Confessions: Sowing a Career in a Garden Department

What's it like to work in the garden department of a large home-improvement store?

The hours are long and the schedule is irregular; the environment is loud, dirty and physically demanding. Employees are expected to greet every shopper within range, provide knowledgeable customer service, keep merchandise stocked and correctly priced, respond to intercom pages, answer the phone, receive incoming freight, water plants, help customers load their purchases and be aware of shoplifting -- all simultaneously!

In the spring, garden sales can account for 50 percent of a store's business. At the height of the season, a mid-size garden department will have a few thousand customers on a Saturday, yet fewer than 10 employees will usually be on the floor during a shift. Finding knowledgeable people who can multi-task and stay calm in such a frenetic environment can be quite challenging. Turnover is high.

And yet: The teamwork required to get through a typical day is inspiring. Co-workers tend to be terrific, knowledgeable people. Also, employee benefits include stock options, a 401(k) and health insurance. It's the perfect environment to sow the seeds for a rewarding career in retail!

-- Find Garden Department Jobs

Here are some things to expect on the job:

To hit the ground running

The first few weeks of a new hire's life are about building personal endurance. "James" worked a season before beginning college. He had played high school basketball and enjoyed having a good time with his friends until he became a "new hire". One typically busy Saturday he was barely awake in the break room, moaning, "No one should be expected to do this work. I'm too tired to party!" Yes, the work is difficult and often compared to working in a war zone. War zones, however, lack "soil."

To have eyes in the back of your head

The most frustrating and disturbing aspect of the job is that we must try to prevent shoplifting. Yes, there is "shrink" from poor inventory management, cashier error, employee theft, etc. But there are many stories of customer shoplifting. I've seen too many people teaching their children to shoplift. The image of a woman running across the parking lot in stilettos with mall security in hot pursuit is memorable. She was tackled as her "stand-up" boyfriend drove away.

Early one season, some of the guys had just gotten the grills displayed out front. As they were walking back inside we heard a loud crash. Someone had cut the cables securing the grills, thrown a grill on a truck and sped away through a busy mall parking lot. Unbelievable! It is frustrating to see a shoplifter run past the garden cashier, laughing the whole way. They know that employees are not allowed to stop them. Only Loss Prevention can do that. Otherwise, there are liability issues.

To be ever vigilant

A cashier, "Carmen," explained to me that, "every bag of soil has to be lifted. Customers will place expensive items under the bag to avoid setting off the Sensorama at the exits." Apparently the soil insulates the product. In another incident, it took a multi-store effort and a customer-returns database to catch the scammer who was pulling plants up from yards and returning them for a refund. Thankfully the return policy was changed!

There was also the shoplifter who came into the store every two weeks like clockwork with a different woman each time. It took a few weeks until Loss Prevention figured out his MO: He would find a small expensive item from another department and bury it within the soil of a designated houseplant. His companion would then purchase the houseplant. The soil insulated the product again!

To love every minute of it!

You may ask, why would anyone do this work? Beyond being a job with decent pay and benefits, helping people add beauty and value to their lives and homes is compensation beyond measure.

So remember to be patient this spring. "A knowledgeable salesperson will be with you shortly!"

-- Find a job at a garden department near you

Read Full Story