Friday, September 12, 2014

"If it's not on the shelf..."

One of the summer jobs I had while I was in college was working at Toys R Us. I've mentioned that I worked there before, but I don't think I mentioned that I worked there on two separate occasions, the first being while I was in college. It... didn't go well.

See, there was a problem: I was too helpful. No, seriously. At the time, TRU had a policy about helping customers: We were allowed to take the customer to the place in the store where any given item ought to be but, if it wasn't there, we were to say, "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it." Even if there was a box of the item on the overstock shelf (on the aisle just above the items), we were to tell the customers that line. I couldn't bring myself to do it; it was virtually always a lie.

I got more commendations from customers than any other... oh, wait, I was the only employee that summer to have customers comment that I had done a good job to management. Enough so that it was brought up in a store meeting. And, yet, I was reprimanded for helping customers during my first performance review. During my second, I was told I "wasn't working out" and let go. Oh, yeah, also because I was "anti-social" and did things like read during my breaks rather than go outside and smoke with everyone else. [Yes, I was told that part of why I was being let go was non-work-related behavior. (And the not smoking was specifically mentioned.)]

Jump forward several years. I had moved to CA a few months before, and I needed a job. I needed a job like "right now." TRU was running an ad that they were hiring, so I went in. Yes, even having worked there before, I was willing to go. I needed the job. And I wasn't in LA anymore, so I was hoping things would be different.

And they were different. One of the things that had changed during my absence was a shift in corporate thought from "the customers get in the way of the job" to "the customer is the job." When I was hired in CA, I was told "the customer always comes first." It was a huge difference. So huge in fact that not only was I not "let go" after my "trial period" (or whatever it's called), I was promoted faster than anyone else working in that location. Basically, as soon as they were able to promote me (because TRU has policies about minimum times before someone can be promoted), they did. And again. And again. Until I quit (which is a long story and not applicable to this).

Which brings me to my point: I didn't change. I had the same attitude and behaviors working at TRU the second time as I did the first time. It was Toys R Us that changed. They changed what they were looking for in an employee, so I went from being someone who "wasn't working out" to someone who was very valuable (they tried to talk me into staying more than once when I quit). Oh, and I was still reading during my lunches and breaks, too.

If I had try to change who I was, the way I was, when I went and tried to get the job after I moved, I wouldn't have been right for it, and I would have been "let go" again because "it wasn't working out." Writing books works that way, too. If you spend your time trying to adapt to the market, trying to fit in with the current trend, you'll always be a step or two behind. You can't help but be, because you're too busy reacting to an organism that changes faster than anyone can keep up with. When you just do your thing, eventually, it will come into alignment with you.

At least for a while.

I'm sure that at some point (if it hasn't happened already), TRU will go back to their attitude that the customers are an evil which have to be endured, just as readers will one day go back to the attitude that vampires are an evil which have to be endured. [As my son would say, "See what I did there?"] Basically, trends change. Find your thing and stick with it.

And, if anyone ever tells you, "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it," don't believe them. Right now, that's Target's line, but I make them go look.


  1. That's rather crappy customer service. I would've helped customers find things as well.
    I've found my thing and my groove and sticking with it for one more book. Yes, you've heard that before. Hoping to stick with it this time. Considering how much music is taking over (my band has a concert this weekend) I might have to stop anyway.

  2. I'm the stock staff at my day job, so I always know what we have and what we don't. Still, when a customer asks for something I know we don't have, I walk back to the stockroom, putter around for a minute, and then go back and tell them no. It makes them feel better. Of course, then I'm stuck having to track the item down in another store. Then calling that store, and asking them to locate the item and getting them to ship it to the customer.

    As far as writing goes, I know what I want to write and what I don't want to write, and I'm sticking with it.

  3. I always knew "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it" was a joke, but it does make a good life lesson.

  4. Alex: Seriously, TRU didn't think it was important. Basically, the customer will come here no matter what, so you can spit on them all you want.

