I used to work for a retailer called Service Merchandise. I was pretty sure they are out of business now but turns out they have an online presence at least.  They were a showroom attached to a warehouse.  People would browse the showroom and write down what they wanted on a little slip of paper what catalog number they wanted then go up to the cash registers and pay for the item.  The computer would then spit out a paper back in the warehouse where the crew back there would pull “brand new in a box” item off the shelf and send it up front to Pick up on a long conveyor belt. The front line crew would match the object with the patron via receipt number and off the customer would go.

There was a lot of room for error and delay in that system.  There are many reasons retail stores just put everything out on the shelves. The main one being people are not patient once they have paid money.  They want their item and they want to leave.  They don’t want to wait 5 more minutes for a surly teenager to find it back in a dusty warehouse and bring it up front.  And that’s basically who staffed that store about 5 adults in their 20’s who were “management” and a gaggle of part time teenagers on their first or second job.

I worked there for several years. Long enough to make it through a couple of holiday seasons which indelibly bred in me a hatred for Christmas music and shopping at that time of year.  People are mean some times and Customers are the meanest type of people there are.

Early one January after I had worked for 97 days straight, btw Yes that’s a thing in retail.  Stores are continually understaffed. Mangers have to fill shifts. If a part timer can’t make it in and they can’t fill it any other way their salaried butt was out on the floor or back in the warehouse. I was an “assistant manager” which means I had all of the responsibilities and none of the pay or power that went along with it.  But it did mean I was paid by the hour still. So when someone didn’t show up I was tapped to fill that shift. So yes 97 days straight, usually 8.5 hours with a half hour unpaid lunch. But thanksgiving and Christmas the store is closed right? Well you’d think that and be right but some people still have to work. All those day were to me were days to clean and restock. The day After thanksgiving is insane with a lot of prep work going into it. The days Before and After Christmas are like being in the middle of a human hurricane of angst and anger. Then comes December 31st or as they liked to call it Inventory. That was its own kind of hell.

Where was I? Oh yes January. I’d finally gotten a weekend off. I’d gotten paid. All those hours were a nice start to the year. I decided I’d swing by the store and use my employee discount to finally pick up a new boom box. Kids if you don’t know what that is use your GoogleFoo to find out. Anyway it was a present to myself. I slipped in, got a slip, put a catalog number on it and stood in line.  I kept my head down trying not to be recognized. The cashier was slow as heck and the line was full of grumbles. You could feel the mood around the front of the store shifting to anger the closer I got to the front.

When I got to the head of the line I saw why. The waiting area was packed with people and the conveyor that usually ran almost nonstop was sitting still with nothing coming up from the back.  The cashier recognized me when I stepped in front of her. She lit up with relief and quickly waived over her boss, my opposite number for the pick up crew.  You see I worked in the warehouse and wrangled the boys back there. While she worked out front and wrangled the girls.  Yes it was a very sexist division of labor, it was the 90’s.

“You have to do something!” she said frantically, “Nothings come up in 15 minutes. I sent Cara back there a little bit ago to help because we had this rush but still the orders aren’t coming up!”

I rolled my eyes because I knew exactly what had happened. I had a good crew of guys but they were all horny teenage boys. And Cara was their current obsession. She was pretty, smart, and nice to everyone. Which is exactly who you want helping customers out front and also exactly who you don’t want back in a warehouse full of boys who are flooded with an excess of testosterone and a desire to impress her. I could pretty much guarantee that my 4 person crew were all vying for her attention while getting in each other’s way while they tried to locate something for her.

“Fine” I said grimly.  I took the time to take off my jacket while logging into the time clock so whatever time it took to clear this up I would get paid for. (I am not dumb and don’t work for free).  The rest of the customers in the pickup area were all staring at me. some were whispering to each other. There was a general air of angry confusion. I wasn’t dressed like an employee but obviously I was Someone. I squared my shoulders, aimed at the swinging door to the warehouse next to the conveyor belt and built up a head of steam as I headed for it.


“What. Is. Going. On. Back. Here?” I yelled as I barreled into the warehouse proper but I am sure it was heard all over most of the store. Five heads swiveled towards me with shocked expressions.  I’d caught them all standing around the printer, just talking, well flirting more likely. They all had the grace to look guilty as fuck.

I Pointed. “You! Out. Now.” The Pick up Lead could deal with her. Cara scrambled past me towards the door I’d come in. I looked over and noticed there were orders piled on the belt.  Well at least they had been doing something before getting distracted by Cara. However the belt wasn’t on so the packages weren’t headed to the pickup area. I stalked forward, slapped the start button and rounded on my crew. If you’ve ever seen a puppy trying to gain speed on a linoleum floor you have a hint of what these knuckle heads attempted to manage as I headed for them.  I can’t say that they were afraid of me before that moment but I’m told my face convinced them that if I could reach them they would regret it.

Fiercely enjoying their startled terror I started shouting directions and ripping orders off the printer. I don’t think I’d ever seen them move that fast before. We cleared the backlog in record time. I didn’t have to lecture them or even say anything else about the incident.  I did, however, bar the Pick up crew from the warehouse for the foreseeable future. That hurt them where it counts. Its hard to show off for someone you only see when your breaks happen to sync up.

From that day until the day I quit I made it a habit to randomly stop by unexpectedly when it wasn’t my shift. Our fulfillment time averages decreased dramatically.