Job Journal: Sales associate at Dillard’s department store

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.


Job: Sales associate in the home department of Dillard’s

Duration: 11 months

Year: 2003-4

Welcome back to the journal of my drudgery! Refresh yourself on the introduction to one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had here. You can see all my job journals here.

Ah, Dillard’s. My stomach still turns when I see your logo. I imagine this is a problem in most retail stores, but we had a constant challenge in the home department of how to display all the stock we had, and where to keep all the extras. That’s one thing in juniors clothing, but it’s an entirely different issue when you’re slinging toasters, cookware sets, and Waterford crystal.

We started getting Christmas stock not long after I began working there, and my manager had me coming in about an hour early, before the store opened, to try getting everything out on the floor. I actually sort of enjoyed this one tiny aspect of working there. I had the department to myself, the godforsaken adult lite contemporary radio hadn’t come on yet, and most importantly there were no customers wandering into my path like grazing cattle. So I spent my first hour making elaborate, sturdy pyramids of boxed canape dishes in the shape of snowmen or Santa’s face (after first learning what canape dishes are). I’d turn one of our display tables, roughly the size of a family’s dinner table, into a massive battleship of red and green boxes, stashing all the rest under the table, only to have a supervisor come in and say that it was too bulky a display. This raised a few points:

1) If this is too much merchandise, why did we order 500 Christmas canape plates? There will not be 500 canape plates bought in all of East Tennessee this year, let alone specifically Christmas plates bought from now until Dec. 26th.

2) Now that we have 500 canape plates and you don’t want them all on the floor, in which magical Narnia wardrobe would you like to store the remainder? Which basic laws of the universe would you like to warp in order that we may hide from the clientele the fact that we choose quantities by drunken dart tosses?

We had two closets in our department. One was pretty large, and dedicated almost entirely to the bedding half of the floor. They needed a lot of space. The other was a catchall closet where we kept our personal belongings (i.e. clear bags with our crap in them because remember, everyone who works in retail is a thief and should be treated as such) and pretty much everything else we didn’t know what to do with. This meant precarious towers of George Foreman grills, empty display boxes we could never track down when we needed them most, and so many Waterford crystal boxes.

The middle of our floor was dedicated to a massive Waterford display that required a great deal of attention to properly display and clean, with several pieces costing north of $500, that never, ever sold. There was almost no room on it for storage, so most of the crystal we had ended up in that closet. And god forbid someone actually wanted to buy something. We’d spend 20 minutes in the closet trying to find a boxed version, hot to add this $200 sale to our totals, only to come out with a banged-up blue box to find that the customer left five minutes ago.

So no, we could not keep the extra canape plates in a closet somewhere, Steve. God.

Christmas ornaments were a different story altogether. Once our stock had been depleted in the two waves of post-Christmas markdowns, it was finally time to take down all the trees. My manager took a beautifully common-sense approach to the leftover ornaments no one wanted for 75% off—toss them in the dumpster. I almost wept when I heard the news. He had me throw them all in giant garbage bags when no one was looking, and wheel them down to the dock to get rid of them. He made it very clear that no one should see what I was doing—anyone who worked in that store would jump at the chance to take something for free, no matter how stupid and pointless it was. Open that can of worms and you’ll have a hard time closing it back up. I was a mercenary with a mission. I nonchalantly rolled back there and when one of the maintenance workers offered to help me I turned him down. I didn’t want them to get suspicious, but I didn’t want to give anyone else the pleasure of discarding the crap that had given me so much grief for the last two months. With merciless glee I shoved the bags into the dumpster, cursing the day I’d ever laid eyes on those ornaments and Dillard’s in general. For about ten minutes I felt like I was alive.

Then I had to go back upstairs and figure out where to put all those balsa wood parrots.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

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