At the lake this weekend, solo trip. One the new realities of empty nesting are learning to enjoy the lake estate sans family. Middle kid found a summer job at the Home Depot; he’ll be doing stock work of some kind. Last year the oldest was working at the Gap, same thing, stock and inventory.
It was always amusing to hear young Master Sank-a-Ray come home and tell me how great the Gap was at this and that. Shared a few things about how they would flow inventory from the back room to the sales floor. How they managed their seasonal transitions and product changes. He was learning a lot about retail and wanted to share it with me, and specifically me because I might be able to learn a thing or two as well, since he was working at a world-class retailer.
It was a nice look in the mirror for me, a little self realization as he’d wax on about how great the Gap was about how stupid I must have sounds back in the day when I was telling my Dad the same things about Mervyn’s. He talked about how the Gap was creating documents that showed the stores where they should put certain items and how he could walk the floor with his book and it would direct him to exactly where stuff should go. “You should see it Dad, it’s a really cool process.”
I smiled. I actually hold a patent for technology that automates the very processes he’s talking about. The Gap’s process was about 20 years out of date to be honest. But I kept my mouth shut and responded with feigned interest. I’m thinking my Dad was doing the same thing back in the day.
You see, I know a bit about retail, my retail career started in 1978 at my Dad’s shoe store in Stockton California. Actually before that, I remember being about 12 years old and getting to accompany my parents to San Francisco twice a year for their buying trips. That was vacation back in the day, we were workaholics even then. I think I was the youngest accredited attendee at those trade shows. Last January I left Target (on my own) after a 26 year career in Merchandising. In the last few years at Target I was actually an internal consultant developing merchandising processes and finding technology, There aren’t many processes at Target or in retail in general that I wasn’t exposed too in one way or another.
In other words, I have some level of expertise but apparently not enough because the lad was adamant that I didn’t know much. Now that the Middle Kid is working at another retailer I can’t wait to hear much more I don’t know.
Kids. I remember when I used to know it all, some folks might say I still think I know it all but I think I can make a decent argument that I’m much better know, and after all these years I actually do know it all, try me.
Here’s what I do know, and I know it well, it’s something that comes from wisdom of age. Well let me correct myself, it’s something that should come with wisdom of age and that is the the ability to say what authors of Freakonomics have called the three hardest words in the English language, “I don’t know”.
Those are good words, used in the proper context. That being any time you really don’t know what you’re talking about.
There’s another context of I Don’t Know that comes in handy, when family is attempting to engage you conversation you don’t want to participate in. Like a discussion about what color to paint a room for example. Couldn’t care less, and if did care Mrs. S would have a different opinion about it anyway and on the list of things to pick my fights about, that would come right after leaving the toilet seat up. Not worth the trouble.
Want to fight about cars or retirement, let’s talk.
Or lets not because that’s also a wasted conversation in our marriage, one that probably needs to be mediated rather than discussed, because we’re not only not on the same page, we’re kinda not on the same planet.
But I digress.
Here’s my words of advice for my kids as they start they get their first jobs in retail. I hope your experience at the Home Depot or the Gap or any other retailer you’d care to mention is the worst experience you’ve ever had in your life. I hope the hours are horrible and the managers mean and stupid. I hope the pay is poor and business sucks. And, I hope this motivates you to continue to do well in school, continue to excel and pursue careers that matter, carrers where you can do great things and change the world.
One of the few words of advice I remember from my old man, who was a retailer for more than 60 years, owning and operating several different stores and chains over the years, he obviously knew what he was doing because he was able to succeed at retail formats from Sankary’s Department stores to a Kosher butcher shop to women’s apparel, and two different bands of shoe stores, he told me over and over again as I was growing up:
What ever you do don’t go into retail, it’s a shitty way to make a living.
Of course I never listened, why would they?