As I continue along my path of a year of magical thinking and saying yes to all life and job opportunities, I just finished my last shift as a seasonal employee at Crate & Barrel. The epiphany of getting this part-time job hit me when I realized that I was incorporating a path though C&B a few times a week as part of my quest for 10,000 fit-bit steps. Hey, I should get hired at C&B! Just think about all the discounts I could get for the side tables, lamps, and art my family needs to finish designing our living room. The savings alone was reason to join the C&B brigade, but – more importantly – it was a chance to knock off the desire I’ve always had to work in the retail industry. I mean don’t most homebodies want to work in retail surrounded by amazing home accessories? I also wanted to assuage my guilt from looking for a full-time job and just enjoy the holidays. Boy was I naive!
The night before I started the job, I had a recurring dream of crashing into the festive martini glasses stacked precariously on display. I have a true glass phobia that stems from our fourth child shattering a hurricane lantern on his face, an injury that required over 70 stitches. This fear was compounded further when I saw the five different types of hurricane lanterns on display in the store my very first day.
The first week on the job, I studied the C&B catalog by night
I wanted to seem seasoned at work and put up a decent retail fight.
I would know on Monday where the garlic press lay,
Only to see the orange magnetic paring knife in its place the next day.
At first I knew where each and every ornament that we carried was placed.
From the glitter stars, and glass balls to the Santa’s hand-painted by race.
There were candles and candies and fake branches galore
But I shook when each morning I could not find them anymore.
So instead of memorizing the C&B scene,
I just faked it and acted like a retail queen!
(And it worked… once in a while until a seasoned sales associate called me out.)
I was too shy to ask in the hiring interview about the discount. In fact it was two weeks into my retail honeymoon when I casually asked a colleague how much the furniture discount was. I choked on the free broken C&B candy cane I was munching on when my veteran retail friend explained I got no furniture discount until I had been there five months! Knowing that would never happen as I had spent the night before soaking my feet and bribing my kids to massage my feet, I was devastated. This just compounded the grief I felt that same morning when I realized we C&B sales employees did not even get a discount at the Starbucks attached to the store (thus my eating the free candy cane in lieu of a Starbucks panini because I would then be losing money during my unpaid lunch break).
Anyone who has worked in retail can attest that it is very physical work. I rotated my comfy but homely Dansko, Clarke & Born shoes on a regular basis but always woke up the next morning with sore feet. During a normal eight-hour shift, I would hit ten thousand steps on my fit bit without even trying.
Most employees despised the red aprons we had to wear for the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I enjoyed it because I did not have to worry about what to wear and I could hide the free candy samples and my iphone in the apron pockets. I was never comfortable with the “no phone rule” as a mother of four kids anyway.
For me, it was the walky talky earpiece that drove me mad. Now mind you, I have been a TV producer the last 20 years and we squawked back and forth to one another all day but this had nothing on the C&B airwaves.
The earpieces were the communication tool between the sales associate and the merchandise team. The “merch” team worked the bowels of the store and knew where every wine glass, napkin ring, and salt and pepper resided. They brought up every scan pan or kitchen appliance a customer wanted. So naturally I was eager to be their friend, indebted to their expertise.
Now I am not a shy person, but I quickly learned it was best to be brief. For some reason this lovely group of people assumed alter egos on the “walky,” like shock jocks, and more often than once I was humiliated for not knowing we were out of ornament boxes, holiday tissue paper, or a certain type of picture frame.
But really the customers were the most colorful part of this retail experiment: Be it the father who came in holding his 2-year-old child in one arm and two razor sharp Wusthof knifes in the other hand demanding the C&B knife guarantee or the woman who told me I was moving like molasses – she was in a hurry and had a lot to do but first please box up her 37 different gifts into different size boxes, quickly!
There was a sea of returns. Some of the returned items I had never seen, and were obviously bought at Sur La Table or Pottery Barn, but a few brazen customers tried to fault me for mixing up the store. I recall with fondness the woman who returned the “unused” cookbook holder right after Thanksgiving. I could see her mashed potato and cranberry sauce still on the glass.
The optimist in me continued down my commitment path even as I missed my oldest sister and her West Coast family visiting for the holidays or the neighborhood holiday parties for yet another shift at C&B. But this seasonal job will eventually end, right?
It was a cinch to sink all my work hour wages into purchasing C&B essentials. I made upwards of $10 an hour. My capitalist 14-year old son reminded me one day I better get to my minimum-wage-paying job. So on that principal I refuse to use a calculator to tally my total, but if I eyeball it and ignore a few transactions I probably broke even. Thankfully, my husband talked me out of buying the Pizzelle maker, the silver dollar pancake skillet, and the mini popover pan.
What did I learn? I can pack any glass like a pro in two seconds flat! (I officially timed myself.) I adored the store management and I made some lovely new friends. Most of the C&B employees are a delight and comprised mostly of college students and retired school teachers, and just like me trying to figure out what to do next. The TV producer in me is thinking of using my experience as the foundation for a new show. A pilot program with a lot of women and gay men figuring out life amidst an inexpensive furniture and kitchen accessory store never confused with William Sonoma!