Saturday, July 25, 2009

What Became of Food Place

It's been a long time. Too long. The reason is simple; I just couldn't find the time to keep this blog going after I started university and, on top of the time constraint, the way returning to student-hood changed my priorities and revamped my social life put Food Place firmly on the back burner.

For a while now, I've been occasionally thinking about closure for Working at Food Place. Recent events have finally provided a fitting way in which to do this. But before I go into that, I'll try and give a brief summary of what's happened in the eighteen-or-so months since I last posted.

Store Personnel Changes
Suzanne didn't last long as the customer service manager. Pressure from Terry, who never accepted anything other than perfection, combined with long-running battles with evil-bitch-from-hell-cash-office-supervisor Wendy, left her feeling constantly stressed. She disappeared onto long-term sick leave and never returned.

After Suzanne's departure, no effort was made to fill her shoes and her entire workload cascaded down to Wendy and myself - as the two supervisors. It took two weeks before I cracked and handed Terry written notice that I no longer wanted to be a supervisor. Initially, he insisted that my only option was to leave. When it came to the crunch, however, he offered me a 23-hour contract just working on the kiosk. Perfect.

While I lapped up my new working life as a kiosk assistant - apart from the return to uncomfortably close contact with Food Place clientele - Wendy drowned under the workload and clashed spectacularly with my replacement - Amanda from stock control. The pair had never got along, probably because of Amanda's well known opinion of Wendy as a lazy, argumentative old cow. Wendy lasted a month or so before sodding off to work at Poundland.

This left a vacancy for a cash office supervisor and it wasn't long before I was invited in for a chat with Terry. Would I consider returning to my old job role, but remaining as a basic-grade customer assistant, if it was promised sincerely that I wouldn't be landed with the amount of additional work I had been before. I agreed, with reservations.

Three days later and I'm right back to square one. But before I could kick up a fuss about it, Terry very suddenly disappeared and all discussion of it was banned on the shop floor. It later emerged that Suzanne had made serious allegations against him, the nature of which remains unknown to me, and he'd been dismissed. Cue Suzanne's return as customer service manager.

So, a happy team once more. Amanda and myself managed cash office and the checkouts between us and Suzanne was back to oversee things without the pressures of Terry and Wendy. And this is the way it remained.

Terry was replaced by Derek. He was previously the manager of Ellenfoot Food Place but following it's closure at the end of 2007 he was placed into 'float'. Basically, he was shunted from one store to another covering holidays and sickness leave. His management style was extremely dictatorial - yet fair and consistent. Food Place suddenly became a much stricter place to work, but that only really affected those who were too used to years of taking the piss.

Competitor Hit
At around the time I stopped blogging, rumours began circulating that Tesco had designs on opening a new store on the site of the long-closed Kwik Save store - situated virtually at the entrance to Food Place's car park. These turned out to be true and the local press reported that permission had been granted for the development in July 2008.

There was a long period of silence but just before Christmas last year, the Kwik Save building was demolished and within weeks the new Tesco store began taking shape. Twice the size of Food Place, it was evident that we had very little chance of competing with it. Derek had to attend meetings with our area manager and at the start of February 2009 we were called to an after-hours staff meeting.

Derek and the area manager gave us very frank projections of what was likely to happen when Tesco opened. From an average weekly turnover of £215,000, we could expect to fall to around £60,000. Customer numbers were anticipated to fall from 25,000 to 9,500 and, more crucially for us, the 81-strong workforce would need to be scaled back dramatically. It was made clear that this would not happen through redundancies - instead, staff leaving the business would not be replaced. However, Food Place was not to go without a fight. The area manager announced plans for a £200,000 'tactical investment' in the store. We were to undergo a small-level refit to bring the store right up-to-date with Food Place's optimal trading format.

My worries about the safety of my job were short-lived. In March 2009 I secured a paid placement working within the NHS in conjunction with my degree. The start-date was 1st June and I gave my notice to Derek that I would leave Food Place's employment, after seven and a half long years on May 23rd.

I was there for long enough to see the 'tactical investment'. It was basically a refresher aimed at making the store look new again and making just enough changes for the customers to perceive an improvement. A large area at the back of the store was temporarily filled with clearance seasonal stock, whilst the products that formerly belonged here were squeezed into the remainder of the sales floor. The intention: after Tesco's launch, this area would be walled-off and converted into office space to house the regional offices for Food Place. This would remove over a third of the sales space.

The arrival of Tesco
In mid-May the new competitor opened. It was a Wednesday and our usual turnover of £29,000 was reduced to £9,500. The pattern repeated every day and remained constant: the first full week of trade following Tesco's arrival saw us take £68,000 - three thousand pounds less than we took on 23rd December alone last year.

26 staff had won jobs in the new Tesco, reducing our workforce to 55. But this was still far too many bodies for far too little work. Overnight, we went from needing a fully manned bank of checkouts to requiring only one trolley checkout, two basket tills and a kiosk till - at the most.

My departure
May 23rd came along and my last shift passed unremarkably. I finished at 3:00pm when a staff huddle was called and I was presented with an envelope containing £100 and an enormous leaving card that had been signed by staff past and present. I went home and cried. Then got ready and took myself along to my leaving night out. Which was legendary.

And so ended my time at Food Place. How did it feel? Well, I certainly have no regrets. I learned a lot of valuable skills during my time there, made several friends for life and got one hell of a lot of experience in working with people. A painful process, as this blog confirms! Despite the bad times, my enduring memories will be the fun times.

Thanks to everybody who read this blog regularly and commented on posts - it was a lot of fun reading your responses and I'm only sorry it took me so long to get around to returning to the blog.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Blues

What a boring day!

