Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Retail Renegade

It was around Christmas time when I was working at a mall electronics store during the break from college.  Back then, this particular electronics store was dragging behind the rest of the computerized "point of sale terminal" retail world.  We wrote up each sale manually.  You heard that right... we actually had to use a pen and a little pressure-copy paper sales ticket book.  Partially because of the time it took to process each customer this way, and partially because the store was just that busy, we were wall-to-wall with toe-tapping, impatient customers, anxious for their turn to refuse a name and address, plunk down a wad of cash, and escape the noisy, claustrophobic tunnel shaped store to return to the soothing echoes of water fountains outside in the main corridor of the mall.  There were probably ten of us working that afternoon, each facing down our own micro-mob of 10 or so customers that grew by one as fast or faster than we could reduce it by one.  Even the store manager was tending to routine sales, shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us, obviously unable to attend any more esoteric activities for which he would normally be accountable.

Then, into our peripheral vision stormed a woman, somewhat past middle age, wielding an answering machine with wires hanging out everywhere.  With brazen disregard for the conventions of waiting one's turn, she barged her way to the counter and demanded to know "Who's the manager?"  Several of us silently pointed to the store manager, who I'll call Bob, because that was his name.  The narrow store full of 100 plus irritated and weary patrons fell to a hush of whispers as the woman barged her way across several lines to Bob's station at the counter.  The woman then asked Bob to verify, "Are you the manager?"  Bob answered incredulously but politely "Yeeessssss."  The crowded store was now populated by a wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and morbidly silent mass.  All activity ceased, as everyone waited to observe what came next.  Even the fountains in the mall corridor seemed to pause and listen.

The woman then announced, "I have kind of a long story."  Everyone in the store was now stunned into stillness, not even daring to rustle paper for fear of missing Bob's reply.  Bob was now confronted with the task of succinctly shutting down one of the most obnoxious, oblivious, and self-centered old bats that ever darkened the door of a mall electronics store so inappropriately during the height of the holiday rush.  Maybe Bob was just being his "smarty-pants" self but to the sensibilities of everyone present (except the woman herself), Bob became the retail hero of the day with his short reply, "Could I just hear the end of it?" Everyone erupted in laughter and applause as the woman huffed and barged her way back out of the crowded, over-busy store, ranting threats about reporting this or that to the district manager. 

For the next half hour or so, Bob got many handshakes and congratulatory pats on the back.  The tensions were a little lighter among the customers who got to witness Bob's particular brand of retail justice.  The woman really seemed to believe that she had the right to push her way ahead of everyone else, and she may have been humiliated by Bob's wry response (her own fault), so she may have actually felt justified in complaining to the district manager.  Bob may have then received a reprimand from the district manager as a formality  But, assuming the facts were verified, any disciplinary action certainly came with a wink and an off-the-record at-a-boy.

I only worked with Bob for a few years before moving on to non-retail jobs.  However, he proved time and again to be one of the most helpful, insightful, witty, and understanding managers (retail or otherwise) with whom I have ever had the privilege to work.  This is only one example of the things Bob did, whether intentional or just because he was being Bob, to make the mall-retail employment experience bearable, and even enjoyable.  Thanks Bob!!

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