retail

#558: Easter Eggs

GETTING MORE TALE #558: Easter Eggs

“Easter eggs” – Hidden content that you have to really search to find.  Often refers to hidden DVD/Blu-ray bonus features.  The first DVD Easter egg I heard of was on the original “steelbook” version of Terminator 2.  If you go to the right menu and punch in the exact date of Judgment Day, you can access a super-extra-extended version of the film, only visible in this specific way.  Another great DVD Easter egg was on Fellowship of the Ring.  Click around, and you will find a clip from the MTV movie awards where Jack Black has pierced his own wiener with the One Ring.

The term “Easter eggs” is common vocabulary today, and has expanded to include secret cameos or information in films too.  Recent examples:  The appearance of the droid Chopper from Star Wars: Rebels in the new film Rogue One.  Or brief glimpse of Lexcorp trucks, in Man of Steel.  They’re designed not to be immediately noticed, but only detected by die-hard fans after repeat viewings.

The old Record Store has Easter eggs too, so secret that I don’t think anyone who still works there even knows about them.  But they’re still there.

When I first began Record Store Tales, I made a decision to never publicly identify the name of the store.  For that reason, I’ll remain vague.  Back in the olden days when everybody more or less got along, at least two Easter eggs were hidden somewhere on the store website.  They were nods and winks at two employees:  myself, and one other guy who had been there a long time.  They are still there, hidden unless you know where to look.  They were never removed even after both of us left.

There is one more Easter egg, that only two people know about:  Tom (co-founder of Sausagefest) and myself.   Tom owned a franchise at the time.  When he eventually moved on to something else, he asked me to do him a favour.  He wanted to leave his mark in some way on the place.  I can understand that.  Tom, T-Rev, a couple others, and I put our blood, sweat and tears into that store.  It wouldn’t be right to call us “original members” or “founding fathers”, because there was only one owner who started it all.  T-Rev and I weren’t owners, we had no stakes.  It was all just pure passion.  We were there in the very early days as we made the baby steps.  We contributed all our energy to that place, helping to build it and make it grow.  I can’t speak for Tom, but I personally am very proud of that.  Tom pushed to be the first one that carried vinyl.  T-Rev helped actually build the stores, putting up shelving and all the works.  I trained dozens of people and came up with the idea of a store newsletter.  It’s not as if they have a “wall of fame” with our pictures on it.  Tom leaving his mark seems pretty justifiable.

So, he asked me to sneak something in there, and I did.  Tom’s little tribute is still on the website.  Only he and I know where to look.  His franchise was always kickass, and he personally supplied me with plenty of great rock from there, including autographed Helix records, some Foo Fighters singles and a rare live Judas Priest.  He had a 25 cent bin of vinyl that always had good stuff in it.  Let’s all raise our Romulan ale to a true rock and roll animal, the mighty Tom.

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#557: Just Joking

GETTING MORE TALE #557: Just Joking

Ever heard a joke that made you almost too uncomfortable to laugh?

In my second year of university, I was in a history class and one of the students missed a previous lesson.  He asked if he could borrow some notes, so my friend Tim offered.  “Thanks!” he responded, and then added jokingly, “Hey, who says white people never help out black people?”  Yes, he was black, and Tim and I were white.  We laughed, but a part of us felt like laughing at that joke was taboo.  It clearly wasn’t, he was obviously just kidding, but it hit that grey area of discomfort.

Here is an example from the Record Store.  One of our regular customers named himself “Richard the Indian”.  Super nice guy, usually easy to deal with.  Loved heavy metal.  He had a native status card proving he’s indigenous and entitling him to a tax discount, but he also absolutely looked it.  He had long straight black hair, and wizened eyes.  Even though he referred to himself as “Richard the Indian”, I didn’t like calling him that to his face.  It didn’t seem “right” to me.  So, he was usually just addressed as “Richard”.

He listened to his music on a CD Discman.  He was always have problems with it, and I saw pieces falling off it once. It was “a piece of junk”, according to him.  “This thing must have been made by Indians!” he joked, playing on the stereotype that all Indians are drunk and lazy.

Do you laugh?  I let out a slight uncomfortable chuckle.  Some of the staff felt uncomfortable too.  “I know he’s just kidding, but it makes me feel weird when he makes Indian jokes,” someone told me.  “I feel like I should laugh, but also shouldn’t.”

The ins and outs of retail are labyrinthine.  There have been jokes that flat-out were not funny.  One guy thought he was hilarious with this joke:  Q: What does Marvin Gaye have in common with one of his records?  A: They’re both black and have a hole in the middle.  That joke got no laughs because it wasn’t funny at all.  In other situations, I have laughed and then realized too late that the customer wasn’t joking.

