Like so many people, I worked retail when I got out of high school. I worked many different jobs during the 80’s. I worked for a big box store (that was not what they were called then), a couple of card shops, a chocolate shop and a few jobs that ended so quickly that I do not even remember them. I used to love to shop so for me retail was the perfect job. Eventually, I figured out that the money was not that great and I wanted to have my weekends off. So I went to work in an office for the next 25 years.
During those years of working in an office environment, I moved up the ladder and did quite well for myself. In the back of my mind, I always thought of those carefree days of working retail and considered that as something I would do in later years. When the stress got too much at my office job, I would daydream of selling greeting cards and wrapping paper all day. Those were, as it is called, the salad days.
One day, not so long ago, I found myself unemployed. I was in my late 40s and finding a new job was trickier than I thought it would be. I drifted from doing temp work to working part time in an office. Then one day it dawned on me, I did not want to spend the rest of my working days in a cubicle. I wanted to get back out there in the real world and move around instead of sitting at a desk. So I started looking for retail work.
The process for looking for retail work had changed in the 25 years since I did it last. I remember going to a shop and getting hired on the spot. Now there were personality tests to take, questionnaires to complete, background checks, drug tests, and experience was absolutely necessary. Not the kind of experience I had, but the NEW kind of retail experience, of which I had no idea about. I found myself getting turned down for job after job because of my lack of experience.
Retailing, I was told by one store manager, was much more savvy now (her words). Customers wanted to deal with product experts and, dare I say, the young and attractive. Her store was shiny and beautiful and all her sales people were also. I could not help but think about the amount of money the sales people had spent on clothing, did they do that while making minimum wage or did they make more?
I finally found a position in retail that I thought would be a good fit. I was hired to stock the shelves of the health and beauty department at a local supermarket. I had actually done that type of work before at the big box store right out of high school. The pay was minimum wage and I got a uniform. I walked into my first day of work with a spring in my step, ready to take on my new adventure. Three working days later, I could barely walk as my feet and back hurt, my knees no longer wanted to bend, my hands were bruised and I was miserable.
Here is what has changed in retail from my perspective: you have more and more work to do in a very little time, everything is on a deadline, and there are always specific criteria to meet even if you are new at it all. You must work fast and efficient right out of the gate and be strong as an ox. I was lifting totes of products onto carts, pulling the carts out to the floor, bending and stretching to fill the shelves, crouching to clean the bottom shelves of dirt and dust, moving pallets and empty totes and all the time being sure to assist customers as needed. Now imagine during this for six or eight hours straight (the length of a shift) with only a 15 minute break.
What I learned from this experience: retail, unless you are in really great physical condition, is a young person’s game. I could not tolerate the work load at 51 years old after sitting behind a desk for 25 years. Customers do expect more of their sales people as do the employers. Retail is no longer just a job to pass time; it is really hard work for not a lot of money and really bad hours.
I have gained so much more respect for the people I meet who work in retail. I now understand why they seem stressed and overworked, because they are. I was foolish to think that at my age, with my lack of experience that I could just get right back on the retail horse. This experience really opened my eyes to how so many people live. Respect is what they deserve and what they will get from me.