Etiquette/Manners Filter: Go-To Quip for vendor "I don't work here" ?
November 18, 2019 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Textwall in body of question; and also please read it just to know that we do exist and why. Loosely: I stock specific-brand merch in multiple grocery stores, as a "pull up" vendor. I am frequently mistaken for a store employee despite not having any uniform/nametag resemblance, and need suggestions on a go-to phrase to politely turn down help requests, but not seem dismissive.

Basically almost anything that is a name-brand grocery item in the US, likely has a "pull-up vendor" or maybe "brand merchandiser" who stocks it directly, instead of the grocery store employees stocking the items.

Dr.Pep/Snapple, wine brands, Little Debbie, Bimbo bakeries (sliced loaf-bread mostly), Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Nabisco, Miller, Budweiser, Mrs Bairds, Hostess, and several more all operate in the (DSD) vendor system.

These brands have discovered that employing their own brand-worker to personally visit a store, go to the back to retrieve extras and stock it to the shelf to brand-spec, makes enough of a difference in sales than relying on an indiscriminate grocery stocker doing it, that they can justify hiring a person to do so.

I am one of these people, and I don't work for the store itself; I work for the brand itself. We typically check inventory on the shelf and in back of our specific brand items, make sure the shelf is full and neat, and then head to the next store on the route, with only brief moments (at best) for looking around at any other part of the store, so it's pretty safe to assume that we have no idea where that thing is you're looking for.

We do not wear the store's uniform or vests, nor have any resemblance of someone who does actually work there except for the fact that we're putting product on the shelf instead of taking it off and are sometimes seen walking out of the backroom's doors, but we are often inundated with questions about where something is that we don't stock, and we have to turn down their request frequently because we both don't know and don't really have time to know or even help hunt down a rep to help.

"Well can you find someone to help?" is a common follow-up question, still on the basis of me working there though; the answer is you having better luck finding one because I can't run all over the store freely like a shopper can; I'm on-duty for a different company.

Asking a pull-up vendor where something is, is akin to asking a post office mail carrier where the waffles are, if catching them delivering mail to the store. They don't know and don't really have time to find out for you, as they have loads of other stops to deliver to, have their own time metrics to keep up with, etc.

I'm looking for possibly a go-to phrase that I can use to more or less quickly inform a person I don't work there and can't help, but without seeming dismissive. It's really easy to think up "does it look like I work here?" in the moment, or interrupting with "No," before they finish "can you tell me where" questions.

I might be able to reach something high up (as I am tall) but beyond that, not much. I once blurted out "can you read?" by mistake and their open-mouth expression I'll never forget (and recall with a laugh). I have easily a dozen stories about funny encounters and how people react. One lady reported me to a manager, and when they came over the manager asked her why she came to him, since I don't work there.

I appreciate, "Do you work here?" better, to which I can reply "I work for ___ brand," since my 'work' is technically physically performed 'here.'

I thought about printing a business card that loosely explains it in multiple languages, because I live in a town with both an air force base and international-student heavy university which has multiple languages spoken, and trying to tell a little Asian grandma that I have no idea where the asparagus is, is a fairly common headache, but that would be pretty complicated on my end for translation accuracy, printing, etc.

I very commonly get "where do you keep your" type questions, and early on I would try to reply with "/I/ don't keep those anywhere," or "in the fridge, at home" or trying to make some kind of joke deflective of the error, but some people just aren't having humor. Some people get a horrified look on their face as if they'd just seen a ghost when being told I don't work there and start apologizing profusely. I'm not interested in fibbing, so no "I'm new here" ruses to adopt.