So what do you do?  If you work in retail, when in doubt, don’t laugh.  Do not.  At worst you’ll appear humourless, at best you’ll avoid the wrong reaction!

#555: How to Be Annoying

GETTING MORE TALE #555: How to Be Annoying

Nobody really liked working with Dandy.  What Dandy did was decide who he liked and who he didn’t.  If he liked you, he wouldn’t annoy you repeatedly.  If he didn’t like you, then he just didn’t care – he’d do whatever he wanted, the more annoying the better.  One or two higher ranked people never saw his annoying side.  For the rest of us, he’d act like an idiot on a dime.

One of his most annoying habits was dancing at work.  He’d put on one of his favourite bands – the Dandy Warhols, or the Toilet Boys – and dance around the store.  And when he danced, his white belly would pop out from his too-tight black T-shirt – not a pretty sight.  I’ll admit I’m not the most svelte of specimens but I keep my white belly under ample amounts of shirt!  I’ll never forget the sight of him belly dancing when the Toilet Boys came on.

He also liked to embarrass other people as much as possible.  For example, when Joe Strummer died.  Customers were jumping on the Clash bandwagon, but I really didn’t know anything about the band.  I knew the hits from having heard them in the store, and there were songs that I like. I know one of the drummers (Terry Chimes) was briefly in Black Sabbath.  But I knew next to nothing else about the band members.  Due to his name (Strummer) I assumed Joe was the guitar player.  To this day I only own one Clash album (London Calling).  It just wasn’t my background.  My youth was a heady mix of British and North American classic rock and metal, and I never even bought a punk rock album until the mid-90s (Never Mind the Bollocks was my first).  Once Dandy realized I didn’t know who Joe Strummer’s was, he made sure to tell everybody.  Loudly.

“Hey get this!  We were listening to the Clash – Mike thinks Joe Strummer is the guitar player!  HAH HAH HAH!  He doesn’t even know!  HAH HAH HAH!”

But then the next day he would be nice as pie to me, and picking on somebody else.  Usually the infamous Spoogecakes.

Spoogecakes and Dandy weren’t exactly two of a kind.  She liked Lord of the Rings, Finger 11 and the Showboat soundtrack (we’ll talk about that one another day).  He liked drugs, makeup, and whatever was on-trend.  The only thing they had in common was annoying me.  Like for example, one time Spoogecakes hid my hat somewhere in the store and thought it was freaking hilarious.  I found out later on that she had a crush on me and this was an attention-getting game.  Kind of like something you’d do in grade school, annoying the girl you like for attention because you didn’t know what else to do.

It was Dandy who coined her original nickname:  the Angry Walrus.  His opinion was that she had that kind of face, and always seemed angry.  (She did definitely always seem angry.)  Apparently the name stuck immediately.  It was like a freight train that could not be stopped and I was the last one to hear about it, because I was the manager and nobody wanted to tell me.

Dandy:  “Damn, you have me scheduled to work with the Angry Walrus tonight.  That sucks.”

Me:  “Who the fuck is the ‘Angry Walrus’?”

I was so frustrated with both of them that I really didn’t even give a fuck anymore.  Thankfully I was soon transferred over to another location, and I never had to work with either again.  Thank fuck!

#553: Jesus’ Lyric

GETTING MORE TALE #553: Jesus’ Lyric

Many record store employees drink.  Record store people are just people, and some people drink.  And some drink, a lot. I was never much of a drinker, not until I moved in with T-Rev in ’98. Then I caught up pretty quickly (Captain Morgan’s and Coke, not beer), but I still couldn’t compete with those guys. (In fact, I still remember when I went out for my 30th birthday. I was accused by the Operations Manager/Bully of “faking” that I was drunk. I’m a light weight, and she was just a meany.)

Like me, some of the younger folks, they just couldn’t pace themselves.  The difference is they’d be drinking while having to open the store the following morning.  A lot of them would be out partying, and then we’d get the inevitable phone call the next morning. “I’m sick. Can you cover for me today?” It happened more than once, not naming names.

One guy, who helped me set up the first store that I managed, came into work hungover so many damn times. The first time, I had to send him home. He was absolutely useless. He was actually trying to work with his head down touching the counter. He was slowing me down, so I sent him home and somebody else came in.

The same guy came in hungover one Saturday morning, later on, after we opened. He had his head down on the counter when a customer approached him. He raised his head.

jasons-lyric“Uhh, excuse me. Do you have the soundtrack to Jason’s Lyric?”