Sundays have gone from, pre-Christmas, being so busy we can barely move, to providing us with nothing but a steady trickle of customers. We're still taking quite a lot of money, and the store reports say we're serving more customers now - up to 25,000 each week - but it just feels dead! We seem to spend all day pottering around doing the little jobs that usually get neglected.

Today, it was scraping dried up crumbs and dust from the conveyor belts and obscure little corners on the checkouts. We blitzed the back-stock of impulse confectionery, re-laid the magazines to planagram, went on a paper and sundries ordering spree, tidied up all the junk behind the kiosk and corrected the bookstocks on cigarettes and tobacco. Oh, and I remodelled the cash office - again. Yet still we wandered aimlessly for most of the day.

And the customers weren't in particularly agreeable moods today either. Everybody seemed utterly miserable or hung-over. In fact, I'm a complete hypocrite for saying that because, by rights, I should have been miserably hung-over but, for some bizarre reason, wasn't. I normally feel rough the morning after eating a Wine Gum! So, there we all were, mysteriously happy, and we had to deal with a barrage of horrid customers who were wallowing in self-pity because they had to come shopping with a headache. Try being us lot that keep the bloody place running for you!

The cretin finally decided to grace us with his presence this week. He turned up, bright and cheery, and asked to speak with Terry. I led him upstairs and tried to poke about for a bit of information:

"So, where you been then Robs?" I ask, overfriendly, to-the-point and utterly two-faced.

"Oh, you know."

"Nah, not really, that's why I asked."


With this conversation yielding nothing, I deposited Robert with Terry in the stock-control office and hurried next door into the cash office. If you climb up on the worktop, you can put your ear to the vents in the wall and hear what's going on next door. Well, you can only hear muffled snatches of whatever is being said, but that would have to do. Here's what I caught:

Terry: "Almost can't believe *muffled* bloody cheek *muffled* say for yourself?"
Robert: *muffled*
Terry: "Oh don't fucking *muffled* that."
Robert: "*muffled* hard time mate..."
Terry: "*muffled* fucking mate me! All the chances I gave you, *muffled* fool I was to actually *muffled*"

I think you get the idea. The exchange continued in this manner for some time. Suzanne walked in at one point and, obviously as intrigued as I was, also climbed up to have a listen. Every time either of us whispered something, the other hurriedly shushed them. We needn't have bothered. There was very little to hear: Robert was sent numerous letters asking for him to get in touch, the last of which informing him his employment at Food Place had been terminated. Terry had nothing more to say and Robert left.

Terry then came into the cash office, forcing me to pretend I was up there looking for something on the top shelf, and told us everything that we'd just strained to hear; we had to act surpised. Much choice-language later, we were fully up-to-speed on what had gone on. It would seem that Robert just needed to 'get his shit together' - God I hate that expression.

So we can turn a new leaf and look forward to his replacement starting within the next two weeks. I'm not sure whether this calls for hopeful anticipation or complete dread. We might end up with somebody much worse than Robert, heaven preserve us!

My Shoplifter Heroism
As I've said before, I'm usually very lax about shoplifters. I'll only jump in and stop them if I'm 100% convinced that I've seen them conceal things and 100% certain they won't attack me. I've no desire to end up losing my job and garnering myself a criminal record, thus damaging my future career prospects, for brawling with a thief!

But this was one different. I knew I was onto something with her. I'd watched her loll her way around the store - in a random rather than organised fashion, always a giveaway, filling her trolley with all the expensive products that people tend to buy only when absolutely necessary. Typically, there was nobody else around to assist - I could have gone into the warehouse and got somebody but I wasn't taking my eyes off her. I perched myself beside the kiosk and watched. Usually, I would simply let them know I was watching because this usually results in them aborting mission. But this day I had a hunger to catch somebody.

She drifted her way over to the DVDs and began to weed out ones without electronic tags on them, filling the front compartment of the trolley with them. Gotcha!

I did a discreet call for Terry to come to the kiosk for a customer service issue and when he arrived we stationed ourselves just outside the doors and waited. There was no way on earth she was intending to pay for all that, so we knew she'd emerge. And she did, not two minutes later. Terry took her upstairs and I took the trolley.

Normal procedure when you catch somebody shoplifting is to take the goods to a vacant checkout and scan everything through the till in training mode to find out how much they were going to steal. This took me a good ten minutes and the total was a staggering £536.00! All in one trolley!

And what happens when the police arrive? Spot-fined. Eighty-miserable-quid. She was one lucky bitch, that's all I can say.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Power Cut Mayhem

Why do people feel the need to rush out and buy enough provisions to see them through a nuclear winter every time there's a suggestion it might snow?

Food Place was absolutely heaving almost from the moment the doors opened this morning. And it the shop wasn't just full - it was full of drama queens. People fighting eachother at the shelves, jumping over trolleys to reach their desired products, stamping one another underfoot...OK, now I'm the drama queen. But, take my word for it, it was busy.

This matter wasn't helped when a member of our checkout staff phoned in sick. We're very honoured at Food Place to have the only woman in the world who's ever been pregnant working for us. If she so much as feels mildly tired she phones in sick and is always referring to herself as being "with child". Thank the Almighty that her morning sickness has passed; I was getting rather tired of her constantly telling me how awful it was, as though I'd never been ill before. I've known people deal with terminal illnesses with more decorum than she's handling this. So, anyways, the selfish, thoughtless swine chooses today to drop us right in the proverbial!

So, being abnormally busy, we didn't have enough staff as it was. I had to run around the other departments asking members of staff to stay behind and cover part of her shift on the checkouts. Some people enjoy the buzz of dealing with such emergencies - morons, that's all I can say about them. After the fifth refusal I was a gibbering wreck, saved only by the lovely Amanda from stock control offering to help out.

