What was your first job? Mine was at the local Safeway grocery store. My brother had a job there and I got one too.
I worked there my Senior year in high school and one summer during college.
Later, I worked in a bookstore. I would often refer to our bookstore as a retail store disguised as a bookstore.
In reality, that bookstore was retail.
I also worked in vending. I serviced machines, served food on a food bar, and counted the money as well as putting up stock in the warehouse.
I learned something from all of those jobs, but today I am going to discuss five business traits I learned from my jobs in retail.
One of the best things that workers can do, and in turn, an entrepreneur, is learning how to serve. We are always serving.
We serve our customers, we serve our employees, our vendors, and we serve our colleagues.
Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. You can offer promotions and slash prices to bring in as many new customers as you want, but unless you can get some of those customers to come back, your business won’t be profitable for long. Source
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Some people in entrepreneurship never got that lesson. They spend their time trying to be served and moving up the ladder, so to speak, and never spend time serving.
Customer service, it seems, is a lost art. These very retail establishments have very little customer service anymore. Workers spend time attending to tasks rather than customers, and in many places, customers serve themselves in the checkout line.
I think this is a terrible precedent.
It’s hard for me to believe, but good service can be a differentiator for businesses now.
2 Hard work
Some of my hardest jobs were, in fact, in retail. It has the most intense combination of physical labor and mental strain.
Combine these with pleasing demanding bosses and customers, and it can be one of the most taxing jobs.
Some of the things we had to do, mentally, would be hard for most anyone. Add to that the various physical difficulties and you become tired.
I remember one of the most tired I felt was the night after working a couple of days before Thanksgiving when I was in high school. I came home and fell asleep on my bed.
Some of the Saturdays leading up to Christmas when I worked at Borders Books left me breathless. Sometimes it was fun, but it was always extremely tiring.
I earned my money and then some. I will never forget that.
There are a lot of things retail can teach, some that aren’t so good, but respect for all people is definitely a positive lesson.
You learn to respect your managers and your customers. You also learn to respect your co-workers. I am still friends with several co-workers from my bookstore days.
I remember moving back to Arkansas, the first Christmas, a lovely couple sent me a Christmas card. I was truly touched they would remember me.
Respect is helpful to navigate life. You may disagree or even have disagreements, but you can respect someone.
I learned about sacrifice. Most of us work in retail when we are younger, so we have worked our share of holidays. When I worked in the bookstore, I lived a good 8 hours from my family.
For about 8 years or so, I could never go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It just wasn’t possible as I was always scheduled to work.
Black Friday wasn’t a thing I participated in. I was always working at the bookstore.
I worked my share of Christmas Eve’s too. They weren’t always so bad. In fact, the last one I worked at the bookstore, it snowed. I don’t mean it flurried a bit, I meant it started at the beginning of my shift and snowed big, fluffy flakes all day long. It made for my second favorite Christmas Eve work experience.
Birthdays? I never think about it. I know that being off on your birthday was just not something that happened.
I learned something about sacrifice. Sometimes a little more than I wanted to learn.
5. How to sell
Learning to sell is not what you think. I am talking about the most basic selling. There wasn’t a lot of convincing people.
In general, customers purchased what they need or had impulse buys.
However, we learned the basics. You know that whole “call to action” thing? That is essentially what selling in retail is like. You learn to know when to ask for the sale. You know when to recommend something based on the customer’s interests.
One time at the bookstore the company came up with the idea of having books of the month. We had to upsell them. We were encouraged to pick up a copy and read the book so we could better summarize it.
I did. I picked up a copy of City of Thieves. I sold the book by retelling a story the author had with his grandfather in the introduction.
See, even back then I was selling with storytelling.
And I learned how to sell, how to ask for the sell while working in retail.
Wrapping it up
Learning from experience takes reflection and introspection. You have ot pause and think about what happened put lessons learned in various categories.
What kind of lessons have you learned in previous jobs? Have you worked in retail before? What did you learn?