Even my own Sunday school teachers I see shopping regularly at once place believed I worked for the store, and when seeing me working at another store soon after the first one, asked if I had two jobs, despite me wearing the identical not-that-store uniform both places. I'm considering buying a polo shirt with huge letters NOT A STORE WORKER or something, especially with the bustle of Christmas retail upcoming, where those questions increase in frequency.. any ideas, like, literally words in quotes I could recite as a go-to politer phrase to try?
posted by Quarter Pincher to Society & Culture (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm sorry, I don't work for the store, I'm just making a delivery."
posted by entropone at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2019 [100 favorites]

"I'm sorry, I work for company X and am here to do stock management. I can't assist you because of my contract with the store and insurance requirements."
posted by bfranklin at 9:34 AM on November 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

maybe try "Sorry, but just like you, I don't work for the store. I only work for (holds up package) Acme food company. I think it's in aisle (other side of store) but I'm probably wrong"
posted by Sophont at 9:38 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think your polo idea is spot on. There's no polite way to do it*, or at least nothing more polite than "Sorry, I don't work here", so you might as well try to prevent the question. I'd have a hat or a sign on my back that says "$BRAND questions only". And that's still a bit off-putting, but it will ultimately save shoppers' time as well as yours.

*I sympathize, this must be frustrating. Have you considered it from the shoppers' perspective? The thing is, your inability to help goes against decades of expectation. The way the world used to work, if you saw someone stocking, it was also their job to help you find stuff, period. You can't re-train an entire populace on your own. I knew exactly what your role was from the question title, and honestly this trend bugs me. Because while your brand finds your work useful, stores usually scale back employees when all their vendors do this, so by stocking the shelves, you and your role make it harder for me to find people who can help me. This is why nobody wants to hear your flippant humor, and you might as well go for clarity rather than politeness. I say this not to denigrate your work, but as way of explanation why the signage gets my vote.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2019 [25 favorites]

"I’m afraid I don’t work here."

If you’re feeling loquacious you can add "I’m just making a delivery."

Just as short as possible, informative, and get them on their way.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:50 AM on November 18, 2019 [9 favorites]

I think the key to this sort of interaction is to just be polite and sincere, explain the situation and offer an alternative.

"Sorry, I don't actually work for "Name of Store" -- I work for "Name of Brand" and I go to a bunch of stores that stock "Name of Brand" products so I don't know where "Name of Store" keeps X. If you ask at the customer service desk up front, I'm sure they'll be able to help you." It's a lot to say, and you might not get through it all, but you have to represent your Brand well, as well as not piss off customers of the store, since both the store and the customer are (at least potential) customers of Brand.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:53 AM on November 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

I don't think you need to apologize, so you could omit "sorry" if you want to be a bit more curt. Shake your head and look apologetic at non-English speakers.

If you have a uniform, I think your polo shirt idea might not go over well, and people are relying on the cue that you're working, not on what your shirt says, as you've noticed.

This is a lot of text for a pretty basic question, it speaks well of you that you seemingly want to help these strangers, but it might help to reframe it as "the less time they spend talking to me, the sooner they'll find someone who can help." It's not an issue you can really solve. I regularly get asked by strangers where things are in grocery stores when I'm clearly a patron, they're big and stores put things in weird places to increase sales.
posted by momus_window at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

"I'm sorry, I don't work for Kroger. I work for Pepsi, so I'm not familiar with this store. I can answer Pepsi questions though."

If they ask you to find someone to help them, say, "I just saw a Kroger employee go that way," or "I haven't seen a Kroger employee in this section, sorry."
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 9:55 AM on November 18, 2019 [25 favorites]

"I wish I could, but I actually only deliver the _____ products."
posted by selfmedicating at 9:56 AM on November 18, 2019 [9 favorites]

"Sorry, I'm just making a delivery." Better than "I don't work here" because to them you're clearly doing some work there.
But seriously I would go a little easier on these folks. The fact that you had to write up this whole backstory shows that you know most people aren't aware of your job, and yet you find it extremely annoying that... most people aren't aware of your job. You mention that people feel embarrassed by their mistake and yet you're so annoyed at them as if they're doing it on purpose to pester you or out of stupidity. We're all just out here doing our best. People know what a delivery person is. Just say that.
posted by bleep at 9:56 AM on November 18, 2019 [49 favorites]

At each store, ask a manager. The reply should be something like, I stock foods for Acme, but the service desk is up front. i wish I could help more, but I'm a visitor.

