September 10, 2013

A Word About Wal-Mart Knockoffs

[Posted by Ted H]

I am not dead! I have been working like a mother fucker though, but I quit Staples earlier today, meaning I should have oodles of time to write. By November, I should be back to what relates to as normal, right?

Anything, while I reacquaint myself with this notion called "free time" I'll leave you with a little long free form write up/sorta rant about why companies like Staples and Walgreens suck...cheers.

This is part of a longer write up I did based on employment in general, but I figured I'll stick to just one point I'm making...


There are no jobs hiring in the area for more than part-time, no benefits and bare minimum wage. I am well aware that the surrounding areas in upstate NY are also as barren in the job world. And anytime someone does indeed post a decent enough job, they tend to hire the older, more experienced applicants because the economy is still shitty where they'd rather hire in someone that won't waste as much time or resources to train. Also, you take less of a risk on people you know can do the job as compared to the person with the education but no practical experience. So yeah, I'm stuck in this endless waltz of: I have no job cuz I have no experience...but I can't get experience cuz I have no job.

The real truth is: I DON'T want to work at Staples. Everything I've noticed about the store screams that I'll be just as miserable, if not more, as when I was in Walgreens. On the way to the offices for these interviews, I was given an impromptu tour of the store. I don't know about anyone else, but the last time I needed to buy several bags of candy, Staples wasn't the first place that sprung to mind. Aisles and isles of stuff contained in the store all came across as anything but computer or office related. Staples, as was explained, is taking advantage of an opportunity to expand its business model and attract more customers. Where have I heard this before?

To better explain why Staples gives me the exact same vibe as Walgreens gave me, let's go back in time. Once upon a time, Walgreens was known as one of the best companies to work for. They came with great, reasonably priced benefits, good wages and numerous hours for not just their associates, but for their pharmacies as all that took place before I got there. By time I got there, they were feeling the hurt financially and decided, as a company, the workers needed to suffer more for the company to stay in the black. Hours in stores were cut. Pharmacy hours were slashed to the point that the Pharmacists and Techs were woefully overworked (and the store managers would step in to "help" but only make thing worse.) Wages were dropped and eventually capped (You were now only allowed so many raises as an employee before you were locked into a set wage per hour forever. Benefits went through price hikes. Walgreens did all this, claiming they were only keeping up with the "industry standard" Wal-Mart was the industry standard and everyone loved them, right?...Right?

The "industry standard" approach may have stopped the bleeding, or maybe it didn't. I dunno, I don't even pretend to know too much about economics, but Walgreens was no longer a good place for its employees. Hell, sick time and vacation time were combined into one lump group and access to it was more restricted.
For the most part, many of those "industry standard" changes were already in place when I was hired. The point (and correlation to Staples) I'm trying to bring up here is Taylor Swift. I don't know what a country music singer who can't keep a boyfriend has to do with drug stores, but we're selling her shit now. Her new CD came out and we sell it. Someone put her face on a notebook and now we sell it. She put her image on an obscure product? You bet your ass we were selling it. Not only that, we dedicated an entire end stand at the front of the store right by the entrance to Taylor Swift. We sold nothing.

The only thing that would have sold would be the full sized cardboard cutout of Swift that was placed with the end stand. It wasn't for sale and was marked to be destroyed when the company finally decided to end the promotion. Every week there would be at least five creepy people walking in and inquiring about the cut out. One woman walked in and asked if she could have it when we were done with it because her eight year old daughter loved Taylor Swift...but everyone else, mainly 70-80 year old creepers never gave me an explanation, they just wanted Taylor. Back when my hatred for the job was relatively low, I took down one creepers contact info (saying we'll let him know when we're done with the cutout if he wants it) and took it to Bob so we could both get a good laugh at the creepy old man. Instead, Bob took the contact info after hearing what I had to say about the creepy old man, and pinned it to a board as if he would honestly call the guy. Matt and Bob began taking down old mens contact info for the end stand in earnest, while I would just throw them out.

