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