By three o'clock, the panic-buying reached it's height. We had every single checkout open - which was an achievement in itself as I almost had to recruit cashiers from the street outside - and queues were sprawling everywhere. The snow had been falling since lunchtime and the gale-force winds were on the go again.

Suddenly, the store was plunged into darkness. The customers all did their little gasp - they always gasp when the power cuts out - and looked up at the lights as if their collective will-power could turn them back on. I was just standing there thinking, shitting hell this is all I need! Glancing up the aisles, I could see people, unabashed by this turn of events, continuing to shop in the dark - as they always do.

The cashiers didn't know what to do. I had to quickly run along telling them all to wait a minute or so and the backup supply would kick in to power the tills so they could carry on. The waiting customers were giving me dirty looks through the darkness, obviously thinking I wouldn't see them.

Meanwhile, the managers were herding people off the shop floor to the checkouts. The emergency power supply will only keep the tills running for twenty minutes, but the customers seemed to have problems understanding this: "YES! I'm almost finished, I'll be there soon!" They're the centre of the universe you see. No concept whatsoever that there were a hundred other people to serve too. I didn't care though - let them wander around in the dark and injure themselves before arriving at the tills and finding they've gone dead. At least they couldn't say we didn't warn them.

So, once all the customers were out, thankfully before the tills died, I posted the cashiers to the entrance. It's amazing how blind customers are. No lights in the car park, no lights on the store signs, total darkness inside - and they still get themselves a trolley and try to get in. Some of them even tried to argue that they only wanted a couple of things. We've got no power you total fools!

It was around two hours before the power came back on, but by this time we were under around 6cm of snow, so nobody was bothered about food shopping by that point.

All of this will create mayhem in the cash office tomorrow morning. Although the tills were still powered and able to handle transactions, the cash office system was down, so it won't have logged the sales taken during the power-out. This will mean that every single till will be hundreds of pounds over and all the credit card transactions will need to be manually processed. Thank the lord I don't start until 3pm tomorrow!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Trading Hours Extension

Every January, Food Place carries out an extensive and vigorous review of every single store it operates. They look at how much money each store takes, how many customers they serve and how many items they sell. They then break this down into fifteen minute time slots for each day of the week to identify when the strongest trading times are for each store.

Somebody had a eureka moment when they looked at our store's trading patterns. They recognised that we take a higher than average amount of money in our first and last hours of trading and thought: 'Ooh, wouldn't it be a good idea if we opened that store for longer!"

So, from 18th February, Food Place will be trading for an extra two hours each morning, opening at 6am, and an extra hour in the evening, meaning we'll be closing at 11pm. An idea that is incredibly stupid in my opinion.

Yes, I know the old argument. If it was my business, I'd want to take as much money as I possibly could. But they must be stupid to think that anybody is going to come to Food Place at 6 o'clock in the morning. Large hypermarkets get custom in the middle of the night because people who rise from their beds obscenely early, or are coming off night-shifts, get the weekly food shop done and dusted when they know the stores will be quiet. Food Place just won't pull that sort of custom.

We're a 'top-up shop'. Being reasonably small in size, people don't generally come to us for all of their weekly shopping needs. Just their daily bits and bobs to keep them going until they go somewhere bigger to get the majority of the food in. And nobody does that at sparrow's cough!

I can almost understand the logic of opening until 11pm. There, I think we will get enough trade to justify being open. But, unfortunately, it's the later closing that's causing the riots amongst the staff. Nobody wants to work until that time of night - although it doesn't particularly bother me because I'm more of a night-owl than an early-bird. In order to trade, we need at least two people manning tills (you can't leave one person on their own for obvious security reasons), two people on the shop floor - which is actually already covered because we have a night-shift), one supervisor (to access the cash office) and one manager. Spread that across 6 days and it's going to be very difficult getting people to cover it. It's not so bad with the earlier mornings, because all of our morning checkout staff are prepared to do their share of 6am starts, and there's already fresh-foods staff working at that time.

I just don't see why, when they weigh the obstacles against the, extremely minimal if non-existent, benefits they actually want to go through with this. When the late Ellenfoot Food Place started opening until 11pm two years ago, within three weeks they had an armed till-raid and were forced to backtrack because the staff revolted. I can see the same thing happening with us.

Mrs Snot and her sodding boxes - again!
The customer from hell seems to be moving house once more - perhaps the neighbourhood she just moved into was too common for her on reflection. She telephoned us again this morning asking us to ensure that boxes were reserved. But she had specifications this time: they're not to be wet, they mustn't be broken down and they should be large enough to hold a 'substantial content'. For want of something better to do, I actually trotted off to the warehouse and sought these boxes for her. Naturally, I had to tape them back together to save her the strenuous effort of doing so herself. She hadn't been to collect them by the time I left, but I hope she was duly impressed by my efforts. Now there's a sign of how bored I was today: I actually went out of my way to please Mrs Snot - what was I thinking?!

On a further note...
The people dressed like lab-technicians who insist on pitching up in our store to peddle free samples of random crap need to be banned immediately. What do they think they're playing at? Handing customers little trays and cocktail sticks for them to leave in their baskets and trolleys, along with small morsels of food waste, for us to dispose of!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mrs Snot: Round 300

Regular readers of this blog should be well acquainted with Food Place's resident moan-bag by now. If you haven't read about her before, try these posts: Clementines Nightmare and The Return of Mrs Snot. Put simply, this woman should be incredibly thankful that her only punishment for her bad behaviour at Food Place, thus far, has been a few blog posts written about her. My previous dealings with her have furnished me with plenty of information about her: I know her full name, address and telephone number. She needs to watch her back - one more rude, nasty comment and the shop-assistant will bite back.

