Adventures in Retail: Confessions from the Fitting Room

Confessions of Margarita: Shoplifters and screamers

Margarita Sanchez is only 24, but she already has years of retail experience in Wyoming, Texas and Indiana. With an effervescent personality, a great work ethic, and a love of people, retail quite agrees with Margarita. However, this bubbly little lady (only 4' 6" without her hair clip), has a few stories to share.

Her most bizarre experience in retail? The day a habitual shoplifter was apprehended at T.J. Maxx in Texas where Margarita worked in 2004. She reported the sneaky shopper who left the dressing room empty except for the tags and sensors she cut off the merchandise she stole. The store was ready for her the next time. The thief came out of the dressing room, apparently empty handed. The Loss Protection people followed her and surrounded her outside the store. When she saw them, and the police, she started running but they tackled her. Margarita said they pulled one stolen item after another out of her purse. She was arrested, obviously. Margarita says "It was kinda cool, watching how it all came down."

Her worst experience was the screamer at Tuesday Morning. The lady who always came in asking for something Tuesday Morning didn't carry, made Margarita call all the other stores -- which, of course, didn't carry it either -- swore they've always carried it, caused a scene and started yelling at her. Margarita would bite her tongue and murmur "Leave before I lose it, lady."

She left her minimum-wage job at Tuesday Morning for the higher-paying job at Home Depot in Indianapolis, where her now-stockbroker husband worked for four years. Margarita says she can count on the hours at Home Depot. She does not like down time, however. Her confession: When it's slow at the Depot she uses the computer to draw her dream house. If it's really slow, she even puts in the little furniture icons.

Confessions of Maria: Dirty diapers and dirtier old men

retail salespersonIn her eight years of working nights and weekends at Kohl's in Kansas City, Mo., Maria and the other "closers" had time to talk about "everything." In fact, friendships with coworkers were what she enjoyed the most about her job, she says. Most of their time in "MMJ" (Men's, Misses, Junior's), was spent putting away clothes. They also helped with markdowns and inventory, and worked the registers during busy times. And sometimes, while they uncreated the havoc the customers had left in the dressing rooms and on the sales floor, they talked about the bizarre experiences of the night.

Maria won the Bizarre-O Award once when she talked to a pervert on the phone. Apparently Mr. "P" for pervert called the store fairly often, but since Maria rarely worked in Intimate Apparel, she was not clued in. He asked her to describe several different styles of ladies' panties, and then seemed particularly interested in thongs -- did they carry any lacy thongs? Did most women like to wear thongs? How do thongs feel? Comfortable? Pinchy? Maria began having what she calls an "icky feeling" and hung up on him. That got a laugh from the team who already knew about him.

But the biggest laughs and groans came from the weird things she and her cronies found in the dressing rooms. Wads of gum stuck under the fitting room bench. Used tampons. Trampled clothes. New clothes with makeup stains. Spilled coffee. Dirty diapers. Cut off tags. Old underwear hidden under hangers. Fast food wrappers and leftovers. Once, even clothes that had been urinated on.

They saw customers wheel overflowing carts into the fitting rooms, ignoring the "5 items or less" warning. Girls taking five friends into the fitting room, where they all begin trying on the same dress, shrieking, yelling the F word and loudly using their cell phones. Moms cramming a newborn baby, toddler and stroller into the dressing room, changing a diaper while they're in there and hiding the dirty one under the bench.

Sometimes a customer would leave saying, "Sorry, I couldn't get the hangers to work. I'm afraid I left a mess." Once in awhile a customer would come out with everything hung neatly on the hangers. But more often, they would leave sheepishly, not making eye contact. Maria jokes, "I hope those customers know we DO talk about them when they're gone."

"I was always happy to help people who really needed my help," Maria says, "but I resented the lazy shoppers who wanted me to do everything for them. I don't know how many times I went out of my way to find an item in back stock or call another store to find an item for a customer, only to discover that the customer was already gone."

But as in every career, a little appreciation makes up for a lot of wrongs. "It always felt good when a customer acknowledged how helpful I'd been, or, even better, called the store to tell my manager how helpful I'd been, or best of all, actually filled out one of those feedback forms praising me."

As Maria's family grew, she decided to leave her job at Kohl's and work as a freelance writer out of her home. Does she miss the hectic weekends, and camaraderie, and the laughs over weird things left in the fitting rooms? Maybe just a little.

Next:Confessions of a Motel Maid

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