers and they think it's awesome.

For example, I had a guy practically screaming at me at my window because we didn't offer the service he was specifically asking for. When asked why he would spend all his time on the phone with the "other branch" and why he would spend all his time getting his stuff together to prepare for that transaction, I calmly replied "Sir, I don't know you or what you're interests are, so what you do in your free time is a private matter that's none of my business." And that's me being tame!

The last time we had a long line, a customer asked me "Where are all your tellers?" very rudely, even though we had a full staff (it was the 3rd of the month, when all the old people come to cash their Social Security checks). I just put a pleasant smile of my face and told her that we had all the other tellers hiding throughout the building and if she found them all, she'd win a transaction. That shut her up. To this day, I don't have so much as a single customer complaint against me. And there are LOTS of stories that I have!

If the author of this column is a professional tongue biter, then I am a professional customer insulter. I'd only recommend it, however, to the gifted few who can get away with that sort of thing no matter what.

February 07 2010 at 1:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a snippy attitude. This woman should not be in customer service if she can't deal with the realities of it. Why does she have the job when there are lots of unemployed people out there who would do it better, without the posturing. Fire her.

February 06 2010 at 11:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Better than a homemaker? I beg your pudding. I was a homemaker and I'd rather work from 9 to 9 in a office. Are you dissing homemakers aka...housewife? Ya know, someone who rather raise her kids then give them to nannies so they grow up to be spoiled brats? oh what ever.

February 06 2010 at 10:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This author is not aware that MANY college grads work in the retail industry. I have a bachelors' degree and have spent most of my life in retail. After I graduated from college, I could not get hired because I didn't have experience in my field. How could I get experience if no one would hire me. Eventually I gave up and went back and forth between administrative and retail jobs.
Then, I lost my job at Bloomingdale's last June because opening a MINIMUM of two credit card accounts was a job requirement. This was almost impossible while working in a cosmetics department. Every financial advisor on TV or in the papers strongly advise against credit cards, particularly in this economy. I have yet to find a job, am trying my darndest NOT to return to retail. Customers really do think salespeople are lazy, uneducated idiots who expect them to roll out the red carpet for them, put away their loads of clothing thrown on the floor and ignore all the other customers who need help. It's a thankless job. You work your butt off for minimal money.

February 06 2010 at 10:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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