I have been back at the big bookshop since last August, I think.
26 weeks I have been back, and it’s been…a challenge. This has nothing to do with customers. I love customers. I have mostly had lovely beautiful understanding customers since I came back. It’s the company that is a challenge.
I can’t remember much from before Christmas, because Christmas was so traumatic that I am still having flashbacks:
- Umbrellas that change colour in the rain.
- Putting price stickers on balls of raffia.
- Ornamental Christmas trees made out of sticks, that smelled vaguely of poo.
- Stickering keyrings.
- Mugs that look like camera lenses (how clever!).
- Placing £3.99 stickers on tiny tins that say “Donut fund” on them.
- Coming to work after two days off to find 60 boxes waiting for me to deal with. Sixty boxes. Filled with chocolates, and notebooks that say “I’m doing my best!”, and Marvel Monopoly, and Sherlock Holmes Cluedo, and puzzles depicting flower shops, and gloves that you can wear while using smartphones, and projectors that you put your smartphones into (kind of cool, those), and camera film (wat), and flasks with fish on them, and notebooks with mushrooms on them, and (I shit you not) a small toy yacht for children called “The 8 Inch Chubby”.
I would get about 20 boxes a day, and be given an hour (if I was lucky) to go through and price them. I was only given an hour, because we didn’t have enough staff on the shop floor, because we were given five temps who started in December with very little training, who actually ate our time by constantly asking us how to do things, panicking, putting customer orders through for books that were no longer in print, shelving books in ridiculous places and not understanding the alphabet.
I feel sorry for those temps, because we hated them. It wasn’t their fault, but we still hated them.
Eventually I gave up on them and just went to do my non-booky things anyway.
We also had two amazing special favourite people come in to help us over Christmas. People who are sent to shops to help them in times of need. The woman decided she would help me one day. So she moved things around in my area and told me that I needed to put all the mugs out, because people liked those. Then she said that we would work together on the table, and we would make it “The most commercial table you have ever seen”. She was also going to tidy up my display of games.
She never did those things.
Her and her friend would come in whenever they wanted, take long lunches, moan about the state of our staff room, and were overheard one day saying that today was a “take it easy day”.
We hated them, too.
I can’t remember when exactly, but some time before Christmas all the full-time staff had to spend a day in the city for training. A meeting? A pep-talk….
On my training pep-day in the city we were told to lie. We were told that we had to sell lots of particular books to people by lying to them. Don’t read the books! You don’t have to read the books we want you to sell lots of! All you have to do is walk passed a customer and say “That’s an amazing book”, and they will buy it. They won’t ever ask in what way it is amazing. Oh, no. They will buy it. It helps if you touch the book, too. But don’t touch the customer.
There is a good reason behind this, though. If we can sell a lot of a certain selection of books, it means that the publishers trust us again, and then we get better deals on books and shit. It’s very technical, and I don’t think that you would really fully understand, because books.
At one point, a man from another shop said he didn’t feel comfortable lying to his customers in that way. At which one of the main big boss people asked him “Do you trust me? I chose some of those books. Do you trust me? Do you trust me? Do you trust me?!?!”
It was all a little uncomfortable. At another point, they were talking about how they liked shops with personality. They wanted to see us having fun and talking and interacting loudly at customers. Then a woman from another shop piped up and said something along the lines of “I sing at work!”, and they all smiled and nodded.
She’s a good employee.
I thought I was being a pretty good employee. I’m not amazing. Oh no. But I’m pretty good. I know not to order books that are no longer in print, for example. Sometimes I sing.
I am about to toot my own horn here, in a serious manner. Are you ready? Because I am.
I know quite a bit about kid’s books. I love kid’s books. I can recommend a kid’s book to anyone who asks, and not lie. I’m pretty good at kid’s books.
So when I started back in the big bookshop to replace the kid’s bookseller who had just left, and they put me in charge of non-booky stuff, I was a little confused. I asked my manager (who is a good manager) whether he knew that I have about six or seven years of experience in kid’s books.
He said he didn’t, no.
So then, the next time I saw my manager’s boss, I asked him whether he was aware of this fact.
He said he wasn’t, no.
But I was still not moved into the kid’s book section. The woman who was previously in charge of non-booky stuff was put in the kid’s section. We discussed this decision, her and I, and we were both slightly perplexed as to why it had been made. She enjoyed non-booky things, and would have preferred to have been left there.
Oh! I forgot to mention that I had been given other sections, too. In my first few weeks back, we had a little tour of the shop with my manager’s boss. I will call him Captain Jack.
Captain Jack didn’t think that non-booky stuff was enough work for me. Oh no. He wanted me to also look after the window displays. I would be changing them once a month, and also making little changes to them every week.
I also had to look after the front of store. This means the snazzy hardback tables, the little special one book tables that get changed once a week (sometimes less, sometimes more), and the tables full of paperbacks that have special offer stickers on them. These sell the most, and have to be topped up at least once a day. It also includes the new hardback non-fiction wall that they had added, which we dubbed “The Wall if Doom”.
We hate that wall.
I also had to go and get flowers every week or so to make the snazzy tables look nice.
