Stores in retail

Nm_home_logo In many ways, I have always been looking for the answer "what should I do when I grow-up".   I started off in the world of retail as early as high school and then went on through college to work in retail graduating with the coveted job at Macy's starting in the training program.  But I even remember now that although I was working at Macy's, I wonder about other jobs that I would be great at.  Did I go down the wrong path and should I fix it now?  Maybe a food stylist, a currency trader, etc.

To me, the most magical part of the retail business was being in the stores.  My favorite job was being an assistant store manager where I oversaw 1/3 of the departments.  I loved the interaction with the sales people, the managers ( who I mentored and trained to get to the next job in their career ) and the customers.  I actually still have a soft spot for retail although the familiarity of all the ups and downs make me hesitant about jumping back into that rink again….although never say never.

I was talking to someone today about Neiman-Marcus and a flood of memories and stories came back to me.  The summer after my freshman year in college, I returned home for the summer and worked as a floater in the NM store Chevy Chase, MD.  A floater is someone who is not assigned a specific department but just floats around based on the needs of the day.

The store in Chevy Chase was an interesting one.  Many of the customers came from the diplomats who lived there.  Some of the biggest sales were done after store hours on personal buying trips.

I spent almost 2 weeks in the food department.  The food department in NM was quite incredible.  Magnificent cheeses, chocolates, condiments, etc.  Since the store was relatively empty on most days, we spent our days making sure the cheeses were perfectly cut, lined up.  In essence, I ate my way through that time period putting on a few pounds.

Everyone in NM, except for the floaters and summer help, were on commission.  So, when I'd come in a department for a few days to fill in for people on vacation, I was ostracized and basically told not to sell a thing.  Needless to say, I didn't pay much attention to that and didn't understand why.  Was I supposed to just hang out all day?  One day, a woman came in, wearing ripped jeans and a white t-shirt and a pair of flip flops.  She was wandering around the mens department so I struck up a conversation with her.  Ended up her husband was the top Diplomat to the Mexican Embassy.  She spent about $5K in purchases for husband, suits, shoes, shorts, shirts, the works.  She pulled a huge wad out of cash from her pocket to pay.  She looked like she didn't have any money on her.  I told her she shouldn't walk around town with that type of money in her pocket and she basically said, I don't look like I have any, now do I? 

My favorite is the evening I spent in the scarf department.  At that point in time, each sales person would pick up their box in the morning with cash and receipts in it for the day.  In essence, we each had our own personal cash register.  There wasn't a department register and everything was done by hand.  How they kept inventory figures was questionable except for the bi-annual hand count.  A couple came into the store and looked at scarves.  I showed them a few scarves and they fell in love with the Hermes scarf.  The price was $500.  Pretty expensive but what I saw was $50.  I couldn't imagine a scarf being $500.  They bought it. The next day, I told the manager I sold one of the scarves.  She was thrilled that I sold the $500 scarf.  I never said a thing because of the antiquated system there would make it almost impossible to track what had happened.  But to this day, I remember that and still laugh. 

Just a few memories about the world in retail.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Chon Nguyen

    I also have a soft spot for retail and really appreciated this post! Love the blog!

  2. Miss Xu

    I love retail as well, I got my start with a totally different retail, Pepsi Co, where shelf space was a premium. Great post!

  3. rdeichert

    Interesting post, specifically the conflicts with the commissioned sales people.Have you read Why We Buy by Paco Underhill?

    1. Gotham Gal

      Have not read that book. Will look it up on Amazon.

      1. rdeichert

        There is some really interesting discussions around spatial relationships,personal space, and other factors that impact sales.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Absolutely. If there was more comraderie with me, as a floater, to teach me the ropes, perhaps I would have helped the commission sales people generate more sales to help their salary and the departments bottom line.joanne [email protected]

    2. Ellen

      just got the book Why We Shop out of the library this morning. Thanks for the recommendation. Very interesting and so true about product placement and easy access and cash register lines. CVS got the idea about the cash register lines but Walgreens hasn’t yet.

      1. rdeichert

        The story about the pain medication in the drug store is fascinating.

      2. rdeichert

        The story about the pain medication in the drug store is fascinating.

  4. tanyamonteiro

    Loved that! I started out in retail and wound up in financial software on wall street! Interesting to read you mention “There wasn’t a department register and everything was done by hand. How they kept inventory figures was questionable except for the bi-annual hand count.” It really amazed me to think of how fast technology is moving things today! Often by sharing you encourage me to think about things I’ve not thought about in some time, thanks!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Tanya.

  5. Satish Mummareddy

    If you are talking about the store at Mazza Galleria opposite Maggianos, my wife and i walk through it every time we go to eat at Maggianos. 🙂 I dont think i can afford to buy anything there and always wonder if anything they sell is worth the money they are asking for. 🙂 but its a pretty store worth spending some time at. 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      That’s the one. Built around 1978. So much of their business, at leastthen, was done after hours. The Presidents wife does not shop during hours,they would bring racks over to her, for instance.

  6. Ellen

    I used to love NM. When Copley Place in Boston opened so did NM, their anchor store. We went to the opening party and it was fabulous. Although the Boston store is small, there were so many lovely things. The fur department is still one of the only ones in Boston that is not a leased department. You can still find beautiful coats made domestically. I loved their candies and adored their glass and china departments too. Their jewelry department was one of the first to showcase individual designers also. About 3 years ago there seemed to be a change. Things don’t seem as well made anymore there. Our second NM in Massachusetts opened about a year ago and that store seems to be very quiet. A lovely store but not so special as there are so many individual boutiques in the Natick Collection Mall also One of my favorite moments at NM was the Judith Leiber luncheons. A group of ladies were invited to lunch and the VP of Judith Leiber and the store manager would come and showcase the new styles while we ate. Another favorite was meeting the Ferragamo family. It was interesting to learn the history of Ferragamo in America and meet the grandson of the man who holds the U.S. license for shoes and certain handbags. I have to say his grandfather was a visionary.And of course last call. Getting the phone call to hurry in as the last call merchandize had arrived. I think last call was the first presale I had ever gone to.. You buy but nothing gets rung up until the official sale day which would be a week later so you had to run back in to pick up your stuff. There was a real competitive shopping spirit in the air during those sales.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Great story. An era that truly does not exist anymore. I’ve always wantedto get a vintage Judith Leiber bag. The whole story behind each bag and thecompany has always made me pine for one.

  7. Ellen

    The Judith Leiber story is very interesting. Neimans had a demonstration of how a Judith Leiber bag is made at one of those events. Years ago, my sister got her first Judith Leiber made by Paris style. She got a few mesh bags by her at Saks and then started a collection of the minaudieres. Joan is a bit crazy with those bags. As soon as you buy one you become addicted. Let us just say my sister had become a serious collector. My sister thinks that they are little works of wearable art. plus has a serious addiction to all well made handbags and other accessories.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Your sister sounds like my kind of girl. I totally agree, the bags arepieces of art. My Grandmother was the one who originally turned me on tothem. Each one is different.