    M.J.: heh I've known a lot of people who would know it -was- in stock and do the same thing just so that they wouldn't have to stock the product after pulling a box.

    L.G.: Tru.
    I'm owning the pun.

    Maurice: Yeah, after working at TRU, I won't accept that as an answer anywhere I go. And it's an unacceptable answer at Target, because all they have to do is scan the product to know if they have more.

  5. I don't doubt that for a second. I remember about 10-12 years ago a new Nintendo game came out. I wanted to go to Toys R Us to get it (they always have a good selection of Nintendo games), but I figured I'd call to see if they had it in stock first. Asked the kid in the games department if he had X game, and without even pausing to think about it he just said no, sorry, and hung up on me. This wasn't the first time something had happened like this, either.

    So I took a chance and went in anyway. Sure enough, 2 copies left. The guy in the games department that grabbed it for me said, in that same voice I recognized from the call, "Wow, looks like you got one of the last copies." Which pretty much put me over the edge, as I wasn't planning to say anything until this point. So I gave him a smile and said with a cheery tone, "Gee, that's funny, when I called you 10 minutes ago you said you didn't have any, without even looking. Good thing I still came in to look on my own, huh?"

    He rang me up in complete silence. Didn't thank me, didn't wish me a good day, didn't even look me in the eyes.

    Thank God I just get my games from Amazon now. It's pretty easy to get a straight answer out of them as to whether something's in stock. :)

  6. You weren't working out because you were too helpful. Why am I not more surprised about that?

    Good story about trends realigning. I guess everything has its time.

  7. I always make them go and look too. I have always understood you should write what you want to write and be true to yourself not try and pander to the markets.

  8. ABftS: Oh, yeah, that was the policy for hot games. I got that changed at the store I worked in when Golden Eye (that was the name of that James Bond game, right?) came out. I was in charge of the security booth at the time, and I told my manager that I wasn't going to tell anyone that we didn't have it if we did, so I convinced them to change it to, "We have it, but we're not allowed to put it on hold. It's strictly first come, first serve."
    I figured that was better than nothing.

    Jeanne: I don't know. Do I seem like a helpful person? I think I was more helpful back then.

    Jo: Good for you! Make them do their jobs!

  9. Except if those people at Target are like I was when I worked at Walgreen's, they're just going and pretending to look and then coming back and telling you they don't have it. I was a terrible employee as a teenager.

    Your advice is great, though. Writing what you want to write is the only way to achieve real success.

  10. In the performing arts, we say something similar to our students quite often. Yes, you must share with the audience. But the first person you've gotta convince is yourself. If you don't believe in what you're doing, they never will.

    Which is not to say we don't all need feedback from time to time. But reinventing yourself to please the masses is counterproductive.

  11. Thank you for making me aware of that lie. I'll keep it in mind when I need something and hear "If it's not on the shelf . . "


  12. Briane: Oh, yeah, we had plenty of issues with employees like that, but the ones that worked with me, at least, didn't last very long.

    TAS: I agree entirely. If you don't like it, what's the point?

    Janie: It's a good thing to keep in mind.

  13. TAS: I sort of think that everyone should be required to either work retail or do some kind of manual labor (I've done both) during their early years at some point. Maybe just after high school?

  14. Customer service should be what retail is all about. I've always tried to be helpful when I was in customer service positions. After all, I wanted to move product (or services) and have the customer come back next time the needed what we had to offer.

    We were encouraged to go out of our way to help customers when I worked at Radio Shack. I was lousy working there because I didn't know much about what I was selling. Especially computers--it was 1990--I had no idea about computers. I couldn't even turn one on let alone show customers the features or answer questions. I'd always get someone else to handle those issues.

    That's about the only workplace where I had problems. Otherwise I've always been pretty good about helping customers. That's what I expect when I go into a store. Rarely do I find good customer service these days let alone even finding someone who works in a place.

    Tossing It Out