I really, really wish grocery stores had apps to help you find specific products.
posted by theora55 at 10:04 AM on November 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

"sorry, I don't know, I'm just delivering the Pepsi" is all you need to say. Please don't try to be humorous about it. It will just confuse and prolong the interaction.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:05 AM on November 18, 2019 [26 favorites]

I think bleep's proposed script of of "Sorry, I'm just making a delivery" is the sweet spot in terms of clarity, succinctness, politeness and likelihood to get them to go away quickly. You could add, "I work for [brand name], not [store name]" if the first sentence doesn't do the trick.
posted by aka burlap at 10:06 AM on November 18, 2019 [7 favorites]

>imagine in from their shoes

The whole main reason I wanted to find a nicer approach was that several months into just starting, I approached a guy doing the store yearly inventory for a different store entirely after I'd just finished my shift, who I mistook for someone just scanning outs, quickly to realize he didn't work there and that I'd just goofed my own goof, and thought, "surely I can come up with something clever" to muffle the asker's possible recoil that I had likewise just experienced, so I'm not trying to be hypocritical. 'From their shoes' is the whole point behind the search.

It's irritating on the one hand, but understandable on the other, so I'm trying to find a Solomon's-wisdom type answer that might leave them feeling better about the exchange and less feeling embarrassed.

Once during a big rush, someone was trying to ask me a question, and in trying to explain the nuance of my position, a line had formed behind them, each to ask me where something was, and I realized I needed more of a quip than a paragraph =)
posted by Quarter Pincher at 10:14 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd maybe direct them to where they COULD find an answer instead of just saying "Nope, I don't work here." Maybe just say "Oh, I don't work here, I work for Pepsi/Frito-Lay/Whatever, but the folks at the customer service desk can help you find what you're looking for. That way they might not stay and argue with you.

To be fair to the customers, I don't think that a lot of people know that grocery stores are stocked by the brand merchandiser for specific products.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 10:15 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Good ideas about phrasing above, I also think your instinct to signal that you don't work for the store in a non-verbal way is great. Anything that short-circuits the conversation and causes people to identify you as someone who can't help is ideal.

Instead of "Not a Store Worker" on a polo, could you have a coat or other clothing item that signals "i'm headed outside again soon" that is hugely emblazoned with your brand's logo or imagery? I'm also wondering if some sort of headphones/headset/walkie-talkie would help set you apart.
posted by stellaluna at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love stellaluna's idea of wearing an "outside" clothing. Maybe wear a neon safety vest with company brand logo?
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 10:47 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don't think humor's going to work. People who approach you seeking assistance are already frustrated and aren't in the frame of mind to process a joke in realtime—you're just going to take them from 0 to Christ what an asshole in 3 seconds flat. It's going to have to be some variation on "Sorry, I'm just the Pepsi delivery guy. Look for a store employee — they wear the red polos."
posted by mumkin at 11:02 AM on November 18, 2019 [24 favorites]

I have contemplated wearing headphones this year to combat the incessant holiday music, so perhaps some kind of special accessory like that could help deter questions before even being asked..

I had considered wearing a clearly-visible hearing-impaired earpiece so as to appear as if I would have difficulty communicating, but that falls under the vein of fibbing I'd like to avoid.

I thought maybe of buying a custom polo or hoodie that had a full-size print of the product I stock to further differentiate myself, similar to this: (not a sponsor)

Pointing them in a helpful way to finding someone who can are all good options; I could see "there is usually someone in a red vest along the back wall" working well, to give them at least a new direction to focus on instead of their reaction, which was kinda the motive for the humor =)
posted by Quarter Pincher at 11:16 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would think of a shortcut comparison, because most people not only don’t know that your job exists, but won’t grasp it from a very short explanation and will be like “what...tell me more??”. Even if it’s not correct in describing your role, they might understand “sales rep.” Then give them a suggested next activity to take them away from you:

“I’m a sales rep for Kellogg’s cereal, I travel to grocery stores all over City to promote Kellogg’s, so I haven’t spent enough time in this particular store to know where you can find corn starch. If you ask the cashier, *point away from you* they will know. *physically turn away*”