The hungover employee stumbled over to the computer.

“It’s a movie soundtrack,” clarified the customer, seeing Mr. Hangover was struggling.

“No. We don’t have it.”

The customer asked him to check to see if one of our other stores had it, so he picked up the phone.  The customer went back to browsing while Mr. Hangover was making the call.   We only had three stores at the time.   One of them had Jason’s Lyric used on CD!

Mr. Hangover then walked out onto the floor to tell the customer about the CD. Only problem:  he didn’t remember who asked.   Or the exact name of the CD he asked for.  So Mr. Hangover approached somebody who looked right.

Walking up to the unsuspecting stranger he said, “Hey man. They got your Jesus’ Lyric over there.”

“What?”

“They got your Jesus’ Lyric soundtrack CD at the other store that you asked for.”

Overhearing this, the correct customer identified himself, and things got sorted.  No big surprise ending here:  Mr. Hangover was let go soon after!

#552: Alive!

GETTING MORE TALE #552: Alive!

In the spring of 1996, we opened up the big store that I managed. It was our biggest store to date. There were a lot of good times at that location, and hundreds of incredible musical finds. Around the same time, I began replacing my cassette collection with CDs in earnest. Cassettes don’t have the longevity or the sound quality of a CD. Most of my tapes were starting to sound awful, especially the ones purchased from Columbia House, who manufactured their own at a lesser cost.

Upgrading my Kiss cassette collection to CD was an early priority. Some of the first Kiss tapes I bought, like Asylum, had degraded so much they were unlistenable. The early (Canadian) CD releases had issues too; they were not perfect. Both Hotter Than Hell and Alive II (disc one) had severe problems with digital noise in specific spots. On Alive II it was “Love Gun” that was the issue. There was a terrible scratchy sound encoded onto the CD.

The differences between my boss and myself were obvious the day that Kiss Alive! came in stock, used.  It came in one of those old “fat” CD cases.  It was the first chance I had to buy the first Alive! at an affordable used price, in such great condition. The boss and I had very different personalities, almost opposites. I was a music obsessive who collected things and wanted to know all the obscure facts. He liked music but just wanted to sell CDs. I grabbed that copy of Alive! and handed it to the boss to ring in with my staff discount.

 

He sighed and gave me a look. “Don’t you already have this?”

He sounded like my dad. When I’d come home, he’d say, “More Kiss? Don’t you already have Kiss?” My boss had a lot in common with my dad.

I had the tape, but the cassette had the songs in a different order.  This was a fairly common practice.  Song order would be swapped around on cassettes, to keep sides one and two about equal in length. That reduces the amount of actual tape used to manufacture it, and therefore cuts costs. It would be cool to have a CD copy of Alive! to listen to the songs in the original order.

“I have it on cassette and LP,” I explained.  “I listen to the tape, but this CD is different.  The songs are in a different order,” I finished.

He looked at me again and responded in a mocking tone, “Hey Mike, look at my shoes. The left one is different from the right one. Do you want to buy it?”

“No because I don’t collect shoes,” I answered. “I collect Kiss.”

He shrugged with frustration. I really think he was more just pissed off that I had taken some good stock for myself.

Oh well.

Staff taking “good stock” was an ongoing issue, but because getting stock at a discount was one of the established perks of working at a used CD store, there wasn’t much that could be done. I’ll give him credit; the boss considered the staff discount to be part and parcel of the job for all of us.  He eventually put a limit on how much we could buy at a time. Meanwhile, my dad would look at my collection and say “sell, sell, sell!”

He ended up getting that copy of Kiss Alive! back, when I upgraded to the 1997 remastered edition. And then he ended up getting that 1997 remastered edition back when I upgraded to the Kiss Alive! 1975-2000 box set.

He might not have understood my wants and desires as a collector, and he may have complained about me taking all the good stock, but he ended up making money when I sold back my equally good stock. No harm, no foul. Hopefully, I have bought Kiss Alive! for the final time.

#550: The Toy

GETTING MORE TALE #550: The Toy

The worst thing about running a “family oriented” used CD store was kids.  Not every kid mind you…just the ones that weren’t attended to by their parents.  Toddlers, seven year olds…whatever. They were hell to deal with, because nine times out of ten, the parents would rather scour our shelves looking for John Mellencamp discs than make sure their kids weren’t destroying the store. T-Rev used to say “People should need a license to have kids,” after witnessing the destruction they can unleash when parents don’t give a shit.

