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Why would someone work in a shop?

by Carl Brewer last modified 2007-07-04 23:20
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In any sort of shop? Why?

I had an interesting experience today.  On my way to my day job, I stopped off at the Monash Art Gallery to pick up a book.  Quite a high-end book, a gift.  They have a small book, card and print shop attached to the gallery. 

Two older ladies were sitting behind the counter, and seemed quite taken aback when I walked up to them, interupting their conversation, and asked if they had the copy of 'Lux et Nox' I had organised the day before.  To put this in perspective, they stock maybe 50 items or so.  Not a lot ... But they had no idea and had to call the manager.  Ok, I can live with that, they're volunteers, but their attitude was terrible.  They (and the manager) made no attempt to show me anything else and seemed desperate to get me out of there so they could get back to their chat about whatever it was they were talking about.

I'm no retail expert, but I've learnt a lot in 3 years of working at Cycle Science.  Firstly, the single most important thing to ask yourself if you want to work in a shop, is why?  Why work in a shop?  Sure, some people do it purely because it was all they could get as a job, and you expect bad service when you go to department stores, fast food vendors and so on. But if you're going to work in retail, as a volunteer or by choice, then you need some passion.  You need to believe in something.  When I work at CS, I believe I'm doing a service not only to Peter (the shop owner) by helping him to make a living, but also to the people that come in to the shop looking for service and advice.  I'm passionate about bicycles, and the people that work in a gallery need to be passionate about the art in the gallery.  If I was working there, I'd be taking every opportunity to show customers things, give them a chance to experience something that they hadn't seen before.  Even something as simple as 'have you seen the current exhibition?'.  Working at an LBS, or a gallery, or anywhere with a focus on something specific requires passion if you want to do it well, and contribute to not only the coffers of the enterprise you're working at, but also to the people who visit the shop.

I go back to the local Brumbies bakery in Blackburn not because they're a chain bakery with a reputation (I don't like franchises) but because I went in there and the lady working there, when I asked about chilli pies, said they didn't have any, but that they reckon their curry pies are ace.  She believes in what she is doing and that what she's selling is good.  Now I'm a regular there. Nick's Souvlaki bar (gone now, alas, and Lambs is not as good) for years was my favorite souvlaki vendor (I'd go there specifically on my way home from overseas trips) not because they made the best souvas (although I think they did) but because the people who served me cared about what they were doing and wanted me to enjoy the food. It wasn't just 'gimme your $8 and piss off'. They wanted me to come back again and they knew what mattered was more than just having good food. My local Indian restaurant (Khusboo, where we have the aboc dinner, plug, plug!) is the same, it thrives because they work hard at customer service, not just making yummy grub.

These people at the gallery could have shown me some of the photos in some of the other books, shown me some prints, suggested I make time to see the current exhibition, asked me if I own a camera, anything .... if they'd engaged me perhaps I'd have not only bought more stuff from the shop, but also broadened my experience and enjoyed it, and spread the word.  If they were more interested in racking up brownie points for 'volunteering to help at the gallery' the'yd be better off staying home watching daytime TV, in terms of them helping the gallery and helping to expose more people to the art they had on display (which is very topical and I think, quite important, but you wouldn't know from these muppets). The hardest thing to do is get people in the door in any business or enterprise, once they're in, it's vital to engage them somehow.

If you come in to Cycle Science, and I'm there, I'll get bikes under you for you to ride, will talk Tour de France, encourage you to consider road riding for transport and think of ways to make it work for you, get into racing in some form, join BV or a racing club, discuss the merits of different bike fit ideas, training and so on. Why? Because I believe that bicycles are great, and that most people benefit from riding them. That's why I work there. If you work in retail, or are thinking about it, ask yourself why? I think it's a valuable question to ask yourself sometimes.

Back to riding bikes ... no DISC for me tonight, will try and squeeze in a training ride between a pile of training programs that need doing, my Dad's in hospital with some nasty internal bleeding thing and is probably getting operated on today, birthday dinners and real world jobs that go crazy sometimes (don't ask me to do another Windows SBS upgrade for a few months, please, Neil & I are -exhausted-!).  Dad, get well, I want you to come and watch some racing at DISC one night!


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