The conversations you’re getting into are in part because people’s brains are still processing the fact that they thought they knew how grocery stores worked but maybe they don’t, because they don’t get why you’re there if you don’t work there. Cutting them off short won’t work because their brains are still going “...wait, what...?”
posted by sallybrown at 11:20 AM on November 18, 2019

Wearing an earpiece will just get them to hover around and maybe even poke you in the shoulder, is my guess (unfortunately).
posted by sallybrown at 11:21 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I approached a guy doing the store yearly inventory for a different store entirely after I'd just finished my shift, who I mistook for someone just scanning outs

I was an inventory guy once upon a time and had people asking me to help them find stuff constantly. If I had no idea I'd just tell them it wasn't my store and I don't know where the Miralax is.

Some people would argue about whether I worked there. I'd suddenly remember that their desired product was by the condoms or adult diapers or something else I thought would embarrass them.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

As you say, people have no idea that your job even exists, so it's reasonable that they assume you work there. You do work there in a way, as you are there and you are working.

You should try to vaguely help them, while also telling them the brand you work for. That way it is actually part of your larger job, promoting brand X, and not a waste of time.
For example: "I'm just here to deliver the Pepsi, but I think the cat food is over there somewhere (points to a vague area of the store). Hope you find it!".
posted by w0mbat at 11:42 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

If it's a regular route you have, I'd just note where the info/customer service desk is an direct them that way.

"Oh sorry I just deliver products, I don't work here. But I bet the people at the customer service at the front of the store or wherever) could help you though!"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

“I’m a delivery guy, not a store employee. There are usually store employees at the front of the store.”

I like the phrase “delivery guy” here because it’s a concept people will readily understand. And you don’t have to direct them to stuff, but directing them somewhere will both get them out of your hair and help them get moving in a direction where they might actually find help.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Put this as costume on- people will actively run from you.

In all seriousness: "I am only delivering these and do not know the layout of the store. I am sorry!"
posted by oflinkey at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am a librarian, and people routinely ask me if I'm a librarian if I'm in a library I don't work in. (somewhere between a 25% chance and 'every time I was there more than long enough to get something from the hold shelf, depending on the library.)

My go to is "I am a librarian, but not at this library." in a cheerful voice and then if it's a quick thing, point them the right direction (the hold shelf is there, here's how you use the self-checkout pad), and otherwise know where the information desk or the circ desk is (the equivalent to your 'someone in the red vest is usually down that aisle'.)

I might try "I'm a delivery guy. You want one of the store employees for that question, you can find them..."
posted by jenettsilver at 12:29 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Back when I worked at a supermarket only the bread had its own rep and she used to reply ‘sorry, I’m just the bread lady’ and wave people towards the front. It did make it easier though that she wore a work vest with the bakery name on it.
posted by kitten magic at 1:53 PM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don't think what you're wearing is going to matter. People already don't understand that your uniform doesn't mean that you work here, a more different uniform isn't going to help. Headphones will likely just attract righteously angry Karen types.

"Sorry, I'm the $Brand delivery person. I don't know about anything outside this end cap." is probably about as concise as you can be without people thinking you're rude. People don't like to take "no" for an answer, so you're probably still going to get some follow ups. It's inescapable.

Unfortunately, I also think trying to be witty or clever about it will make things worse instead of better. The people who were already willing to accept that you might not be able to help them will be waved off either way, and the more belligerent variety of customer will take your humor as some kind of affront to their person. Best to just say "no" until they relent.
posted by Zudz at 2:29 PM on November 18, 2019

I'd vote for short and simple--I think too much explanation would just bog down the interaction (assuming you just want to get your task done and not get sidetracked by conversation).

*smile* "Sorry, I don't know, I'm just a delivery guy/girl/person. You'll need to ask a store employee." If they complain that they can't find one, then point them to the front of the store/customer service desk.
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 3:03 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Actually we have a guy who does price comparisons in our store. He regularly goes through different sections, scanning as he goes (I have no idea who he works for or who is doing the comparing. He is not employed by us). He wears ear buds or headphones, and I've never seen anyone ask him anything. Our Pepsi and Coke drivers wear shirts with their company logos, and for the most part they are left alone but they do still get some questions.

