About a billion years ago, (1995), I worked in a video shop. It was part of a chain. I won’t mention which chain, obviously, but it’s probably the first one you thought of. Yes, that one. Yes, I suppose it does rhyme with ‘cockthruster’, now that you mention it, but I’d rather not think about that, thanks very much.
Look, can I get on with the bloody story?
The particular store I worked at, (which I’m sure wasn’t policy across the chain, naturally), used to generally employ a single member of staff at the very bottom of the payscale (£3.01 per hour, I seem to recall. My only pay rise during my tenure brought this up to a dizzying £3.03) and would just leave them to it in the store on their own. This presented a few problems, since various day-to-day requirements of running the store revolved around use of management level passwords, on the assumption that the poor grunts on £3.01 wouldn’t be left solely in charge for days on end. Which we were.
One day, I got a call from a ‘regional’ manager which I remember vividly to this day. He told me that the quarter’s takings across his stores hadn’t met targets. The store that I worked at had met them, but some stores in the middle of nowhere were dragging his average down and he wanted a quick boost of profit over the next week.
His instructions run thusly;
1) Tape up the 24 hour drop box with industrial tape, and put a sign reading ‘Drop box out of order; please return films to counter’ on it.
2) Whitewash out all of the windows in the store and write ‘Massive Sale Now On!’ in the whitewash.
3) Sit back and watch the cash roll in.
His logic about the dropbox ran thusly;
1) If a customer is forced to walk into the shop, they might buy something.
2) If a customer can’t return a video in the middle of the night, they’ll come back tomorrow and buy something.
3) They might not be able to come back tomorrow, and will thus accrue profitable late fees.
His logic about the whitewash/sale ran thusly;
1) Everyone loves a sale! Whitewashing the windows will increase the curiosity factor!
2) Once inside the shop, they’ll forget why they came in and won’t notice that there isn’t a sale. They might buy something.
My objections were varied and manifold. A small selection might include;
1) People will notice that a sale doesn’t exist.
2) No, honestly, they will.
3) They’ll ask what’s on sale. I will reply ‘The usual fine selection of goods’
4) They might, at this point, stab me. I wouldn’t entirely blame them.
5) How can a hole in the fucking wall be ‘out of order’?
6) A customer who has accrued a late fee because we’ve removed his means of returning his video will refuse to pay it.
7) A customer who has travelled all the way to the store in the middle of the night to find that we’ve removed his means of returning his video will simply post the video forcefully through the letterbox instead.
8) A videotape being pushed through the letterbox with sufficient force will set off the motion detectors and summon the police.
7) The police will contact the keyholder to come out in the middle of the night to turn the goddamn burglar alarm off.
8) The keyholder is me. I hate you beyond my ability to express myself.
Funnily enough, I managed to express my rebellion at the whole plan by sticking to the company rulebook.
“Where can I obtain whitewash?”
“From the store down the road”
“Where can I get the money to purchase the whitewash?”
“Perform a disbursement from the till”
“I can’t do that without a management level password”
“Look, I’m sure you know a management level password”
“For an employee to obtain the passwords of other employees is grounds for dismissal”
“Just take it without running it thorugh the system”
“That would also be grounds for dismissal. Besides, I can’t close the store”
“Just put a ‘back in 5 minutes’ sign up”
“It’s grounds for dismissal to close the store during opening hours”
and so on and so on.
Eventually, the horrible bastard got utterly fed up with my complaints and came down and did it all himself, which was at least more satisfying than me having to do it myself. It clearly made me the guy’s number one enemy, though, and provided me with my first real glimpse of management level thinking.
Ah, hell. I didn’t have much in the way of life-fun back then, and small victories meant a lot. I also look back fondly upon completing a staff-improvement manual, which the same regional manager had to deliver to his superiors. My favourite questions (with my responses afterwards) from that manual were:
Q) Read the ‘Health & Safety’ information on the wall in the staff room. What have you learnt that you weren’t previously aware of?
A) That the store is 5 degrees below legal minimum operating temperature.
Q) It is important for any store to listen to the concerns of its customers. Write down, exactly, the next question a customer asks you.
A) “Why is it so fucking cold in here?”