retail survival kit
August 8, 2008 9:28 PM   Subscribe

Retail survival kit

I'm a (new) supervisor at a large retail store, and the busiest time of the year, a tax-free weekend for back-to-school sales, is just around the corner. It's a rough, crazy three days with early mornings, late nights, and teeming crowds of insane shoppers.

Store management is providing lunch and letting us break dress code by wearing jeans and tennis shoes, so that helps morale. But this weekend can be seriously overwhelming, especially for new hires. Many of my people are women between 16 and 20 and there are a few in their 40s and 50s.

I'd like to put together a sort of survival kit to make it a little more pleasant for my awesome employees. All I've come up with so far is a water bottle, energy bar, mints, little bottle of Purell and smiley face stickers. I may also bring doughnuts and OJ for those who have to open the store at 5 am, depending on my own schedule. Any ideas of what else to include in my survival kits or what else I can do to make this all go smoothly for the people I work with?

posted by jschu to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We had our tax free weekend last week, and I can say without equivocation, what you need to add to the survival kit is ... Valium.
posted by netbros at 9:45 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: as a manager of a mall portrait store, i found that during our busy season the best i could do was make sure i provided ample snacks (i went with nuts, chocolates, soda, and water) and make sure i was always working harder than the people i made twice the salary of. i showed up earlier and stayed later. i worked six day weeks to make sure that the critical issues my employees had outside of work were still able to be tended to. i made sure that the simple schedule of 'those who arrive first get lunch first' except for me - i took lunch after the first rush, even if i was the first one there.

anytime an employee comes to you with an issue (kid has a stuffy nose, girl has a school project, boy has finally asked the girl out he's waited 2 years to say hi to) put yourself in their shoes and give that issue the weight the employee is giving it, figure out what that thing would be in your life, and then figure out how you'd want your boss to respond. i made sure to never play favorites, even if i felt favoritism. stress to your employees the end in sight. try to get the rallied and excited, without being fake or annoying (a hard balance to strike to be sure).

if you're in a retail store, tax free weekend will be nothing compared to the 5 weeks before christmas and this will be your warm up. remember that even though you're a supervisor and they are peons, you are all humans at the mercy of a corporate machine and try to not put the superior barrier between you.

finally, since it looks like you're mainly gearing for the 3 long and hard days of tax free weekend, watch your staff and realize when someone needs to go on an unscheduled break. noticing an underlings distress before they can complain and giving them a few minutes of breathing room will give you a much happier worker on the other side of those 15 minutes.
posted by nadawi at 9:49 PM on August 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

- Make sure the registers stay open, and have plenty of them. Nothing bugs me more than a busy store with <2>
- Meals at meal time. Make it pizza, 6' sub, something that shows you care. They have to eat, and as much as I like snacks they're not a meal.

- If the store plays music that corporate has decided on (and repeats itself over and over multiple times a day for a few months at a time), consider accidentally playing the wrong thing that day. Then be prepared to take the heat for it if the wrong people find out.

Obviously don't do that last one if there's a risk you'll get fired or anything too seriously. But when my sister worked retail, the worst part for her was hearing the same songs in the same order every day for a long period of time. Thankfully I haven't had any jobs that do that yet...
posted by theichibun at 10:53 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, that first point got eaten. It was supposed to say:

- Make sure the registers stay open. Nothing bugs me more than a busy store with less than 20% of the registers open. Make a group of people whose whole job that day is to relieve people at the registers every once in a while.
posted by theichibun at 10:55 PM on August 8, 2008

I have to second the food. I once worked in a flower shop during Valentine's, and we were so grateful when the managers ordered pizza for all of us.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:13 PM on August 8, 2008

Best answer: Give them the gift of efficiency.

Devise and improve work flows so that things run smoothly. Ask the employees for ideas. Be a leader - organize, coordinate, and communicate.

Happy customers = happy employees.

Take a tip from the Apple Retail Store - assign one person to be a floater that goes around making sure all the customers are ok.
posted by ebellicosa at 12:22 AM on August 9, 2008

The best things when I was a retail employee were when we had the whole day catered (variously by Subway, Pizza Hut, or a local deli), and when our managers put out bottles of water for a $0.25 donation to charity in our breakroom. (If that water had been cold, it'd have been even better.)

As a cashier whose hands got VERY dirty, I can say if you go for the little bottles of hand sanitizer, get the ones with Aloe if you can find them for the same price. Using that stuff a lot dries out your hands.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:56 AM on August 9, 2008

I think your survival kits are a good idea, but I wouldn't add anything else - if you're going to be busy, your employees won't really have the opportunity to use much more than what you have there already. What I would suggest is to back up your very kind gesture by doing the things nadawi recommends. Seriously. Like, write that whole comment on the back of your hand so you don't forget. I worked in retail for years and the only things that made crazy weekends like the one you're describing tolerable is supervisors who did what nadawi describes.

I'll expand on one thing, though, that other posters have touched on: have a sense of priority. Likely when you get busy you will not be able to get all of the little sidework tasks that are frequently assigned in retail (usually by management types who have no idea what it's actually like to work in retail). The middle of a rush is no time to be a stickler. The worst supervisors I've had would send a coworker out onto the floor to do some menial, non-critical thing (say, dusting the shelves or scrubbing the baseboards) while the lines were out the door Because It's On The Daily Tasks List. It's almost like triage: you need to constantly figure out where the biggest needs are and do what you can to attend to them. When you're busy, your customers will care that they had to spend ten minutes in line because you only had two people on cash registers - I guarantee you they won't care if all of the merchandise is not front-faced and filled. Better flow equals less irate customers equals happier workers.

Good luck!
posted by AV at 5:28 AM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about a "I absolutely need a break" pass? Each employee gets one and it's good for 15 minutes of instant break during the sale. I know from when I worked retail, there were some bad days that could have been salvaged if I could have just taken a break after a particularly annoying customer and cooled off a little. You could offer an incentive that if they don't use their pass during the sale, they get some other treat, like a bigger discount on store merchandise or something similar.

Also, make sure you're well stocked on supplies like bags and receipt tapes at each register - and make sure your employees know how to change the tapes.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:16 AM on August 9, 2008

Best answer: Re: hand sanitizer - While some people love hand sanitizer, I hate it - it makes my hands feel dirtier, it's just another layer of stuff on my skin. When I can't get to a sink to wash my hands, I prefer baby wipes. Maybe have a package of baby wipes AND a thing of hand sanitizer under each register/behind the counter? You don't have to get name-brand stuff either - the baby wipes I keep in my car were like 75 cents, and every drugstore has a generic hand sanitizer for a buck or something.

Ooooh, also, since you mention a lot of the employees are women - ponytail holders. I know it's kind of random, but it's really frustrating when, halfway through my day, I want to pull my hair back, but I forgot to throw one in my pocket. They're pretty cheap at a drugstore - good ones can be purchased in packages of 20-30 for about 10 cents a band. Just don't get the teeny plasticky ones (sometimes called poly bands). These are my favs.

Other than that, I don't have much to add to what other people said about making sure people get their breaks on time, it's staffed so everyone has an even workload, realize what's really important and what can wait til Monday, and to have actual food if corporate is providing lunch (I'd recommend sandwiches if you have a choice, pizza is greasy and makes some people feel icky). Good luck! And remember it's just 3 days, it'll be over before you know it.
posted by AlisonM at 6:27 AM on August 9, 2008

I like the fact that you're *thinking* of your employees - keep your considerate behavior with you as you continue in this job :)

Having worked retail before, I can pretty safely say that most things have already been mentioned. My only suggestion would be placement - on a busy day getting back to the break room / employees only space could be difficult / impossible. Maybe the survival kit could be placed at each register before the staff arrives... I kept a little picture of my girlfriend at the time - maybe a cheap small photo frame with a 'your SO's picture here' or something of the sorts. Corporate doesn't always like it, so YMMV.

Good luck - and consider this a warm up for the Thanksgiving to Christmas - it'll be crazy no matter what you do!
posted by chrisinseoul at 7:12 AM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it is feasible and would make a difference (i.e., if people don't already drive themselves), taxi vouchers to and from work might be very nice.

And if it gets hot, little perspiration-absorbing wipes like the ones that they sell at the Body Shop would probably be much appreciated.
posted by sueinnyc at 7:41 AM on August 9, 2008

Response by poster: Y'all are awesome. Thank you so much for your thoughtful tips and suggestions so far! I should clarify that I don't have the power to organize schedules, change the music, or get more registers. And like I said, the store is already providing lunch, so that's taken care of! But you have all really made me think about about how to improve myself at my job. I've worked in retail (at this same store, in fact) over 5 years and dealt with some great supervisors and some horrible ones, and I'm really hoping to be one of the good ones.

assign one person to be a floater that goes around making sure all the customers are ok.

I like this idea a lot, and I'm going to add that they have one of those hooks in hand to help customers get things down from the top shelf. And a price scanner and a copy of the circular.

How about a "I absolutely need a break" pass? Each employee gets one and it's good for 15 minutes of instant break during the sale.

Also a smart idea-- I don't take breaks (guilty conscience won't let me!) other than lunch and I've been forgetting to check whether others have been able to. My predecessor used to schedule breaks so that if you missed the time for yours, you didn't get one, and I thought that was horribly micromanaging and unfair. This "hall pass idea" seems cool.

Thanks again!
posted by jschu at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2008

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