I grew up in a self-employed family. I worked antique shows from an early age, packing and unpacking, setting up and tearing down, answering telephones, and as I got older, working the shows. My mother owns a jewelry store, the only one on that side of town. Writing receipts, waiting on customers, and trying to be humble were things I got in working with the public. dh Mr. TellBlast has always been with a small business, starting with a small, specialty retail store.
This last year, I took a seasonal job at the mall and applied at big and small retail stores. The big store offered more money than the smalls, so I went there. Both my small and big retail experiences come from specialty retail. I’m going to take a little time to write about the differences an employee may want to consider when looking to work at either.
Free stuff: Yes, you can get free stuff at both places. You can also get ‘gratis’ (sometimes free, sometimes very reduced prices), samples, and experiences that Joe Customer off the street will not.
Motivation: For big retail without commission, sales are truly meaningless unless there is a common group goal. As in, “If our store does X, Y, and Z, then we’ll all get (name your prize here).” Without this goal, there is not enough immediate or delayed gratification to spur me on. If a store manager gets some prize from the underlings’ performance without sharing the wealth or knowledge, then underlings feel taken advantage of and much of their potential is wasted. If you dangle a carrot, and dangle frequently and early enough in the campaign, then talk to me. If there is a carrot but I don’t find out about it until after the fact, then you just wasted all the prior potential and time I spent during the carrot campaign. In contrast, for small retail, if you don’t see a sale with commission, you don’t eat. We can still be friends with our competition-employees. Have you ever watched “Say Yes to the Dress” ever? I think they all get along fairly well and make commission.
Inventory: Small specialty retail believes that one of a kind means higher prices and more people will bid on it. Rare is good for smalls. Big specialty retail believes that the more merchandise you display, the more people will buy it, regardless of price. Small biz have more control over setting prices and may be open to bargaining. The big retail establishment that I’m at currently has its inventory pre-priced. If customers don’t see it, they won’t buy it. Which supposedly removes the commission argument. Also, related…
Merchandise flow: Reporting to corporate every day and receiving inventory based on those reports is totally foreign to me. Again, maybe the big retail managers are motivated to have many sales, but without the knowledge of common incentive goals, Suzy Salesgal is not. At least not when Suzy is me. Small retail sees inventory holes, orders to fill the holes, predicts what customers want, special orders and custom fabricates. Big retail, not so much. No custom anything, which may not be a good fit for some customers. Stuff just comes in and gets set on the sales floor.
Waste: Small retail has little to no waste because the owner actually cares to save every penny possible in order to maximize profits. Everything has immediate, personal impact in small retail. Big retail has BIG waste. Many times the waste of the smalls. I don’t even know the owners of the big store I’m at.
Names: Almost everyone knows your name at a small business. No one knows your name at big retail, unless you tell someone and ask their name in return.
Communication: It’s messy in both places. Sad but true. A rare store has great communication flow, and I think it has to do with personal discipline/habits more than anything. It’s like Prohibition: authorities have a difficult time controlling the personal. With many different styles of giving and receiving communication, there has to be a frequent, consistent procedure analogous to rote memory for anything effective to occur. Sorry to disappoint, but I’ve found that to be my truth.
What differences have you noticed between big and small retail?
The only thing I didn’t like about working small retail was sometimes my pay would come late. Unethical, but we all knew each other so well that when the boss was struggling we didn’t put up too much of a fight. It was also harder to get someone to cover your shift. It was nice to have management care about you, though. When I worked in big retail that was never the case. Employees were expendable, and that was made very clear.
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