My Retail Journey
Aherthy Jeyasundaram, BBA 2019
“It’s a dog eat dog world”. This is a token proverb that every business student is likely to come across at least a couple dozen times. It’s an expression that tries to paint the corporate realm as unforgiving and vicious. It warns onlookers like caution tape wrapped across an abandoned building, of the employed merciless tactics and the existence of a sole objective; to remain dangerously powerful. Fortunately enough, human instincts have evolved beyond our primitive ancestors, and in the process we have adapted skills and etiquette that allow for harmonious coexistence. I believe the corporate realm exists primarily to facilitate this coexistence. This truth becomes most evident within the retail world—the corporate grandstand.
My retail journey began in the summer of 2016. At the beginning of April, I had heard back from two of the 15 applications I had sent at various retail centers and small businesses. The first was a job as an administrative assistant at a small Richmond Hill based document logistics firm. I would be working in a well-kept office at my own cubicle. I would be assigned tasks such as answering phone calls, indexing high-security files and filling out elaborate spreadsheets—not the most exciting work but I would be compensated significantly above the minimum wage. The second job was as a Corporate Experience Representative at Indigo Books and Music, where I would be spending a majority of my days helping customers locate books and shelving merchandise. Walking into the interview for Indigo a bit earlier than I was required, I was greeted by the familiar embrace of the many books that lined the walls of the store’s interior. I spent some time strolling through the store, sweeping the spines of the books sitting on shelf after shelf. Being an avid reader, this definitely sparked a level of excitement within me, but there was more to it than that. I had spent no more than 10 minutes at the store before I was approached by an employee, who had mistaken me for a regular customer, and welcomed me into the store, urging me to check out a few of the latest releases in books. It was a brief moment of interaction, but somehow the small exchange of words had created an intimate human moment—and the store had become less foreign territory.
There are certain skills that you can’t possibly learn anywhere else than the floor of a retail location—patience after shelving the same book for the 47th time in two hours is one of them. During my first couple shifts, I remember feeling hugely embarrassed each time I approached a complete stranger and tried to engage them in meager conversation. I tried to replicate the motions and words said by the other employees, which I had carefully studied as they approached customers, but somehow their techniques were less fruitful when I was the one delivering them.
Eventually, as approaching a customer became more habit than a conscious choice, I began to develop my own personality within the store, and I recognized that individualism and candid conversation were more appreciated by a customer than my rehearsed sketch. Though most of these interactions were short-lived, they were often nuanced and intimate. In discussing books, the conversation spanned a variety of topics, some even sensitive and deeply personal in nature. I had built relationships with Indigo regulars who knew me by name and to my surprise, often stopped to update me on a book they bought, as if we were friends. I’ve often witnessed corporations attempt to make a customer-employee interaction a marketable tactic that is used to lure customers into making a purchase. However, these attempts are often unsuccessful as they undermine the intelligence of the customer and their ability to differentiate between authenticity and tactless ploy to profit.
The crux of a successful business is its ability to understand the human narrative and find the exact place in which it can integrate itself. Working in retail provided me with a most wonderful understanding of this truth. Entering my third year at Schulich, inching closer to the doors of the corporate realm, I find myself humbled knowing that the human connection is a powerful resource, one that stabilizes the corporate realm altogether.