There are no words that can accurately describe how much she does my head in. If it's not her condescending tone or lemon-sucking-facial-expression, it's the ridiculous things she complains about and the way she thinks the staff at Food Place are all out to rip her off. If I had a pound for every time she's threatened never to shop with us again, I'd be a very rich person. Sadly, it's all a big bluff. She's yet to disown us.

In fact, rather annoyingly, her visits seem to be becoming increasingly frequent; a state of affairs I can only suspect to be the result of her being banned from every other shop in town. None of the rest of them are stupid enough to put up with her.

Last Week's Incident
Don't you think it's unbelievably cheeky for somebody to telephone a shop and ask a favour of them if you're going to be rude about it? Cheekier still if you happen to have verbally abused several employees of the said shop on previous visits? Well, Mrs Snot apparently has no shame:

"Good morning Food Place, Andrew speaking, how can..."

"Yes, I want you to keep me some cardboard boxes. I shall be visiting your store at 1 o'clock this afternoon and I'll need them by then - can you tell me if this is possible?"

How dare you butt in when I haven't finished speaking! And what happened to 'hello', 'please' and 'thank you'? I already know who it is I'm speaking to, so I don't go for any fake politeness. I reply to her question in the same fashion she posed it:

"Well how many boxes will you need? Now isn't the best time because all the cardboard from last night's night shift has been crushed."

"For goodness sake! What sort of supermarket doesn't have boxes?"

"A one that recycles them. The best we can manage at the moment are the cardboard produce trays, but they aren't very big."

"Well when will there be more?"

"We get our next delivery at 5pm today..."

"So, if I come at 5pm I'll be able to trouble you to fulfill this extremely difficult request?"

Butting in again woman! And you can drop the sarcasm, because I've already had a skinful of you and am seriously tempted to slash your tyres as it is.

"No. The delivery arrives at 5pm. The stock isn't brought onto the shop floor until nightshift work it tonight. There won't be any empty boxes until after that."

"Well can you leave them a message that Mrs Jenkins [named and shamed at last] would like seven large boxes? I shall come in to collect them at 8am tomorrow morning."

"I'll be sure to leave a message."

"Good day." CLUNK!

I dutifully leave a message for nightshift. However, I know full well that they are incredibly busy people. They have a huge delivery to work, the entire shop to face-up, the warehouse stock to pull out and all the mess to tidy. I'm not overly optimistic they'll find time to lovingly set aside seven large boxes for a stroppy old bitch.

And surely I'm not the only retail worker who gets frustrated at this general expectation that we have cardboard boxes coming out of our ears. Yes, we receive a lot of them. But they're incredibly bulky. As soon as the stock is removed from them we break them down, cram them into a waste cage and they're quickly crushed and sent for recycling. We have a tiny warehouse and do not have room to reserve boxes for people. Besides, people generally see them lying there and crush them anyways. We have far more pressing matters to attend to.

Tip: if you go into a supermarket and ask for boxes, do so politely, take whatever is on offer, and don't moan that they've been broken down and will need taped back together. That way, everybody stays happy!

So, the next day Mrs Snot arrives for her seven large boxes. Thankfully, I'm too busy living it up as a student to be there to participate in this joyous event. But other staff members told me the scene that followed.

Mrs Snot wasn't amused that the boxes that had been left were all broken down. She was politely told that we don't have space to keep these things (they were bloomin' huge boxes) intact. This still wasn't good enough. She demanded to speak to a manager and proceeded to complain to them that, not only were her boxes not of the standard she expected, but 'every single member of your staff who played a part in handling this has been rude and incompetent'.

She's actually surprised? This is the woman who I don't think has ever uttered a single 'please' or 'thank you' in all the times I've encountered her. The woman who turns her nose up at you, and refuses to make eye contact when speaking to you. The woman who shouts at rotisserie staff because chickens aren't quite ready. The woman who was once overheard telling her daughter that shop workers are 'plebs'.

Who thinks it's high time we banned her?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No More Apologies - Just Moaning!

This blog has taken a back seat recently for numerous reasons. Firstly, I was very busy over the Christmas holidays. Secondly, I had lots of work to do for university after Christmas. Thirdly, Food Place hasn't been a fun place to be recently. I'll elaborate more on the third point in this post, but one thing I should say before I do: I will not apologise for the infrequency of the posts on this blog any more. I'll post when I have time, or something I feel like ranting about.

So, what's been going on at Food Place?
Well, since I haven't been blogging about Food Place matters for some time, it would be very difficult now to explain everything in retrospect. So, I think the best place to begin is to set the scene by quickly running through some of the recent events that have led to such a bitter state of affairs.

- Much loathed grocery department manager, Robert, suddenly disappeared in mid-December. He failed to turn up for work one day and nobody has seen him since. He could be dead for all we know.

- To cover his sudden absence, our Customer Services Manager, Lorraine, was shunted into his role and dairy supervisor Suzanne was hastily promoted to Lorraine's old job - making Suzanne my new line manager.

- I'm very happy with Suzanne's appointment as I think she's perfect for the job. However, she has little experience of the front-line nature of the Services department and requires full training in checkouts, checkout supervision, kiosk and cash office - as well as all the back-office tasks such as staff schedules and attendance management.

- I set about freeing up time to take her through these things, supporting her as much as I can. Wendy, my co-supervisor on Services (remember, the one who's obsessed with cash office and thinks that's her only job) doesn't support at all. She leaves all the gritty tasks to Suzanne and expects her to automatically know everything.

