A Day in the Life of a Retail Salesman
It’s a typical Monday morning at REI. I have just put on my green vest and made my way to the sales floor where today I will be working in the footwear department. It is 9 am and the doors have just opened. The small crowd that was once gathering outside immediately barrels their way to footwear. Consisting of mostly older women, the majority cluster around the casual shoes area. Unfortunately it is the first day of a sale, and that means larger crowds. Most are eager to use their 20% off coupons.
With apprehension, I walk out of the backroom and am bombarded with the most dreaded question in footwear, “Can I have a 7 and a 7 ½ in these shoes?”
Before me is a little old woman holding four pairs of women’s casual shoes. The problem with casual shoes, especially women’s casual shoes, is that there are many different types with many different names. Retrieving these shoes depends on your ability to memorize each name, go to the backroom, look them up, and pull them off the appropriate shelf.
Luckily I know most of all the hiking and running shoes by heart. I am not so lucky when it comes to casual shoes. In fact, I rarely know the names of any of them. So I instruct this little old lady to show me where she pulled them off the wall since at each shoes’ respective wall position, there is also a tag labeled with the shoe’s name.
Of course, she can’t – she’s old. So I take her to the wall and desperately try to find the shoe’s missing home among the other fifty or so casual shoes.
You think it would be as easy as filling the open spaces on the wall. But while this one little old lady took four shoes, three other little old ladies took three more shoes resulting in a wall that at times can be mostly bare. So I take a best guess of what shoes she wanted, and inevitably I get it wrong. The cycle repeats itself. Because of this, I tend to avoid the women’s casual wall.
Unfortunately the women’s casual wall is directly next to the entrance of the backroom where all the shoes are kept. On busy days even the best approaches can be re-routed by women begging for casual shoes. My best line of defense is the ‘Don’t Make Eye Contact’ rule. This works 50% of the time.
I tend to spend most of my time on the men and women’s hiking boot walls. For the most part I enjoy this area. I meet awesome people doing amazing trips. On particularly slow days I get to spend hours chatting with customers about their adventures and all the places they have been. But it wouldn’t be footwear if it didn’t have its peculiarities.
Sometimes it is the six-foot tall woman who insists that she has size 6 feet. When I measure she comes out at a 9. “Oh my feet must have grown as I got older!” “Yes ma’am your feet grew three sizes during your thirties.”
General rule – most men over exaggerate. Women way underestimate.
Other people refuse to try on or purchase shoes that have been tried on before. If the packaging has been disturbed it’s time to return.
Even more frustrating are people who will try on hiking boots and say “These shoes fit perfectly and are so comfortable!” But then they will refuse to buy them because they don’t like the color. Men and women do this at an equal rate. No joke, they will actually purchase a boot less comfortable because they like the color better.
Or how about the people who buy the Five Finger shoes? It’s NEVER fit runners who buy them. It’s usually overweight people that buy them because they feel that putting on some fancy running shoe will help them lose weight. Time and time again they talk about how they read about these shoes in some book (Born to Run) or some fitness magazine (Runner’s World) and from that they concluded that this shoe might help them lose weight. For that reason, I am glad we don’t sell Skechers Shape Ups.
Speaking of overweight people (I am going to go to hell for writing this), but most come to REI to purchase hiking boots to get into hiking and the outdoors to lose weight. I applaud them for that. They typically are the most fun to help, because they actually listen to you and are super friendly. The problem is in fitting them (and this relates to men’s or women’s performance clothing too). REI just doesn’t have their size. For boots most have a tough time fitting into them because their calves are too thick. For clothes, most times the zipper just won’t close. Of course, I can’t say “Sorry you don’t fit because you’re too big.” So instead I just sort of sit there awkwardly watching this overweight person try to squeeze into a rain jacket. Then when it doesn’t fit (which happens all the time), they get frustrated at me for not having a 3XL. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Despite the examples above my absolute favorite example of footwear’s peculiarities is one thing all people coming to footwear have in common… a lengthy story about their feet.
It never ceases to amaze me that people I don’t even know; complete strangers, can divulge so much personal information to me about their feet.
