A second chance

Last week I was spending some time with a young lady in her first year at University. She was taking very similar subjects as I had done so many years ago. She asked me the question – how did you know what you were going to do after you completed your various degrees?

A really good question! How did I land up in retail of all industries in South Africa? Unlike other countries being in retail in South Africa is bottom of the rung – even the banking sector was deemed a better industry to work in. It still is regarded by most as a dirty industry to work in.

And this is how it happened. During my first year at University I was really struggling. My parents were unable to assist me financially in anyway to study. Early on in my first year I was introduced to a business owner who listened to me saying how hard it was just to stay at university – and how uncertain I was that I would be able to complete one degree – never mind three.

He owned a hotel in Cape St Francis – a good 9 hour drive from where I lived. He was having trouble managing the hotel and its bottle store that was attached to the hotel. Would I like to work each vacation for him – and all the long weekends and public holidays throughout the year? I jumped at it especially when he told me how much he would pay me! It was a huge salary.

And so that is where and when I started in retail – at 18 years of age. My first day on the job was horrific! We had two entrances to the bottle store – one for the “walk in” customers and one for the drive in customers. All returnable bottles were to be handed in on the “walk in” side – and the customer was duly paid for these bottles on that side too.

I could not believe just how many bottles were returned on one day! I spent the day running between the two tills. When I closed up for the night – and did my paper work for the end of day I was horrified at what I found. Guess what I had done? I was receiving and paying out for the same bottles over and over again! I had not secured the empties as they had come in!

And the cost – was almost equal to my month’s salary! I was devastated! My first real days work ever – and I had just cost my boss oodles of money in ONE day…

Anyway I decided to own up there and then. And resign with no pay for the day if need be – or work for the month for no salary. So those were the thoughts in my head when I went to see my boss.

He listened carefully to my story and asked a few clarifying questions. And then he sat very quietly. I was nearly in tears by then. The questions he was asking me sounded like he thought I had deliberately stolen the money – and now I was thinking he is going to call the police. I was a wreck.

He then asked me the following questions:

  • “What will you do tomorrow to make sure it does not happen again?”
  • “What have your learned today?”

On my way over to his office I had already thought about these very same things – so I was able to answer them quite easily and he was more than satisfied with my proposed solutions.

And so I got my second chance. I grabbed it with both hands. I spent time looking at the range of products, the pricing structures (I was determined to get those lost monies back for him) – I rearranged the layout of the store – not just once but over and over and until I thought I had got it right.

And I found that each change I made – even in the store room – made us more profitable. I LOVED it. He gave me complete carte blanche – I could add or delete products as I liked. I could price as I liked and even source suppliers that I preferred. I set up three pricing structures for each product we sold – one for the walk in entrance, one for the drive in customer – and a third one for the guests in the hotel and its restaurant.

I was hooked! And I never looked back – you either love the retail world or you hate it. It never felt like work to me – I was enjoying each day at work. Everything I learned in those days was by trial and error. It was only years later that I started to “study” retailing principles. But they were mostly old hat to me by then….

So the next time a staff member makes a genuine error which costs you money – think twice about how to deal with that person. As it turned out for me – I worked for Hilton for many years which allowed me the opportunity to complete three degrees. He had bought my loyalty for life! And when I was finished – he asked me to run of his other company’s which I turned down.

I was lucky to be able to do more or less as I liked in that bottle store. I was able to try out new things. It was an opportunity of a life time for me.

But how many of us even listen to suggestions our staff make or even allow them to try something new in our stores?   And after a while they stop making any….

Perhaps give them and yourself a second chance…


Take care out there

  1. #1 by Steven Montgomery on June 21, 2011 - 6:56 pm

    I too was granted as second chance. I was a VP of Operations and Marketing of a less than 100 store c-store chain in New England, USA. At that time 7-Eleven had run a promotion selling 3-D glasses and sponsoring a movie on TV. You paid for the money sponsor and got you money back (and made a profit) by selling the glasses. It was a disaster.

    The next morning the company’s owner asked how much money we had lost. It was a five figure sum. He too asked me what I had learned. After we discussed it, he told me to go out and make back the money and our team did so. We had a mini-reunion of that team a few weeks ago and everyone remembered the incident and the lessons we all learned.

  2. #2 by Jocelyn on June 21, 2011 - 8:25 pm

    I think there are two thing here we have both learned by making mistakes – they were genuine mistakes in the first place and the second thing is that neither you or I will ever make the same mistake again! and that means we will put in controls to stop it happening again! no owner or boss could ever ask more from us!

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