So, some typical store activities for kiddies:

  • Taking discs off the shelves and putting them elsewhere.
  • Running behind the counter and grabbing discs there.  This was especially troublesome.  Discs were in numbered slots.  If Junior takes the disc out and throws it somewhere, you have to look it up in inventory to see what slot it was supposed to be in.  How do you do that with a CD that has no title or artist printed on it?  Happened more frequently than you think.  I called those discs “lost soldiers”.
  • Just running behind the counter because why not.
  • Screaming.
  • Throwing things.
  • Spilling food or drinks.
  • Trying to attach themselves to my legs.

Talking to the parents was useless. They’d usually yell something like, “Stop that!” before turning their backs to look for some Tim McGraw discs.

So we came up with a plan to deal with it. A little toy for the kids to quietly play with in the corner! A little hobby center for the toddlers. A few kids did play quietly with it, while others just fought over it. Battles, screaming, with parents deeply immersed in the Bargain Bin looking for MuchDance ’98.

Within two weeks, the toy had developed a gross, slimy coating that you couldn’t clean off. It was disgusting; it looked like kids had been licking it (they probably were). And wouldn’t you know it? The lovely children that used to throw things around the store found something new to throw: the toy and its parts! It could and did end up anywhere in the store. Including begind the counter.  We bought that toy so kids would be occupied and leave us alone. The damned thing was way more work than it was worth.

What a disaster. I hated that fucking thing.

#549: E-Commerce Dawning

GETTING MORE TALE #549: E-Commerce Dawning

I had been trying to get out of the storefront for a while. As a manager you can only take so much retail in a lifetime, even in the Record Store. My reservoir for dealing with the public in a buy/sell situation only had about five or six years in it before I was running on pure fumes. Fortunately e-commerce was becoming a dominant force and I was chosen to manage our new website. It was a good website.  The boss knew what he wanted, and didn’t settle for less.  He listened to feedback and relentlessly tested the site.  It was a challenge since our inventory was changing minute by minute, and technology hadn’t caught up to our needs yet.  When it was finally ready to go live, it was a slow start.  It began as a one man operation.

I was sent out to do some research. The boss sent me to an e-commerce convention at the Waterloo Inn in mid-2000. I returned with plenty of notes and information about how laws would protect buyers and sellers in online sales.

When we first started e-commerce, the website was a part time job. I was still in the store most of the time, because we were only getting 10-15 orders per day. I would have time allotted to go in the back room and get the e-commerce stuff done: processing credit card orders, responding to customers, keeping the books. Customer complaints were infrequent but fun. Often it involved somebody whining that they couldn’t return something because they lost their receipt, or complaining that something was taking too long to come in. Then I’d investigate and get the other side of the story.  There was one guy we all remember that was a constant complainer.  He picked up his orders in-store.  He carried a briefcase with him, and inside that briefcase was a printout of every order he ever placed.

 

The boss told me, “This is your baby, run it however works best for you.” So I did and it went well until it was just too busy for one person to run alone. Then they decided to run the e-commerce thing full time. I was given a small staff of about three people, all people who also worked in store. We had a tiny office to work out of. It had a computer, printer, its own VISA machine and all the supplies needed to ship CDs by FedEx. We learned as we went.

I had a really good staff back there and it was fun juggling that with the store. I worked a lot of double shifts, but I was enjoying it. Things were going well, and over time we got busier and busier.  They decided they wanted a full-time manager for the position.  I was frozen out, and landed back in the store full time. I heard that oft-repeated mantra: “Your time is more valuable to us in the store.”

A couple years’ of work on that website, and suddenly it was pulled away and I was back where I didn’t want to be. My goal was to get out of the store, and I worked hours and hours above and beyond the call of duty to do it. I voluntarily came in on the morning of my Christmas Eve off (year 2000) just to process online orders, so we wouldn’t be slammed by too many when we re-opened. I poured all my energy into it knowing the goal of being out of the store was not far away. Then the floor fell out from under.

They had me transitioning into a new position of being a trainer for new staff and franchisees. That would have been fine except that was a small portion of my time.  The franchising stalled and that meant most of the time I was running a store. Promises of ever getting out had evaporated.

Like many things from the formative years, I had plenty of fond memories of toiling away on that website. Most satisfying was the feeling that I was climbing the ladder and working towards the goal of getting away from the front counter. Apparently the bosses felt that the front counter was the thing I was best at, and didn’t consider other factors such as morale and personal growth. It was like being kicked back to highschool after I’d already graduated and moved on to university.  The ironic thing was one person who eventually ran the website after me was fired for theft. Change isn’t always good.  Maybe they should have left things as-is.

The only song related to e-commerce I could find.