My Walgreens time ended before the cardboard Taylor Swifts did, so I don't know what its fate was. I can only imagine Bob calling several creepy old men (and the one mother) and all of them descending upon Walgreens to argue which lonely bastard would get to take his new fake country singer home. Maybe Bob kept those numbers because he could relate. I'm pretty sure if the cardboard cutout was a Disney princess, he would be right up in there with the other creepers (BTW: Bob is OBSESSED with Disney. I'm talking unhealthy obsession here. He loved Disney like he thought it was a cure for his diabetes).

Anyway, the whole point of the Taylor Swift thing was...well, I never was sure WHAT the point was. It had no place in Walgreens. That's like if Spencers started selling power tools. Walgreens was selling shit like that in the hopes that people wanted it, without ever knowing they wanted it. Staples is currently taking that approach by selling shit that normally is not associated with a computer and office supply store. The real reason candy and Taylor Swift and other nonsense like those are being marketed isn't because of a desire to "widen the scope of potential business", it's because "Oh shit! Our sales numbers are plummeting. Quick, start selling unrelated shit that (we hope) will sell so we can get our numbers back into the black!"

Now panic like that isn't accumulated overnight. I'd venture guess and say Wal-Mart and their "industry standard" set the bar for their customer satisfaction (at the complete expense of their own employees) and stores like Walgreens are finally catching up to the idea. Now, I'm not gonna lament the notion that Wal-Mart is killing businesses all over for whatever reason, but I will say this: There are right ways and wrong ways to deal with shit like that when the times are changing. I won't stand on any soap boxes and lecture about what the right ways are but I will point out that what Walgreens did is a bunch of things you can clearly square away in the "wrong" category.

You're not gonna keep up with Wal-Mart by being a cheap knock off of Wal-Mart. There's already a Wal-Mart knock off, it's called Sam's Club, which is owned by Wal-Mart. Plus, if there are multiple versions of Wal-Mart that have pharmacies, then why would people flock to a knock off Wal-Mart when they have the real thing? You can't beat Wal-Mart by being Wal-Mart. Your best bet is to either fight like hell to keep it out when one is trying to open in your area, or double down on your own company's culture and ideals and remind customers that while the prices aren't as good as others, it's the intangibles that are offered that are why people keep coming back. Wal-Mart will never be able to come close to the intangibles offered by Walgreens back in the day...but Walgreens itself have abandoned those intangibles in the name of becoming more like Wal-Mart. It's mind boggling.

Staples problem is different. Their main competitor isn't another brick and mortar building, it's Slightly different war to fight. If you needed office supplies once upon a time, you go to a store like Staples. Now? Online. Need a computer though? Well, you can get those anywhere (like, oh I don't know, Wal-Mart) but the thing with anywhere else is that they'll sell you the computer and move on. Staples? Our job is to sell you a computer and about half a dozen peripherals to go with it because the profit of just the computer doesn't match the cost of acquiring the computer to sell in the first place. Staples won't grade me based on my ability to sell a computer, but on how many accessories I can tack onto your computer purchase (needed or not), which requires me to be as customer service oriented as hell. To put such a required skill in perspective for myself, I'll quote what my mother said: "A job that requires you to have customer service skills? You'll last a week." I blame Walgreens for this.

Regardless, I know Staples will hire me because it took them almost three months to call me for the first interview, then only three days for the second. I doubt they have any applicants from January left besides me. Not only that, but the manager also mentioned that there were multiple positions opening up because a bunch of people were leaving. Lots of people suddenly leaving at a job that features almost no full time workers? Tell me that's not a red flag. The only thing stopping them from offering me a job strait up is they need to run a background check. This is pretty much the end of April. It'll take them three weeks to officially offer me the job. Rounding up to a full month, they still wrapped up my background check five months faster than the government did in 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment