Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The winter of our discount tent: Retail 101 at EMS

Camping geeks rejoice - boonies-quality Dark Chocolate Cheesecake. 

There are generally 3 ways to live the New York Dream if you still have to work for a living:

1. Earn an astronomical salary on Wall Street or similar, and live in a loft and eat out several times a week

2. Get a steady and coveted city/government job with benefits that make you basically unfireable

3. Piece it all together - act, sing, sell, wait tables, volunteer, teach, sell your own product online, knit condoms for Etsy - and still manage to eat out once a week and pay your rent on time. Mostly.

Having surrendered my 9 year Oregon-based career as a Customer Evangelist, I've entered the realm of option 3:  I volunteer teach yoga, make and sell my original schtick, do freelance copywriting and social media, and today, I entered the world of retail - working a casual shift at Eastern Mountain Sports, the northeast's version of REI.

Now, if you're an outdoor gear freak, EMS is the place to be. Much like if you're a chocaholic you should work at Max Brenner, if you're into Apple, work at the Mac Store, if you love pets get a gig at a pet store, if you like food start serving or prepping at a restaurant, if you love music, work at a guitar store, if you hate music work at a Lowry organ store, if you love bikes (and are independently wealthy) work at a bike shop ... and if you love making enemies out of everyone on your street, work at a leafblower outlet.

Whatever your passion in your spare or unspare time, there's a retail gig out there to let you wallow in the merchandise and commune with like minded geeks.

I'm starting out with one 8-hour, mid-week shift - and today I was immediately put to work at the register. Ah, how easy it looks from the other side, how we tap our feet impatiently when a cashier furrows his or her eyebrows, hits some buttons to generate a loud BEEEEEP from the machine then calls for help over the loudspeaker. How we roll our eyes when they proclaim "I'm new". And here I was, sheepishly murmuring that very line when a complicated return fronted up at the counter, as if it was any excuse.

Credit cards and cash are a cinch - hit a few keys, swipe, sign, bag it up and have a nice day. Easy, until I forgot to give one gent in a hurry back his card. Doh! I quickly learned to stand the card up front and center like a sore thumb and didn't make that mistake again.

Then there are the myriad of ways to return things for credit, refund, part payment towards something else etc etc.  Like many customer focussed 'merican retailers, you can return anything you bought from EMS at any time - even several years down the track, if you found the product to "not serve you" -  and there is a labyrinth of keystrokes to be memorized to make sure it's processed right.

Now of course, this generous return policy opens the floodgates to all kinds of abuse, but in actual fact, abuse is rare. Besides, who wants bad karma to befall you when clinging to the ledge of  peak in Patagonia with your ill-credited goods ...

"You wouldn't believe the things white people return," a gal was heard to say at Bed Bath & Beyond.  Oh yes, I did return a funky toaster to BB&B - actually, it was merely an obstinate label that got me wound up - and it was taken back without the slightest quibble. Return policies like these are basically unheard of downunder, where you buy it, you wear it, literally. 

There is a brief half hour lunch break when I rushed out the store to frantically seek some good, cheap and fast sustenance. This is SOHO, New York City. The famous Balthazar Bakery Restaurant across the road blatantly thumbs its nose at the recession by smugly serving sandwiches the size of a pack of playing cards for *gulp* $9.50. I capitulated to the mediocre deli a couple of doors up, the kind that reeks of rancid fat and overpriced energy bars. The garish Halal cart right outside the store is looking mighty appealing ...

And what of my fellow staff at EMS? They are a fascinating and diverse bunch. Students, climbers, hikers, actors, journalists, photographers, tour leaders, musicians, doctors, lawyers and accountants. All doing one or more shifts to add a little diversity - and cash - to their full and varied lives. 

So indeed, I have a new level of respect for the role of the cashier, much like I have for wait staff, having done the dishes in Country Kerry

I've always been a believer of immersing oneself in nooks and crannies our wide, wide world. I worked the nightclub shift at an Indian restaurant (awed by how much mess people could make at 3am with an order of chicken tikka masala), and as mentioned earlier, was a waitress and trainee chef in Ireland, and the cook and manager of an eco-hotel in Costa Rica - in between gigs as a copywriter and creative director of a Saatchi ad agency.

My mother, who ran her own retail fashion store for years, and is still in sales at the age of 73, says that every day in retail you meet rich people, poor people, smart people, dumb people, nice people, pains in the asses and everything in between. Dealing with people of all stripes keeps you sharp and relating. And gives me even more creds to continue blogging as the 24/7 Customer Evangelist.

Stop by EMS and I'll sell you a compass and a shrink wrapped apfel kuchen for dessert in the desert ... and how would you like to pay for that, sir?

Pictured right: Glen Nison, a Bike Friday customer says EMS is one of his favorite haunts. He popped by when I was working in the bicycle department. I actually sold a Jamis BIG WHEEL BIKE to someone. Horrors!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Entertaining as always GalFDU!
Yes, your post reminds me of the issue I have with how ridiculously easy it is to return stuff. Ultimately, the customer (i.e. you and I) pay for this abuse. I say "you buy it, you wear it!"

simplyMEinNYC said...

you should go to calexico cart in soho ... they are at prince and wooster; and broome and Crosby ... but i do have to warn you, there is a line -- burritos are $7-8 or tacos for $4...

Galfromdownunder said...

Thanks for the burrito tip! Except the adequate one in the deli next door was $5.50.

Anonymous said...

I'd hate to hanging from that cliff edge with a carabina I was intending to return. Good stuff!