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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