My job, the thing I do in between wishing I didn’t, is ostensibly a sales role with a visual merchandising component thrown in for good measure.
I recently spent a couple of days in Sydney at head office meeting the newly appointed National Sales Manager. Truthfully I thought, to coin a dated American idiom, the jig was up. Surely when this seasoned gent scratched the surface it was going to be screamingly apparent that I am technically…well, crap.
Spouse believes I have a gift – the gift to appear outrageously industrious whenever my boss calls me. I can turn an email, three phone calls and several runs to the outer Eastern suburbs into a weeks worth of damnably hard slog.
My paterfamilias pronounced early that ‘bulldust baffles brains (he shied away from the coarser word for excrement) – an axiom which has consistently characterised my entire working life.
We had a meeting with the young buyer for a chain store and while discussions about gross profit, mark-up and catalogue sales abounded, I was mentally fixated on how shiny her long dark hair was. For once they pull out the figures and percentages I’m gone – suddenly everyone is speaking Urdu.
But watch me go when opinion on brand suitability is solicited. I am an instant expert on demographics, consumer buying patterns and optimum display position. The ability to string a sentence together plus a vaguely theatrical delivery combine to create instant expert credibility.
My enthusiasm for selling had well and truly waned by the first half of last year. I found it increasingly difficult to secure appointments with owners and managers who generally took one look at my brief case and over-eager smile and shook their heads.
Sorry, we are not including any new brands in our range OR We are closing down, didn’t you see the dirty great ALL STOCK MUST GO sign on your way in?!
So, given I don’t thrive on rejection, I resigned myself to failure and spent the rest of the year being an overpaid visual merchandiser for three chain stores. The hand full of actual independent stockists were visited so often I knew their pets names, star signs, political views and what they would prefer to do if they weren’t trapped in a three year lease.
The first chain is a shiny ubiquitous jewellery store owned by a family in New Zealand and part of their own chain of three…
…oh look, why the secrecy? It’s Angus and Coote.
Anyway, they are a highly regulated group of stores where managers are constantly castigated for not reaching daily sales targets. I have seen staff in tears after being on the phone to their area managers. Is it at all possible in retail that you can be paid enough money to smile your way through a daily bollocking from some caffeine fuelled company hack who thrives on stress?
I am required to sign a visitor’s book when I arrive. Fair enough. The manager and I will then sign a separate logbook. I will be handed a key and left to my own devices. When I leave I sign out – twice. Recently they have been instructed to check the bags of all reps. I am unlikely to pilfer a 9ct elephant pendant or created ruby drop earrings and even less likely to make off with my own stock – I can steal that from myself. I am fully expecting sniffer dogs and finger printing by years end.
The second chain is Hoskings. A smaller group owned by a Victorian Peninsula dwelling family, they are less inclined to bawl out their staff for slow sales and I don’t sign anything when I pop by. Their stores were clearly designed in the 70’s and the heavy dark wood counters and chest height cabinets make merchandising particularly hazardous without a step ladder. Fortunately, our display invariably requires little intervention from me so the visits are usually characterised by an imperious wave of the hand accompanied by a patronizing declaration that they are all doing very well (thank you, young Mr. Grace).
The third one is Bevilles – Be-Vile’s. It is often difficult to distinguish the sales staff from bargain hunting punters. Recently at Chadstone-The-Fashion-Capital, two of the sales girls were in thongs and trackpants.
Our display always looks like the after effect of a violent earth tremor. Mostly they are located in the lower cabinets and I kneel on the floor to work my aesthetic magic – a magic that lasts two days before another apparent seismic shift occurs.
Last week I was at Broadmeadows Town Central shopping centre.
A sales girl who was clearly irritated at being interrupted in her description of caviar nails flung a set of keys at me. I could have been anyone. Security? Not so much.
Crouching Golum like in front of the display window I began removing items to clean off the thick layer of dust. It was mid afternoon in the final weeks of the school holidays and a constant trail of shoppers with small children streamed in and out. After being run over by a pram, a shopping jeep and a zimmer frame I arranged my body at right angles and ground my teeth.
Renay, as her name tag revealed, was asked to show a watch. She flung open the sliding glass window two panes up from where I was working. This caused my window to ricochet shut crushing my stock and nearly decapitating me in the process. I waited until the young man finished photographing the watch on his phone (of course he’s not going to buy it on-line) and left the shop before mentioning my near death experience with the rogue window to Renay. She stared at me blankly before fuming ‘You think that’s bad, you should work in the fucking silver cabinet!’ – which I will assume was her way of apologizing.
Back in Sydney, I waited for the talk. I’d filed my report for the new National Sales Manager detailing the current state of play in Victoria. He seemed unphased by our distinct lack of market share and was looking forward to setting some achievable (ie hopelessly optimistic) goals for me.
It is possible he was heat affected though, as on the day in question it was 45.8 degrees or 114.44 for those who work in Fahrenheit, and forming an actual thought let alone comprehensible speech was nigh on impossible.
But look, I’ll take what I can get and it appears for now at any rate, I live to fake another day.