- Suzanne eventually finds her feet and, taking one look at the current supervisor schedules, decides that Wendy isn't pulling her weight. She has shifts that suit her, and she refuses to work weekends and late nights, leaving these undesirable shifts to be covered by me and other supervisor trained (but not paid) store staff.

- Suzanne changes Wendy's hours. Nothing drastic. She is now expected to work just one late-finish and one weekend in four.

- Wendy reacts bitterly and launches a campaign of hatred against everybody. She takes great delight in telling anybody who will listen that she's been wronged and is going to any extremes to try and get out of working these new shifts.

- Suzanne and myself become fed up of getting the cold shoulder and a meeting is called to talk the problems through.

- Wendy says Suzanne and me have formed a little clique and have turned against her. We reassure her this is not the case, and point out that we've spent a lot of time together through Suzanne's training. Things seem to be partially resolved...

- But it doesn't take long for it to become clear that Wendy is still not calmed. She continues to be cold and distant when spoken to and goes out of her way to cause problems. For instance, granting four holiday requents on the week she's on holiday without making arrangements to cover it, leaving Suzanne and me struggling.

- Wendy returns from holiday and moans to Terry (the boss, lest anybody has forgotten) that the place fell apart without her. Terry retorts: "Well maybe that's what you had in mind when you let all those staff have holidays? Suzanne coped extremely well under the circumstances you left her in." Wendy is not amused.

- The hate campaign deepens. Wendy rips down some photographs I had pinned up in the cash office. Doesn't sound like much, but it really, really bothered me. What justification did she have to do that? The only good thing it did was banish my suspicion that it was 'all in my mind'.

Stupid isn't it? All this ill-feeling and resentment over something relatively minor that could have been settled so easily. But the result of it all is that Suzanne has been left doubting whether or not she wants to keep this job. She's brilliant at it and has so much respect from her team (with the obvious notable exception) and she shouldn't be made to feel like this over a bitter old sow who doesn't like it when things don't go her own way.

And just what am I supposed to have done to deserve what I'm getting at the moment. Wendy is refusing to alter her hours to cover my forthcoming holidays - which has led to me having to agree to work part of them. She can't even be bothered to say hello or goodbye to me.

The only consolation I have is that the Services team are, in general, supportive of me. They kindly report back to me the things that Wendy has been saying behind my back. They stubbornly refuse to co-operate when she tried to get them to bitch about me.

All in all, the atmosphere has been terrible recently. Absolutely nothing on the relaxed, casual and fun way of working we had only a short while ago. Everybody got along, even if we did get on each other's nerves from time to time, and work wasn't really such a bad place to be. Now that Wendy has almost totally withdrawn from speaking to anybody, I can't see that she'll last much longer - she's a reasonably proud woman and I doubt she'll stick around when people are beginning to laugh at her. No doubt she'll claim constructive dismissal though.

Other Issues
This hasn't been the only saga going on at Food Place. A huge fuss-and-nonsense errupted just after New Year when it became common-knowledge on the shop-floor that extra-marital shananigans were going on between two married colleagues - one of whom's wife also works in Food Place. I've well and truly kept my distance from this one, but things get complicated. You aren't quite sure who is on who's side and every conversation in the canteen is frought with politics.

A long-serving colleague was suddenly dismissed last week when it transpired that they'd been passing boxes of high-value stock through the back gates. It's reckoned that the losses the store incurred because of it run into the tens of thousands of pounds. It's left us all completely shocked because nobody had even the slightest notion that they were the type to do something like this - it only came to light because a customer who lives back-to-back with the service yard passed comment on what they'd observed to one of the cashiers.

So, that's the miserable post done. I've actually sat down and attempted to write something about it all several times, but I get depressed just thinking about it. The next post, I promise, will be about the customers!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

As Promised: The Herald Angel Must Die!

Would it hurt to keep Christmas in December?
Food Place have been exceptionally kind to us this year. They delayed the onslaught of Christmas carols and pop songs until 8 November. That's a whole week of delay that we don't usually get. We're usually straight into Christmas after Halloween.

When I think about it, working at a supermarket helps you to divide the year up into chunks. Boxing Day marks the arrival of Easter with a short respite in early February for Valentine's Day. On Easter Monday we set about changing the ransacked seasonal aisle for the next 'event'. Gone are the cute yellow chicks hatching out of giant eggs, in is Mr Sunshine. Yes, it's summertime. At the end of August, the summer stock halves to make room for Back to School, abruptly followed by Halloween with Christmas hot on it's heels.

Maybe this is the reason it feels like I'm on the fast-lane to being an OAP? And talking of old-age, I notch another year soon. On Sunday the 25th, I turn 22. How depressing. Well, probably considerably less depressing than being 45 and realising you're probably north of the halfway mark (which means I'm, most probably, more than a quarter of the way through my life). Or, worse still, being 75 and knowing the million-year-nap could commence at any moment.

How did Christmas carols lead into old-age and death? Well, let's continue with the theme of death for a little while.

The death, by brutal means, of: Santa Claus; reindeer; herald angels; choirs of children singing their songs who've practised all year long; cheap lousy faggots and old sluts on junk (they've failed to censor Fairytale of New York again); spacemen travelling through the sky; the Wombles of Wimbledon (just what is that all about? Are we in 2007 or 1974?); and Cliff Richard.

What I mean by this gibberish is this: if I hear one more Christmas song, I may not be responsible for my actions.

That's not to say I don't like them. But surely they're suited to a particular, and special time of the year? Christmas perhaps? I mean, come on. It's not even the middle of November, it's still autumn, there's no sign of snow and most people (by this, I mean me) haven't even thought about Christmas shopping yet. So why do we have to listen to this endless stream of seasonal cheer? To get us into the mood? Well that's all well and good. I do, perhaps, have momentary lapses into the Christmas mood. But then I remember that there's still six weeks left.