Here are some common plot lines:
“OMG my feet are so unique.” (No they aren’t). “I have the highest arches!” (No you don’t). “My orthopedist said I have flat feet.” (You paid $300 for those orthotics and that opinion?) “These shoes just don’t have the support I need… I need a lot of support.” (This is our most supportive shoe) “It’s so weird… my feet are different sizes.” (A lot of people have different sized feet). “I don’t’ care what I get as long as it is waterproof.” (Waterproof usually isn’t necessary – it’s sunny 300 days a year in Denver). “My friend recommended these shoes. He said they were super comfortable.” (Is your foot an exact replica of your friend’s?) And lastly…
“Plantar Fasciitis” “Plantar Fasciitis” “Plantar Fasciitis” “Plantar Fasciitis” “Plantar Fasciitis” “Plantar Fasciitis”
“Plantar Fasciitis” is to footwear as “Gluten Free” is to the dieting. Most people probably don’t have it; they just want to feel special.
When I am not working footwear, I usually work menswear and sometimes womenswear. My job is to provide expert advice on technical performance clothing. In reality, my job is to clean dressing rooms. It is astonishing how bad people leave some rooms.
You don’t even own these clothes, yet you feel it is okay to just throw it on the floor after you’re done? Most people don’t do this, but those do, make my blood boil. I had one guy tell me he doesn’t purchase stuff at REI because it’s too expensive. He just tries on stuff and purchases it online. Okay fine by me, but instead of putting the stuff back on the hanger he just threw it on the ground. I followed him around menswear for thirty minutes, picking up clothes after him.
The most common question I receive in the ‘soft goods’ department(s) is for the ‘Do Everything Jacket.’ Camping is all about layering; adding and removing different layers with different functions to adapt to the temperature and conditions outside. But no one wants that.
“Hi I’m looking for a jacket that is super warm but won’t be too hot when its sunny and warm outside. I’d like to take it to the office but be able to ski in it. Ideally I want it to be goose down, but it really needs to be waterproof. But I don’t want it to be goose down because that’s unethical or maybe I’ll have it be goose down down only if they ethically source the goose feathers. Oh and it has to be water proof because I’m going to Costa Rica this summer.”
At first, I was more polite, but soon I just started telling people that the item they wanted didn’t exist. This happens a lot in boots too. “I want a super stiff hiking boots that are full grain leather and will last 10 years, but I don’t want to spend more than $100. Oh it would be good if they were also on the clearance rack.”
Once again “Sorry– that doesn’t exist.”
I remember one particular guy that wanted a very warm jacket. I recommend goose down, but he refused to consider goose down because it was unethically sourced (which is isn’t…). I then asked him what activities he would be using this jacket for. He told me he wanted it so he could smoke cigarettes outside on his break at work and not freeze. So you aren’t okay with harming a goose, but you have no problem killing yourself and hurting others through second hand smoke? I just nodded my head and said okay.
But let me digress to yet another tangent on ethically sourced jackets. If customers don’t want goose down, they will purchase synthetic jackets. Synthetic jackets typically use a material called Primaloft. Primaloft is derived from polyester, which is in turn derived from coal, air, water, and petroleum. Do you see the contradiction? What about ethically sourced underwear? Yep we have people looking for that too.
I know I’m making REI sound terrible. But then why do I work at REI? Well I don’t actually anymore (hence why I decided to publish this article).
So the questions is why did I work at REI?
- The employees: I met some of the best people here and the management was for the most part outstanding.
- The customers: I wrote mostly about the bad ones for humor for this article. In reality, I met some amazing people. I’ve heard of amazing adventures and fascinating tales. I’ve been inspired to see more of the world and get involved in more extreme activities.
- It was fun. Retail wherever you work sucks. It is the nature of the industry. But REI was the best of the worst.
While my time at REI has come to an end, I am super glad to have been given the chance to work there. I met some amazing folks and now have a solid friend network in Denver. Getting people to join me in the outdoors is no longer a challenge. Working there was the best thing I could have done when I first arrived Denver. But alas that chapter has been ended in my life.
What’s next? In July I start a 7-month intensive computer coding boot camp. Until then I will be retired. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have some sort of adventure.
Keep chugging people!