Adventures in retail

Those of you who know me know that I spent over 17 years in retail selling both photographic and computer equipment. After my recent post giving a potted history I have received some emails asking if I have any funny or amusing stories about that period of my career.

So here goes….

When I first worked in retail I was a young innocent 17 year old, my initial training was to say the least basic and brief. The immortal words “There is your receipt book and you stand behind that counter” were uttered by my first manager.

I must admit I started off cleaning out the hot drinks machine in the staff room first thing each morning, god it was exciting humping a great container of water from down in the basement up to fill the machine. I am even today not a great tea and coffee drinker so rarely tasted what came out of the machine but when I did I was convinced it was nothing like tea and coffee should be. But most of the staff loved the stuff. I always reckoned that the cleaner used it to remove stains that nothing else could shift.

Amongst the staff was a middle aged chap who was an occasional  professional magician and ventriloquist. He was a member of the magic circle and was a dab hand at throwing his voice and many customers turned round when they were greeted to find nobody there, it was amusing to watch.

Our toilet and washing facilities were half way down the back stairs between the shop and the loading bay, and we had one chap who regular as clockwork each lunch time locked himself in there and give himself a full body wash, some of us wondered if he had running water at home.

Then after a few months working in the centre of Birmingham a new shop opened in Solihull and as I had been taken on to work there that’s where I went. In all the years I worked there unless it was raining heavily I always walked, and ended up as fit as a butchers dog, these days I more like the dogs bone than the dog! I can remember carrying six 26” boxed Grundig televisions one at a time up the back stairs to the stock room and I did not even break into a sweat. These days I am knackered finding the remote and pressing the buttons.

The people in Solihull were generally a nice bunch but some were very snobbish, they have never recovered from being moved from Warwickshire to the West Midlands back in 1973. There was local uproar, how dare they change the local buses from Midland Red to West Midlands Passenger Transport. The fact they were the same buses painted a different colour escaped most of the locals. Even today in the Midlands if you buy a house in Solihull you are considered to have “Made It”.

Some of their requests were amazing. In those days the only card available was American Express and that was a charge card. One man used to come in several times a week and make small purchases on his, we were convinced it was to impress us mere staff. One day he said to me “I bet you don’t have many of these cards in here, you have to have money to have one”  Well that was a challenge so I replied “No we only get two, yours and mine, I find it so useful to have one don’t you agree?” We never saw him in the shop again.

The company used to give away film, based on the assumption that customers would come back with them to be developed and printed. We seemed to be having a lot more taken than we had bought back. We eventually discovered that the local private school had the ability to develop and print colour film and we were their unwitting supplier. That soon got knocked on the head.

The HI-Fi separates and colour televisions we sold were from a department up some stairs and especially in the summer it used to get hot up there, one July day the manager saw a customer creeping down the stairs, when asked what he was doing he said he did not want to wake the staff. On investigation the salesman up there was found slumped in a comfortable arm chair asleep and dead to the world. It was only 10am.

After a time because I was fairly local and lived within a couple of miles I was one of the key holders. One January morning we had thick snow and I managed to get one of the few buses running into work. At 9am there was no sign of anybody else staff wise and looking at the weather I did not expect anybody soon so I put a sign on the doors saying we would not be open until lunch time at the earliest. Now bear in mind we had at that time over 18” of snow. Well all morning I had people at the doors banging to be allowed in to browse. One even said I should let him in because he did not want to buy anything so he would not disturb me as he looked round. I mean who in their right mind comes to look round the shops when there is 18” of snow on the ground. The answer of course are idiots who have nothing better to do with their time.

Not long after I started at Solihull about 9pm one evening we had a knock on the door at home. It was a neighbour and he was giving a film show and the bulb in his projector had gone so could he run me to the shop so I could open up and get him a bulb? He was genuinely annoyed when the answer was “NO” he even came into the shop and complained about the level of customer service, it was one of the few times when I actually saw a manager laugh in a customers face.

There is a story that one of the repair centre staff who collected and returned repairs weekly to the branches was to say the least a scruff, well at one shop he walked in and said “I have come for your rubbish” One of the staff apparently showed him the rubbish bins out the back!!

Over the years I worked in almost a dozen branches and all were different in the types of customer they had, even shops a couple of miles apart could have totally different customers. A good example of that were the branches at Erdington and Sutton Coldfield, the former customers were lovely, but those in Sutton Coldfield were snobbish and looked down on the staff, until they found I lived in Solihull then they assumed I had money and were revoltingly nice to me. Ha!!! The only day I had money was pay day!!!

Come to think of it my mother still has my first ever pay slip in one of her boxes, she also has my first pair of shoes, but mothers tend to collect crap like that. I still cringe when she shows me an old school report when I was in the infants that said I danced nicely!!!

Eventually I went back to work at the main Birmingham shop and two doors away was a bakers that did sandwiches, hot sausage rolls etc. I was a regular, and in there worked a young lady that I ended up marrying. It must have been love as I used to go in each day for a sausage sandwich complete with red sauce, in those days I hated sausages, and have no idea why I kept buying and eating them. The staff in my shop kept pestering me to take her out, not knowing that I was. I remember the first time I took Sue out, we went to Wales for the day would you believe, a couple of days before we went out I was cornered by one of Sues work mates, she was a lovely woman, she would never get marks for being posh but she was as they say the salt of the earth. She looked me straight in the face and said “If you lay a finger anywhere on Sue where she does not want a finger laid then I will break your bleedin’ hands off” Who was I to argue!!

Well when we announced we were getting married my manager was on holiday. He happened to phone in that day to see how business was, some managers were like that they panicked if they were away from the shop, some worried that we would not cope without them and others worried we would do too well. When greeted with the question “Who do you think has got engaged then?” I was the last of the 32 staff that worked there he thought of, blimey he even listed those who were married before he got to me.  His comment when told it was me was “Blimey he is human after all!!!”

When we married we moved here to Peterborough, the adventures of retailing in sugar beet country will have to be told another time.

As they say “Watch this space!!!!!”