Dear Diary: Are you sure you want to go into retail?
Some things are fully understood only through experience.
I can honestly say that I didn’t fully realize that question my dad asked me six years ago, “Are you sure you want to go into retail?” My mind translated to have my own place, a little shop that had a lot (of beer) to offer. My product will contribute to (good) social interactions, conjure old memories (some intended only for daydreams), drown sorrows, toast new adventures. A place where C and I would be able to hang out together, work—side-by-side. We would build a beer shop. Together, we would be shopkeepers. We would be living our dream.
I never fully grasped the meaning behind my dad’s words until now, well actually I started grasping it within the first year of business, but after five years now I really am starting to understand.
My witness to my father’s job in retail was skewed. I saw some of the hard work, but I also saw the camaraderie, the rewards, the family environment. I didn’t fully understand his question.
“Are you sure you want to go into retail?”
Stuck in responsibility
There are days I want to call off. I am emotionally drained. I am physically tired. God forbid, I am contagiously sick. If I call off, the store stays closed. I make no money. If I make no money, I have no money to pay store bills. And that leads to no store, which would lead to no house. I gotta make a living. And people rely on us to be there (for their beer). So there’s no closing for a day; there’s no calling off. My daily responsibility is to open operate close a business. There’s no running off to beer events; there’s no vacationing. C and I are responsible for opening and closing. We have no managing staff. (My goal: To change this.)
Another responsibility is to have accurate (exacting) records. We are running a business that reports to and is audited by the State: Department of Revenue, Department of Labor & Industries, Employment Security Department, Liquor Control Board; and Feds: W2 reporting, quarterly taxes on employees, annual filings. Putting on the bookkeeper hat: recording daily sales, deposits, losses (few, thankfully). Playing inventory controller, searching out why a product is off in count (was it incorrectly received? Was barcode labeling missed? If so, who initiated the mistake, which now causes grief. Grief to customers looking for the product (that I can’t find), additional work for C and I and co-workers (physical count = customer facing product first, then dig thru full backstock for physical count). How can I make sure this problem doesn’t happen again… and again… and again… It may seem like a little thing, but correct receiving is so important. The product was received correctly (yeah!), but I can’t locate those six missing bottles. Why is my inventory off? It could have been poured for tasting (check records), arrived damaged or was broken (check records), still be in backstock (read labels and/or physically go thru backstock boxes), checked out incorrectly or pocketed (recall any strange behavior, review store tapes, work alongside staff, effectively service customers).
And that’s just two responsibilities of going into retail.
I now realize that dad didn’t mean “work in” but “going in” to retail, with my life revolving around it.
Customer service & expectations
Customer service …there are many kinds of customers; will you favor some or treat all the same, how to be fair, to not pick favorites? Beer newbies. Disrespectful ones spitting chaw into your cooler or wiping their feces on your bathroom wall. Realizing that some with no respect are regulars and will conduct this way every visit. You change policies. You are the manager, the owner, you are responsible for enforcing company policy. Pushing away clean, honest, neat people from bathroom in fear of the odd poop smearer. In fear of the woman who leaves the seat down, and the guy behind her that leaves droplets of piss all over the seat, so the next woman leaves dollops of sat-on toilet paper on the seat that now are absorbed with urine. Did I mention yet that when you “go into retail” you are also responsible to keep a clean place? Yes, you also have a “public janitor” hat. I refuse to clean up peoples feces and piss. The best Christmas present C ever gave me: A deadbolt on the store’s restroom. And you know me, I checked with State laws to make sure we could close it to the public and convert it into storage. We are legally allowed; they can visit the McDonald’s, just 100 yards away. But I’m still responsible to clean that chaw, melted and dripped Menchies that they left on the top of that box, the asphalt streak on the floor, the broken product. C sweeps and mops regularly; me moreso on an as-needed basis. Dusting and polishing glassware and bottles every week and three. Vacuuming. Wiping down. Polishing. Removing not only fingerprints, but mouth/tongue marks (we’re not a 21+ only business), lotion and sweat residue from the cooler and front doors,…
So there’s three responsibilities: Being there. Maintaining product/records. Cleaning. All that said and I haven’t event gotten to the most important responsibility, good customer service. And that includes managing customer expectations, realizing some things are just out of your control. You can try to make people happy, but some people just can’t be made happy. Some are fine at content. Others are miserable and want to make your day a miserable one too.
Because we all have our visions of good customer service, I’m not going to get into a discussion of that here. The point is, that there are so many responsibilities of “going into retail.” When you open a small business, you wear all the hats of responsibility. Unless you can delegate some of that responsibility to others.
Forming a strong backbone: Finding good help
To get the right staff for your place, you need to understand what your place needs. What areas you can give up, to focus more attention on other (necessary, but boring) tasks.
After reading my dilemma of being unable to figure out where to look for beer-knowledgeable self-driven, observant, honest, hard-working individuals able to handle the demands of a job with lots of heavy lifting, arranging, tracking inventory. I needed more time away from the floor, so that I could (re)focus on education (web, tags), marketing, and bookkeeping (boring) tasks.
When sharing this with a friend the reply, paraphrasing here, “It’d probably be easier to find a Bookkeeper than a Clerk. No one really wants to work…” Yea, but I’ve been down that path too. We’ve tried the bookkeeper thing and it didn’t work out. What I need is beer clerks for the floor: for customer service, for stocking, for filling, for carry-outs, for receiving, for maintaining inventory. For customers. I’ve witnessed customers basically call my husband a dick because a dumb joke that we’ve heard a million times didn’t garner a pretend laugh or a forced smile. C’s not one to pretend. He doesn’t waste his time on such nonsense. So because he doesn’t laugh, he is heckled or demeaned. This creates more stress, especially when you’re an introvert, juggling multiple tasks, seeking out (and fighting for) limited product, and then to get pestered for not smiling or laughing, “Aww, come on give me a smile. Don’t be an asshole.” Yes, there are people who really talk like this. And then there is me: My social awkardness, in conversations I get to a point where I am lost for words and want to fade into the wallpaper, I am not sure when to excuse myself from conversation to continue work, to help others. Every day I am made aware of my awkward introverted way.
Our need is for outgoing people. I need friendly, hard-working, beer-knowledgeable, accurate people. People who fit into our family environment. C and I are family. If you’ve never worked in a small family shop, you likely don’t know what I mean. If you have, you know exactly what I mean. You are witness to things at my family level. You become an extension of my family. The family relies on you to pull your weight, to complete job tasks while interacting with customers.
To know the product (R&D). To allow the product to speak for itself (tags). To rely on staff to self-study about beer, keep up on beer that’s available (or not — and why). To taste. To reason with, to guide customers looking for a new beer adventure.
And to be accurate.
Yes, dad, I now understand. I wasn’t just going to work in retail. By “going into retail,” becoming owner, I was choosing to live it. It’s not only about the beer. It’s about responsibilities. It’s about people. To work with people you trust, an extension of family. To embrace the wonderful customers. But I never imagined hecklers. I never imagined gross bathroom habits/fetishes. I never imagined my staff, while pulling the evening shades, would be getting flipped off by a customer who found himself locked outside the store when he arrived after-hours (State Liquor Board says, “sales only in posted hours”). I never imagined these things.
Who would have thought that going into retail would mean that you need to plan how to — to be able to — physically and emotionally deal with stuff like that?