Retail Hell: How I Sold My Soul to the Store Paperback – Oct 18 2010
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About the Author
Freeman Hall began slaving in retail at the age of twenty at Macy's. His most notable experience was with specialty clothing store Nordstrom, where he spent fifteen years as an award-winning handbag manager and salesperson. In 2007, he created the popular "Retail Hell Underground" blog and videos, generating a satirical sounding board for retail slaves worldwide.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
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The book opens with a customer demanding a last minute of the day return of an obviously used $2,000 handbag by a 'customer' that Freeman remembers is not the one who bought it. On the other side, however, he's pressed by customer-service focused manager that directs him to accept the return, which also docks his commissions. Unfortunately, this farce is repeated a number of times throughout the book, cheating both the salespeople and the store.
Then Hall flashes back to his first day on the job - orientation. Loads of corporate H.R. baloney (eg. emphasizing "How key," "How important employees are," all the while one realizes from other presentations on rules that you're expendable, disposable, and replaceable. The conflict is most obvious between the Employee Handbook (1 rule - You're in Charge), vs. the reality that there is a long list of expectations that must be met - else termination.
Then it's onto the sales floor the next day, learning handbag lingo (Lesson One: They're 'handbags,' not 'purses'), studying the Handbag Guide, and trying to also understand the various handbag materials - all while answering the phone, dealing with more returns, serving customers at the counter, etc. Then we read of the ongoing conflict between the 'Demon Squad' (fellow salespeople who steal sales from others) and the 'Handbag Angels' that are honest and helpful. Hall likens the conflict between salespeople at times to scenes out of a war movie.
Morning pep rallies are another topic - lots of cheers (never loud enough), speeches about smiles, etc.; I though only Wal-Mart had those crazy get-togethers!
Hall also had his most memorable customers, aside from the thieves continually 'returning' merchandise. These included one super-customer buying thousands of dollars of merchandise at a time, a 'stalker' who continually called on the phone wanting answers to detailed questions and special help but never coming in to buy, and the 'lookey-loos' who also wasted time.
Near the end of "Retail Hell" Hall is warned by management that his sales were below target for two months (he contends due to fraudulent returns), then one month later he is selected for the quarterly Service Superstar Award for having the most complementary letters in the store written about him. (Makes you suspect, like W. Edwards Deming pointed out decades earlier, that management awards, etc. are a farce. Don't believe it - look at the award plaques that are displayed. Often a random pattern, especially at fast-food places, usually dying out after several years; at other locations (eg. [...]) - being 'fastest checker' also means providing the least satisfying customer experience.
Sandwiched into the book here and there are a couple of mini-screenplays depicting activity just covered in the narrative. Cleverly done.
Personally, I don't know how Hall kept at it, or why. He clearly has a lot of talent that was mostly wasted - how many other wasted lives are out there?
The critics clearly do not have a job in Retail and some are probably the same customers who act all crappy and jerky in stores to employees just like Freeman. I don't understand how someone could pay as high as $800-$2000 for a silly old handbag, but I definitely understand how they walk all over you as if they own the place just because they get to spend money like that! The only ones who are fit to judge this book as critics are ones that have worked Retail themselves, and this book brings a lot of laughs! It takes a lot for a guy like Freeman to put in the years of Retail like he did, putting his dreams on hold to do so, and even having to suffer the agony of attending stupid conference meetings on his DAY OFF!!! When I read about him having to get up early in the morning to do so, I kept thinking, "My company doesn't pay ME enough to attend their stupid meetings on my day off! No way in hell could I do that!"
But Freeman certainly did, and his experiences have made quite the seller! I'd recommend this book to ANY Retail employee I know and don't know, since this book would certainly make all of them think, "Yup, I remember that happening to me!" The only ones who could truly understand this book are the ones who HAVE BEEN or ARE wage-slaves, making a living to impress the average bonehead customer WHO IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!!!