The solitary exception to this grumble is Elton John's Step into Christmas. I'd quite happily drape myself in tinsel and sing along to that one in mid-April. Oh, and there's Stop the Cavalry. But I'm sure I read somewhere that it wasn't intended as a Christmas song, so we'll discard that one.

And it's not just the songs. The store has already been embellished with tacky decorations and huge banners advertising Christmas food. We've even got the obligatory tinsel draped around the checkout poles (you know it's cheap and nasty, I know that too - but the customers like it).

What's the point in moaning about it? It's all around me and I might as well just start bopping along to all these 'timeless classics' and live for Christmas Day.

Any other business?
Given that I've just rambled on about Christmas and death at length, you've probably guessed that Food Place is not offering anything exciting to blog about at the moment. As I've mentioned, it's probably down to me only being there part-time now. I only work during the busiest times. I go in, do my tasks, and go home. There's very little time for gossip, dumb customers or stupid colleagues.

I suppose one thing worth mentioning is that Terry forbade me to leave the cash office or step down out of my supervisor role. Instead, I was promised the earth: "There will be no more bitching, backstabbing, ill-feeling and you'll get all the support you need." So far, so good. But just wait until the next time I, accidentally, ruffle the feathers of a cash-office colleague.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Revenge on Customers Amongst Other Things

OK, it's gone past a joke now. No posts in twenty days! What is the world coming to? I'll tell you what - exhaustion. My university has seen fit to schedule all but one of my lectures in a 9.00am slot, and I think I've mentioned before that I'm crap at mornings, and the one day I don't have a lecture to get up for, I do a 7:00am start at Food Place. So, what with that and doing all my private study, when I get a spare moment all I can think about is my warm, cosy bed.

But today, in the midst of reading week, I've decided to set aside some time to get something published on this blog. My archive is cluttered up with half-finished and barely-started posts that I've optimistically set about writing in study breaks and after Food Place shifts. I suppose I'll finish them off sooner or later, but for now you'll have to settle for a mish-mash of work-related ideas that I've got running through my mind.

Revenge on Customers

Whilst helping out on the kiosk yesterday, I got talking to Debbie about scoring cheap victories over nasty customers. The conversation made me realise what a fairy I've become. Since becoming a supervisor, I've forgotten how fun it is to be subtly, or even pointedly, rude to stroppy customers. I'm far too nice to them; maybe I should return to the glory-days of being a not-a-care-in-the-world-part-timer who didn't give a toss about pissing off the nasty people.

Here's just a couple of things the conversation turned up:
  • When a customer places cash payment onto the desk rather than into your hand. These days, I think to myself "how rude" and proceed as normal. In the olden days, I'd get irate and slam their change onto the counter in return. Sometimes I'd even omit to thank them for their custom.
  • When customers sneakily bring 50+ items through the '10 items or fewer' tills. Nowadays, you'd be very lucky if I so much as offered a polite reminder of the item-limit for next time. Too scared of causing offense. Back then, I'd get revenge for their deliberate ignorance by hurling their shopping through so fast that we'd run out of space in the packing well before giving them the smug "this is why it's a ten-items only till" lecture.
  • When customers ask stupid questions. I've become far too patient and tolerant of their idiocy. In yesteryear, if a customer asked where the frozen chips were I'd have said "well you could try over there in the freezers." The fairy-queen me of today would say, "oh, frozen chips just over this way, follow me, are these the ones you want? There's crinkle cut ones here too!"
  • When customers lie. They do this a lot. In the past, I'd have came out and called a shovel a shovel. "No, you didn't ask for x, I clearly heard you, and you asked for y" or "you did not pick this up from the Buy One Get One Free Display because I watched you take it from the shelf over there!" Now, I go for the easy life and kiss their ass. "Oh, I'm so sorry I must have misheard you."

See what being a supervisor has made me? It's turned me into a customer-is-always-right freak! Well, not exactly. It's turned me into the type of shop assistant that holds it all in and blogs about it.

Food Place Catch-up

I'm not seeing nearly as much of the place, and I already feel a little cut-off from 'the crack'. I never seem to find out what's going on anymore and I don't even manage to catch the nasty customers.

About the only interesting event to note is the music-system malfunction. It usually does a very good job of playing a nice variety of tunes and not looping them round too often. But last week it decided to start playing a particularly long version of 'Kelly Watch the Stars' on a loop. For five days. Just when I was one more play away from learning every single note of the song, it unceremoniously launched into 'Whatever Happened to Corey Haim' and hasn't gone back to old Kelly ever since. Perhaps the system was updating itself ready to start throwing Christmas songs at us next week? It's bound to happen. It's usually on or around November 1st. So the next post I write is likely to be titled 'Stick the bloody partridge and it's pear tree where the sun don't shine!'

The cash office politics have flared-up once more. I'm once again in the position of being afraid to make mistakes, lest somebody else go poking through the paperwork looking for them. That isn't the worst part - I freely admit to making mistakes. It's only natural that the odd procedure goes tits-up when I'm rushing to get back to supporting the checkouts. What really bothers me is that certain individuals are taking their findings back to Terry and trying to make me look incompetent. I know it's unlikely he'll think any less of me for it. He's told me numerous times that he likes having a cash office supervisor who would rather be on the shop floor than locked in a lime-green-cell upstairs. All my mistakes ever amount to is money being in one place when it should be in another. And it's usually a case of one till being £10 down and another till £10 over. It's not as though I'm losing hundreds of pounds!