Tl/dr: I like the headphones/brands name clothing ideas best. But I wish you luck. I've worked retail all my life and I get questioned where things are in stores I've never worked in; I think I have that kind of face.
posted by annieb at 3:21 PM on November 18, 2019

My friend did your job and always complained about this. He just wore headphones, if someone tried to get his attention he just shrugged and pointed at the headphones.

As someone who takes public transit a lot, headphones are a well understood "Don't bother asking me anything" signal.
posted by bradbane at 3:45 PM on November 18, 2019

Headphones do not make it clear that answering questions isn't your job. They just make clear that you don't want to do it. I'd bet money you'll get angry taps on the shoulder if you wear headphones.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:52 PM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I recently did this to a woman fixing a store display of greeting cards. She just said something very brief and clear like, "I'm sorry, I actually work for the card company, so I don't know where things are in the rest of the store."
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:21 PM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

you have opened my eyes and unlocked the doors of my mind. not long ago, I saw someone approach a guy stocking shelves to ask him something or other, and he looked her right in the face and said Sorry, I don't work here, WHILE continuing to stock shelves. at the time I thought it was the ballsiest retail-worker move I had ever seen, I admired him greatly.

now...I understand more but admire less.

so I think if you want awestruck passers-by to think you're brazenly defying your god-given customer-service mandate, say Sorry, I don't work here, while working there. if you want to get people to understand that you don't work there and leave you alone, say I'm not a store employee (or: I rotate between stores, so I don't know this location well), but customer service is up front.

(don't worry about not knowing where customer service is in a given location. customer service is always up front. if you're working in the front, say customer service is in the back.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:19 PM on November 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

If you were wearing a reflective vest, people would probably be a bit less likely to assume you would provide customer service.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:26 PM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am also that librarian at many libraries, you want to explain but I think more importantly you'd like to get back rto work and to let that person find the person they need to speak with. I think in the interests of moving on quickly you can just say "Just the delivery guy, sorry!" and if you do it in a friendly way you and they can both move on feeling not-bad about the whole interaction which is, I think, your main goal. People understand deliveries, even if they don't understand the more complex brand-worker concept.
posted by jessamyn at 8:52 PM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also think saying ‘I don’t work here’ isn’t going to improve the situation. People will think you’re being unhelpful on purpose. Saying what you are ‘hey sorry, I’m just the Pepsi guy’ will go over better. Otherwise it just sounds like being unwilling to step an inch over the job description. Knowing they’ve just met the expert of all things Pepsi will keep them positive about finding an expert in what they want (someone who knows where the goddamn capers are! That was me)
posted by kitten magic at 10:00 PM on November 18, 2019

"sorry, I only know about (product)" seems like it might work, I'd find it hard to get my head round your not working there when you are clearly working, but it's easy to imagine store employees that focus on on a section and don't know the rest of the store. I always avoid asking the bread people about aisle locations, because I assume they only know bread...
Or "sorry, I only do the (product). I do the (product) in every store in town but I don't know anything about (what you want)!"
posted by quacks like a duck at 10:30 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

LobsterMitten's encounter gave the perfect wording. It doesn't come across as rude, which headphones can convey. It doesn't rely on your clothing to tell people to not ask you a question. It gives all the information quickly so you and the customer can both be on your way.

'Sorry, I'm here making deliveries for Pepsi. I don't work for this store.'

If you do have lots of international speakers asking you, then yes, you could put that wording in multiple languages on a card to hand to someone. You just need one card you keep in your pocket to show someone. Or if you have a Pepsi logo on your shirt, for example, just point to that and shrug (only once a lack of a common language has been established).
posted by hydra77 at 3:34 PM on November 19, 2019

Thanks all; very helpful. I like the idea of redirection, so they have a new focus instead of their [insert feeling] about it. Mentioning the brand directly more directly, and avoiding dismissive/rejection responses might work better =)

I asked in a manners forum on FB and one person pointed out r/IDontWorkHereLady where several people (mostly shoppers) also get asked such things, to much hilarity, and I'll post a few of the real special encounters I've had =)
posted by Quarter Pincher at 12:16 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

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