#362: Lávate las manos!

#362: Lávate las manos! (Wash your hands!)

What is the prime rule of retail? Some sources say it’s an employee’s presentation, from language to punctuality to appearance. A knowledgeable staff is absolutely important, and even trumps friendliness. Friendliness without knowledge in a retail environment doesn’t help the customer. Customer service is clearly important, as is leading by example, which I tried to do myself. Other sources say convenience is king. An online presence is a must, but in brick and mortar stores, what truly is the one prime, cardinal rule of retail?

I say it’s a simple one. Wash your hands!

Research suggests that in the United States, 22 million days of work are lost per year just by common illnesses spread in the conventional ways. When a sick employee does manage to make it into work, their productivity is reduced due to lack of energy and focus. They risk spreading the illness further, and also disgusting potential customers with their coughing and sneezing.

It’s easy enough to reduce the spread just by making sure your employees are washing their hands. According to the CDC, “Handwashing is like a ‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine—it involves five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) that you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy. Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.” By “certain activities”, I can tell you that buying used CDs off the public certainly qualified. At the Record Store, we had a bottle of hand sanitizer at the register, so I could quickly scrub up if there was no time to hit the washroom.

I have seen some gross, disgusting substances on CDs that I and my staff have handled. That doesn’t even include the invisible germs that were on a lot of them! Sticky CDs and CD cases were quite common. When I first started out, I caught hell from the boss because I didn’t want to buy a box of CDs from a guy who had very few discs without yucky, sticky CD cases! Most of the time, we couldn’t identify the goo, although we were fairly certain that some had been covered with semen before. (Needless to say, we passed on the semen CD, no complaints from bosses that time.)

The most disturbing health risk that I witnessed was covering the in-demand box set called Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys. It was covered in blood – still wet, as the guy selling it to us was actually bleeding from his hands at that moment! The staff guy who was handling the set, Jason, quietly announced, “I have to go and wash my hands – they are covered with blood.” The customer then laughed and said, “Yah, that’s me. But don’t worry, I ain’t got AIDS or nothin’.”

With hindsight, I seemed to be sick all the time. Handling all that dirty money and those filthy CDs, it was almost impossible to keep my hands clean. All it takes is one itchy eye to rub without thinking, and BAM! You’ve got a virus! At the Record Store I suffered from all sorts of ailments, as did we all. I also felt a certain amount of pressure to show up for work even when I was under the weather, so I tended to work through it.

I would give the same advice to customers and staff alike: There is only one prime rule of retail. If you want to stop spreading all those filthy germs, lávate las fucking manos!