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.