At one point, I asked Captain Jack whether he was trying to make me cry (lolz! Joking around with bosses! Showing personality!). He looked at me with his cold, dead eyes and said “Oh, no. If I wanted to make you cry, you would know it”.
After a month or two of neglecting non-booky things by tidying front of store tables, feeling guilty about neglecting non-booky things and going to do a half-assed job on putting that stock out, only to realised that the front of store was looking like shit and trying to frantically tidy that in the half hour before I went home, and completely forgetting to buy flowers for the snazzy tables, I realised this was not going to work. Forget Christmas, I couldn’t even keep up with this at a normal time of the year. So I said to my manager “I think I’m just going to concentrate on non-booky things, and perhaps the two people who look after fiction can do the front of store”.
He agreed that this was probably a good idea.
Meanwhile, the kid’s section was being neglected. This is because the woman who was in charge of it was only spending half her time in there, because she has another role which takes her out of the shop, and also off the shop floor quite a bit. Which is perfectly acceptable, in my opinion, but not good for the kid’s books.
So now I will fast forward to this week. I had been given a holiday the week before, and I came in on the early shift ready to start the day with my loud personality and lying skills. I asked my manager how the week had been. He asked if I’d heard from anyone. Slightly confused, I said no, I hadn’t.
“Waheeeey!”, he exclaimed, “It’s been a big week! Big news! Lots of changes!”
But he wouldn’t tell me what. I had to wait a few hours for Captain Jack to come in to tell me. I asked if we were closing down. He said no. I asked my colleague if I was getting fired, he said he wouldn’t think so. He’d be very surprised if that were the case. I asked if it was happy news or sad news. My manager said that hmmmmmmmm, it was 50/50? He didn’t seem too sure about that.
I waited, slightly on edge…
When Captain Jack did arrive, and my manager asked me if I would like to come and speak with them both, I said no, I would not. I did not want to know. He chuckled (lolz! Personality!), and I went upstairs to the office.
Captain Jack asked how my holiday was. I said it was Ace! He said wow, that’s good! And then he proceeded to tell me the news.
He said our shop is not doing well. We need to raise sales by quite a lot in the next year, and we are not on target for doing that. He said that last year, they stripped a shop in the city of all of its staff, and brought new and better staff in, and now it is doing well. The new staff know how to lie, and they sell a lot of the books that we are supposed to sell. They are amazing.
We are not, so the same thing is going to be done to us. He then said that I, personally have been underperforming. When I returned to the big bookshop they had high hopes for me. I haven’t achieved these high hopes. I am being moved to another shop which is closer to my house, so isn’t that nice?
I was not impressed. Perhaps it was the way in which he coldly told me that I was a disappointment that did it…But I did not take the news well. Firstly I said that the shop I was being moved to had a bad reputation. He asked in what way. I said it was nothing specific (they’ve had about five years of bad managers, and neglect, and my friend who used to work there, who worked so hard to help the staff and be positive and build up her section had been so unappreciated that she had left, after pretty much having a breakdown).
I asked how he thought my underperformance would be improved by moving me to this shop. He said it would be a fresh start for me. I asked in which ways, exactly, had I been underperforming. He said he wouldn’t go into it, but my manager would do that in my review before I left.
Then he said “Alright! That’s it. Thanks”
I got up, not saying anything, and left.
This meeting took about two minutes. In two minutes, cold-eyed cold-hearted Captain Jack pretty much destroyed my will to go on.
We worked so hard over Christmas, understaffed and stressed. We didn’t do amazingly (I wonder why?), but we hit our budgets and we survived. My section, the non-booky section, was up by lots.
I skipped breaks and had shorter lunches just so that I could get my stock out. I had to stop stickering (even the super special woman agreed with that) just so I would have enough time to get it all out. I worked every weekend.
We had queues about 15 metres long. We couldn’t move in the shop at times because it was so busy.
But whatever. Forget that I rode my bike a few miles to deliver a book to a customer at one point. Forget that I took time out of my day to go and collect books from other shops for people. It doesn’t matter that I spent so much time trying to get books in that had been ordered in the wrong edition, so that people could have them for Christmas (Do you hear me toot my own horn? Toooooot).
So that was my feedback. The first piece of feedback since I returned was that.
Oh, yes. And who is mentally ill? It’s me! I am mentally ill! Just after I started, I caught depression 😦
If I ever find the person who gave it to me, I will kick them. I will shake my tiny fist at them. And then I will probably cry a bit and go to bed for the day to sleep and think about death and the pointlessness of everything.
I don’t really have much to say about that, because Allie Brosh has said it all, and said it perfectly.
The last few days after hearing this news I have been waking up at around 5am and thinking about my underperformance, and then crying a bit (that’s what I’m really good at, these days. I cry when old people look confused. I cry at the thought of Peter Gabriel dying. I cried watching wrestling last week. Wrestling made me cry).
Yesterday morning I woke up and cried, but then I did something else, too. I made a decision, and I made a list.
Fuck them (that’s my decision).
I’m going to sell lots of the books that I know and love (these were in my list). I’m going to sell good kid’s books by the hundreds, instead of the books that they choose (most of which are not to my taste, anyway).
I’ll show them underperformance.
Underperform that, dickheads.