For a long time I thought our store was different. Other Food Places have their cash offices staffed by old Margarets and Joans who bicker and argue all day long and spend hours doing what can be achieved in 20 minutes. I always liked the way the cash office was a small-job in our store. All it ever amounted to was a couple of hours a day following laid-down procedures and it was operated entirely by younger staff and -unusually - three out of four of them were male. But now, people have left and bickering old women are back on the scene. You can imagine the rest.

I'd probably feel a lot better about things if I'd taken the time to vent some steam by blogging about it. As it is, I've bottled it all up and feel pretty depressed about work again. I'm thinking about speaking to Terry to find out whether he'll allow me to work my hours just supervising the checkouts. I don't want any of this cash office hassle now. Either that or I wait until there's a vacancy for kiosk staff and ask to be demoted.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cashier, In the Canteen, With the Lead Piping

Internet Woes
If you’d been wondering why I’ve been quiet over the past few days (not that long periods of time without posts is anything unusual for this blog), then please look to my internet ‘service provider’ for an explanation. What I mean by this, I’m sure you’ve already gathered, is that they haven’t been providing a service to me. At all. I’ve had green ‘LINK’ lights blinking at me for several days. I’d given up hope and was playing a game of Solitaire – face it, what other uses does a PC with no internet connection have? – when my anti-virus software unceremoniously launched it’s web-update function. A connection, at last.

Back to Food Place...It's probably not such a bad thing that my internet deserted me this week because, quite frankly, until today there was nothing to write about. Another week of everybody behaving themselves and no real problems emerging.

But today was something else.

Ringing Bells
Every now and then, the checkout staff at Food Place will take it upon themselves to have a bell ringing day. They ring for extra change, they ring for product replacements, they ring to say they've broken their till, they ring to say they can't send a pod, they ring to say they've dropped their pen on the floor and could I pick it up please. These days invariably coincide with days when I have a lot of other things to be getting on with.

There's nothing worse than trying to do the wages and being interupted every three seconds by a cashier ringing for your assistance. What could they possibly want? I ask myself. I've given them all change and left my keys with the front-end runner. How can they need me? Still, I'd better go down and see what they want...

"Andrew, I think I've just short-changed somebody," a dopey cashier informs me.


"A customer."

"NEVER! I mean, which customer?"

"Oh she's gone now."

So you really thought this was such a huge emergency that you needed to call me away from a very pressing task to tell me all about it!? As a matter of fact, you haven't even told me about it, all you've done is given me a vague outline of the events. Do you even know how much you've messed your till up by? Probably not. Because you're away with the fairies, as per bloody usual!

I tell the fool she'll have to wait until the end of her shift to find out. No way am I interrupting my long list of tasks to pull the drawer off and spot-count it.

The bells continued to ring in very much that fashion all day. Stupid questions, dumb mistakes, false alarms. By the time I'd finished the wages it was a miracle I had any hair left. More so that none of it had turned grey. I was seriously ready to batter the next idiotic cashier to ring a bell to death. Brutal murder at Food Place.

You may recall that some months ago - God it feels like yesterday - we got a new department manager. He immediately got on everybody's nerves, rattled cages left, right and centre and showed himself to be nothing but an arrogant fool.

Now, I can't remember whether I bothered to blog about the enormous improvement in his attitude and conduct. I probably didn't since this blog tends to focus on negative (more interesting) things. Basically, he was given a stern telling-off by Terry and he immediately bucked his ideas up. He started taking an interest in all of the store functions. Asking people about their jobs, watching them at work, asking for training and then, finally, offering to support us. It was actually beginning to become quite a pleasure to work with him.

Well he's gone and stamped over all of that now.

For the past week, he's done nothing but interfere, poke his nose in, complain and, generally, get in the way. Every corner I've turned he's been there, ready to criticise everything I'm doing. Most notably, he keeps banging on that I'm "relying too heavily" on his staff to cover checkouts at busy times.Well excuse me. I thought we were all a team here? Since when do any of us belong exclusively to one department? Since never. We're all there to run a supermarket - whatever that entails for us, be it serving on tills, baking bread or putting out stock.

Perhaps I should tell the checkout staff to stop filling and facing the cosmetics section? He forgets about things like that see. The cosmetics aisle is part of the grocery department, and should be replenished the same way. But no - "the lads on shopfloor" now don't do toothpaste and shampoo. When Terry came to Food Place, he put a lot of work into breaking down the old divide of "lads on the floor, lasses on the tills". Robert is now stamping all over that. He thinks fiddling around trying to balance tiny boxes of headache tablets is beneath the dignity of his "lads" (never mind the seven women who work primarily on grocery). If it's lighter than a 24 pack of lager, it's not hard enough 'graft' for them.

The man is just grating on me - badly. It was so bad on Sunday that I couldn't face getting him to sign off the weekly accounts. The duty manager has to do this - basically it's confirmation that a manager has viewed the cash sheet, checked for discrepancies and given it their approval. I just could not bear the thought of inviting him into the office. He'd stay there all day and droan away about a load of crap. And I'd end up killing him in cold blood.

Well that just about sums up Food Place at the moment. I'm preparing a post about the dumb things that customers do. Nothing fresh, I hear you saying. But I promise they'll all be hitherto unmentioned antics. Things that really make my blood boil. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"I know my rights!"

Oh, I really should never get going about this type of customer. You know them, the kind that, upon failing to get their own way by kicking and screaming, will resort to inventing their own consumer protection laws.

It's a subject that can arise at any time. We often get customers who will attempt to play the legal card for the smallest of problems.

Wrong Price, Wrong Label
A very good example of this occurred last week. A gentleman had picked up a bottle of wine - one of the more expensive ones we sell - and taken it to the till. It scanned at £10.99, which resulted in a huge tantrum.