I loved this book. It was extremely funny and author Freeman Hall has a wonderful way of telling the story. I have to say that Freeman is kind of a major pain in the derriere himself and I can just imagine having to come face to face with him behind the counter. He comes across as extremely sarcastic and frankly, a bit of a snob, but this only adds to the "fun" factor in the storytelling.
I laughed when I read about the (what feels like) million of stairs he and his fellow co-workers had to use everytime they entered and left the store. The crazy, over the top enthusiasm from the store managers was also hilarious (although I can just imagine how annoying it must be to have this woman giving orders).
This book, while taking a funny and bitting look at our love of retailing and spending, spending (how crazy is it to spend so much money on a handbag? although I have done it myself!!!), I could not help but also feel some sadness. This book also shows us just what is wrong (in part) with society right now - spending too much money on our "wants", working at jobs we don't like, people disrespecting each other and big corporations trying to "brainwash" us.
However, I am being way too serious here, because this book is a delicious insight into what it is like to be on the "other" side of the counter and I loved every minute of it.
Hall worked at "The Big Fancy" (apparently Nordstrom's) for many years and has a dead-on talent for skewering the pretensions of managers and the obnoxiousness of high-end customers. I admit that if I hadn't worked in retail I might not get the humor -- customers defecating in fitting rooms and insane store managers -- but it's so true!
He appropriately calls his store manager Suzy Satan.
There are no rules but:
A confusing lecture about sales requirements came next. If we didn't sell more in commissions than our hourly rate, we ended up doing something they called Misfire. Apparently it was the equivalent of committing murder at The Big Fancy, and if we did it three times in a row, we were viewed as "Ineffective Sales Associates" and considered "not a right fit". Termination was initiated. Suzy Satan announced all of this with a smile that had to be hiding something wicked.
Hall was quite probably the first man to sells handbags in Los Angeles. He sells extremely expensive luxury handbags selling for thousands of dollars. Yes -- it's handbags, never purses:
Handbag instead of purse. Sounded easy enough. But until that point I'm pretty sure the word handbag had never come from my mouth. In my world of ignorant maleness, the clunky contraptions women stuffed full of whatever were called purses. Not handbags.
He lovingly details the phoniness of management -- how they pretend to love salespeople but really despise them. A sign at the employee entrance reads: THROUGH THESE DOORS WALK THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN OUR COMPANY -- but this sign appears after employees must climb the EIGHT flights of stairs just to reach the employee entrance before beginning a full day of work.
I was literally shouting with laughter as I read some of this book because it is so true. His accounts of his initial orientation (training), when a manager showed a drawing of a sun to the new recruits, contains such heartwarming phrases as "You are the center of the sun. How bright you shine affects everything."
Hall also describes "morning rallies" (that's what the morning meetings are called) and he is spot-on accurate. His department manager/cheerleader also will give her own personal pep talks to her staff:
I'm holding this meeting because we have a lot to work on here, people. We missed our month twice in a row. There was a 22% decrease in January, a 13% decrease last month. You know how Suzy feels about third strikes. I absolutely cannot allow this department to miss another month. The unemployment rate in Los Angeles is at an all-time high, and I'm sure I can find plenty of hungry people to sell handbags and get me increases."
Of course, retail sales almost always decrease in January because the holidays are over, but retail managers conveniently never remember that. Retail -- where you never do anything right. Retail -- where associates fight and claw to get the customers and the sales and you are constantly pitted against one another for your metrics and sales goals, and where you are constantly threatened with losing your job. Ever wonder why retail associates in "nice" stores always look so miserable? Read this book.
The only thing that Hall rarely mentions is the obsessive drive for retail associates to open store credit cards with high interest rates. Perhaps it was not that bad at the time he worked in retail. Retailers now will fire people who do not open enough credit accounts -- how hard you work doesn't matter.
Now be warned: Hall can be snarky about the customers and management, and his language is quite harsh -- if you don't like cursing, you might be offended. I admit that I really was tired of the excessively graphic language and felt that much of it was unnecessary.
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