Monday, March 31, 2008

Corporate Musings

I find it interesting that the possible downfall of Borders is effecting the industry this much. I put some thought into the time I spent working at the big boxes (6 years total between 2 chains) and I think there are some overall practices that are sorely in need of change. 

As I said, I have worked in two chains (not in the most recent years) one that is almost nonexistent these days thanks to having been bought out, and another that is still going strong. The sad thing is, when the first chain's purchaser shut our store down, we were turning a bigger profit than we had in years. So you can't really say that closing our particular store had anything to do with losses. Overall, the profits we were making may not have cancelled out the dip in sales from the years before I started there, but for three straight years, we were doing great. Chances are pretty good that this trend would continue. 

I think the reason for our success was our team. We were a smaller store with a great GM who allowed us to do some things that were not exactly what the big corporation wanted us to be doing. Why? Because it worked for our store and we could show that we were turning a profit. 

This is problem number one with these companies, the idea that what works in one store can work in all of the stores and so a set-in-stone plan is implemented with management staff that can't make any decision to do otherwise. 

This is problem number two, hiring practices within the big companies are such that they want people who can manage people. They don't want managers who think outside the box, they want mindless automatons who have attended the PC courses on managing employees. They don't have to have any knowledge of books and so they, in turn, do not hire people who necessarily have any knowledge of books. You can, as I did, point out to these people that there are better, more effective ways of doing necessary work and they will override you at every opportunity, and probably reprimand you (as they did me) for not following said corporate plan.

This is problem number three, there is no benefit to being an employee at any of these corporations. Your chances of being promoted within these companies are sadly minimal. Who wants to work for the rest of their lives at minimum wage with the promise of a yearly 25 cent raise? The maximum raise at the companies I worked for, by the way, was 75 cents. No one ever got that raise. The management were told to find a reason, any reason, to dock the raise down. This does not promote happy or loyal employees. Are they going to do the best job they can to sell your product? No. 

This is problem four, happy employees would increase sales. Unhappy employees are only going to do what is necessary to keep their jobs. I was an overachiever with way too much responsibility and it got to be way more than I could handle. When an employee sees that their hard work does not pay off and that Joe Blow off the street who barely knows his alphabet gets paid the same amount, this isn't a good working environment. And, when stores keep the bare minimum staff on hand, nothing gets done. 

This is problem five, sales = hours. What this means, if you are lucky enough never to have had to work retail, is that the more you sell, the more corporate will allot to payroll. If you have a management team member (which is necessary at all times) this eats up a big chunk of payroll. Then, you have the experienced employee who has put in some years and now makes more than the beginner who started at Christmas and managed to hang onto their position, and that takes up a slightly smaller chunk of payroll. What's left goes to the inexperienced new guy who hasn't been trained properly who takes up the least amount of payroll. The more experienced person then has to make up for the less experienced person and can't get anything done. It's also drilled in your head that customer service comes first. No matter how often you may get berated for not finishing the necessary 4 hours of shelving and display work you had in the 30 minutes that was alloted to you in the first place, customer service always comes first, so you damn well better drop what you are doing and help them. 

This is problem six, sales = hours and poor sales = minimal staff which in turn = pissy employees who are trying to get as much squeezed into their time as they can and still help customers. More employees on hand would = more time for people to be able to devote to those necessary day-to-day tasks such as shelving the book the customer needs an employee to help them find because it never made it out of the back room in the first place. More time to finish necessary tasks = less berating from less than understanding idiotic management which = happier employees. Happier employees who are able to finish these tasks have more time to help customers, are in a much better mood and by logic = happy customers who buy more stuff! Happy customers who buy more stuff = more profits.

Seems pretty logical, right? Never gonna happen. These things will not change. What will happen is that customers will continue to shop these stores for absolute necessities - that book their kid waited until Friday to tell mom they needed for the Monday before - and will go elsewhere to browse. I don't blame them. I was good at my job, I liked at one point, but by the end I was miserable and it showed. You can't work with blinders on if you have any knowledge of the runnings of a store and the industry that you work in. 

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