"The shelf said £6.99!" he protested.

Cue supervisor calls and checks being made. We located the item on the wines section and it was merchandised next to a price label that clearly stated the name of the wine in question and said £10.99. It wasn't long before the man came stomping up the aisle, pointed at an empty space, three shelves along, and insisted: "This is where I got it from. Look. The ticket says £6.99!"

"Yes, but that space is for the Hardy's Stamp variety, as it says on the label there. I can only guess that somebody has picked up the bottle you took and put it back in the wrong place. The price for the bottle you have is stated over here where it belongs - £10.99," I explained patiently.

I wasn't being a jobsworth. If there had been a whole case of this particular wine merchandised against the wrong price tag, I would usually admit that it had been a replenishment error and refund the difference in price. But when there clearly hasn't been a mistake made by the staff, I won't give refunds willy nilly.

"BUT IT WAS NEXT TO A TAG THAT SAID £6.99!" the gentleman roared in my face.

I calmly explained that the name of the wine that is £6.99 is stated on the label - and it wasn't the one he'd picked up.

"But you have it on the shelf at that price, therefore you are legally obliged to give it to me at that price!"

Oh my bloody God, not this again. You may recall I was reduced to tears by an evil customer whilst having the exact same conversation some months ago (here). As soon as somebody gets it into their head that they're legally entitled to something, they won't budge. Never mind the fact that they're completely wrong.

I remained as diplomatic as I could be: "If the ticket next to the wine you picked up bore the name of that wine, I would refund the difference. But it doesn't. The ticket says that £6.99 is the price for another wine. This one is £10.99. Would you like to chose a different one?"

He continued protesting that I was breaking the law and promised to call Trading Standards about it. I don't really know why I bothered putting up such a defense, because if it gets back to Food Place HQ, they'll only back down and shower him with gift vouchers to apologise for his trauma.

Electrical Goods
This post is being written thanks to an incident today that involved an electrical appliance.

This is, by a long way, the worst product category for producing angry, refund-demanding customers. I've seen it all - people demanding that they're legally entitled to a refund on a product despite having absolutely no proof of purchase, people demanding refunds for toasters that broke when they 'fell off' their worktops. Yes, I'm sure your toaster jumped onto the tiled floor! One man, upon being refused a refund for a DVD because it wasn't faulty, proceeded to remove it from it's box, right in front of us, and run a scratch down it with his car key! He actually thought that would help his case?

Today's incident was less dramatic, however. A lady brought back a small kettle, not boxed, and informed us that it had stopped working. OK, I thought, this should be nice and straight-forward.

"Do you have your receipt with you?"

"Yes, it's just here," she said, pulling out a slip of paper. As soon as I saw it, my heart sank. It was a yellowed, tatty slip of paper that had clearly been printed on our old impact-receipt-printers - when the store was operated by its previous owner. Knowing that we'd had thermal printers for at least three years, I knew right away that this product was far too old to be refunded as faulty.

"OK, when was this purchased?"

"Er, will it have the date on the receipt? I can't see, you look." She handed it to me.

"Right. You bought this kettle on the 6th October. Two thousand and one. Six years ago."

She looked at me, waiting for the refund. That she certainly wasn't getting.

"I'm afraid we only guarantee electrical goods for one year from the date of purchase."


"We will only refund items in store that were bought less than a year ago. Any faults that develop beyond that are covered by the manufacturers guarantee - which is usually just two years as standard."

"But I've paid you for this kettle! It doesn't work! I want my money back!"

"Well I'm not arguing that it doesn't work.." - it didn't look too healthy - "...but it has been in working order for six years. That's a bloomin' good life for a kettle in my experience." Particularly one that only cost you four pounds and ninety-nine-bloody-pence!

She wasn't amused: "Get me the manager! Trading Standards need to know about this!"

Terry was called. He told the woman exactly what I'd just told her. The product had clearly reached the end of its working life and needed replacing. He even offered to show her the ones we have in now. But no. She continued to demand her money back. By the time she'd finished ranting I was ready to grab a new kettle, throw it in her face and scream "THERE! Take it you tight-fisted old vulture!"

Once again, she promised, Trading Standards would be hearing about us!

Personal Property
We've had a lot of cases of customers telling us we're liable for damage to their property. None more unpleasant than the lady who had her bicycle stolen from the racks outside the store (which are on the street and have nothing to do with the store). She ranted at us for about twenty minutes whilst waiting for the police to arrive, insisting we pay her £300 immediately. She tripped herself up, in mid-rant, by admitting that she hadn't put a chain on the bloody thing!

Once again, though, she was absolutely convinced that we were liable for any damage to her property. We're not. There are signs all over the exterior of the store and around the car park, that vehicles are left there at the risk of the owner. Now I can't be sure of the legality of these notices, but I'm pretty certain Food Place wouldn't put them up if we were in fact liable for such theft or damage.

You Can't Throw me out!
A lot of people seem to be under the impression that they have an automatic Human Right to enter Food Place and do whatever they like. A few years ago, a middle-aged woman was heard, by several people, making racist remarks about one of our cashiers. A few people complained to the duty-manager and the woman was asked to leave the store.

"You can't tell me to leave! This is public property! Make me!"

What? Public property my arse!

In the end, the police were called, the woman was escorted to the office and issued with a life-long ban on entering any of Food Place's stores. She continued protesting, and began repeating her racist insults, in front of the police, and ended up being prosecuted. Turns out she was a council worker and ended up losing her job, as well as being plastered over the local newspaper.

Bet she wishes she'd kept her big mouth shut now.