After not working for months because of my dodgy hand in the last few weeks I have picked up some extra work in 2 different retail stores at our local shopping centre.
Both are chain stores, with particular styles. For example in one store I'm encouraged to dress 'geeky chic' which I think, I said I think, is how I've always dressed. However one of the girls wears trouser braces and black framed glasses that are just for show - e.g. they have glass? plastic? in but are of no use to anyone who actually has vision problems. She also wears high wasted stonewashed jeans so needless to say we probably won't be friends.
10 years ago I was the manager of a successful small business working for wonderful people who allowed me a great deal of control within the shop. I loved customer service, making connections through a shared love of the products we sold, being friendly but not in your face, running the shop to suit the environment I lived in.
Here I am in a brand new world of formulated sales plans, KPI's, visual merchandising and a goddamn piece of machinery attached to the doorway that counts how many people enter the shop to keep track of how many convert to sales. A happy face appears on our home page if we hit 25%.
I had some 'training' with my manager recently in which she went over my sales figures for the past month. Apparently it seems I'm only selling 1.92 items per sale and I need to try and push it up to 2.5.
Which means adding on items at the counter.
It means selling people extra crap at discounted prices whenever they make a purchase.
I worked a 4 hour shift last week and during it my manager asked me about 15 times how I was going with my extra sells. Let's give them an acronym - 'exs'.
Beginning of shift - "Ok Clare, today we're going to have you on the register, working on selling those exs with every purchase. I've written you down some goals for today, I'd like you to sell 8 exs this morning."
Oh. Ok. I'll try.
"Well remember that if you don't sell your total then they pass down to the rest of the team and they then have to make up the difference."
Oh. Ok. No pressure then.
I try to sell them, without seeming like an asshole who is greedy for your money. I sell none. People either say 'No Thank You' in an almost defensive tone, or they pretend I haven't said anything and stare hopefully at the EFT machine, willing me to get on with it. Several times Miss Manager comes over to enquire how I'm going. The third time she does and I say, apologetically, 'nope, still none' and she looks at me like I'm her greatest disappointment.
By the third hour I've sold 2 exs, and I'm starting to actually feel like a disappointment. The thing is - the exs are pretty shitty plastic crap that people just don't want to buy, regardless of my damn sales pitch. I'm biting my tongue each time she questions me for an updated exs tally - I want to say STOP IT WITH THE PRESSURE YOU FUCKER. I GET IT. I KNOW. 8. I HAVE TO SELL 8. I'VE ONLY SOLD 2. YOU'RE WASTING YOUR BREATH.
Instead I breathe deeply and finally enquire - 'so how many did you guys sell yesterday?'
She fluffs about a bit, looks through her Very Important Folder and eventually finds yesterdays tally.
8. She says, without looking at me.
Get fucked. They sold 8 yesterday. The same amount I'm being pressured to sell in 4 hours.
"Oh," I say. "That makes me feel a bit better!".
She looks at me again like I'm a small piece of shit on her shoe. I realise that I am not meant to be funny, or clever, or have personality, I'm just meant to sell fucking exs.
I feel a bit sick and eventually mention to one of my coworkers that the exs are a bit stressful.
She's about 20 and she looks at me like I'm a child. "Don't worry about them" she says.
"How?" I ask. "I keep being reminded about them! It's driving me mad!"
She looks at me kindly and wisely, for someone so young. "I just don't worry about them. It doesn't make any difference to me. I ask people if they want them, most of them don't, so no problem."
I feel surprised but also really relieved. She's exactly right. I'm doing what I have to do and it's completely unnecessary to take on any stress. Full stop.
So I shall persevere as a poorly paid mature age retail staff member despite the challenges. In this frightening new world of high performance and coworkers born in 1997, wearing pretend glasses. In fact that's probably the hardest part, those youthful and carefree sprites reminding me of who I used to be. Or possibly - who I still am. Minus the gammon glasses.