#547: The Redemption of the Worst McDonalds Ever

Getting More Tale #547: The Redemption of the Worst McDonalds Ever
The sequel to #536: Worst. McDonalds. EVER.

I’ve been visiting the “worst McDonalds ever” regularly in the past few weeks.  All McDonalds stores have been renovated since the 2006 disaster area we encountered in the last installment.  They’ve made a number of changes to their menu and how you order.

Where a typical McDonalds used to have a huge counter full of cash registers to order, now they have just one.  This is because they have switched over to an automated ordering/paying system using touch-screen kiosks.  You might think that removing the human element is a bad thing.  When it was first rolled out, it seemed things got slower.  Today is another story.

Using the former “worst McDonalds ever” as an example, service is now much faster and accurate.  You don’t have to get in line.  Just walk in and stroll up to a kiosk.  Follow the instructions on screen and touch what you want to order.  You can do it as a combo, and you can change sizes quite easily.  Making modifications is easy peasy.  The kiosk then reviews your order and asks you to confirm it.  Once this is done, you can either pay by debit or credit card right at the kiosk, or go to the cash register to pay.

The kiosk spits out your receipt with a number.  That number then appears on a big screen that says “now serving”.  Your number climbs to the top when your order is ready.  Usually this happens quickly.

It used to be the case that we didn’t like to get McDonalds “to go” because by the time you get back, the fries are cold.  Everybody knows McDonalds fries are best when they are piping hot.  Cold McDonalds fries just don’t cut it.  I am pleased to report that I can go to the former “worst McDonalds ever” and get back to the office in time with hot fries. My turnaround time is usually 15-20 minutes from door to door.  Additionally, my order has been right every time. It seems the new kiosk system has cut down on human error.

This is all just personal experience; I have been to a few of the new McDonalds and only had a bad experience once, in Ottawa, when the new system was first introduced.  That McDonalds was drowning in confusion and upset customers, including one who claimed this was the “worst McDonalds ever”.  That first time aside, food has been fast and accurate since.

What does this mean in terms of general retail?  Automated checkout is becoming more and more common.  As long as the speed and quality remain in good standing, this trend will continue.  It will probably not impact the music business very much.  Most people who go shopping in a music store go there partly because there are humans to interact with.  As long as music stores exist, so will manual checkouts.  Of course, many folks (myself included) buy a huge chunk of their music from online retailers.  However when we do visit a music store, we want a flesh and blood human being there.

Good for McDonalds for improving their service.  I think the music business will continue on its own path.

 

#546: Worst. McDonalds. EVER.

GETTING MORE TALE #546: Worst. McDonalds. EVER.

 

The year: 2006

The place: McDonalds, Hespeler Rd. Cambridge

 

I don’t consider myself a snobbish foodie.  Yes, I like to go out and have a lovely duck confit, or rosemary lamb chops.  However I’m not picky, I’ll eat almost anything, as my gut will attest to.  I saw Super Size Me, and I’ve ordered almost everything on the McMenu once.  McDonalds are usually pretty clean…but not always.  Some in fact were downright gross.  The worst one?  Even the pissy McD’s we visited near Flint Michigan could not compete with Cambridge Ontario on the gross scale.

I was out with Jen and her friends.  It was a late night of card playing, and I wanted to just head home, but I was outvoted by the other three.  The only place that was open that late was McDonalds.  I could always go for a Big Mac, so why not?

Upon entering, we debated leaving immediately, but there was nowhere to go.  If only I had a cell phone camera back then…the scene we witnessed was an apocalypse for the record books.  In the main eating area of the restaurant, food was all over the floor and tables.  Bits of burgers smooshed onto the floor.  Fries everywhere.  Ketchup, salt, containers…the entire area was a complete disaster.  It looked as if a bunch of highschool kids had just had a food fight and left (which is probably close to the truth).

One of the staff emerged from the back room with cleaning supplies.  He took one look at the main eating area and paused.

“Woah,” he said, and returned to the back room with his cleaning supplies, not to be seen again.

I guess the place wasn’t going to get cleaned up that night!  It sure didn’t look like a manager was working.

My buddy Craig, from 107.5 Dave Rocks, raises the “worst McDonalds ever” stakes with a tale of his own.  Unlike me, he has photographic proof.  It was in Milton, on highway 25.  He entered the restroom to find that a patron before him left an “inside the park home run”.  If you’re not familiar with the terminology, an “inside the park home run” in this case refers to someone taking a shit in a urinal.  There was no conceivable reason for anyone to leave a shit in the urinal.  Baffled, disgusted and nauseous, Craig snapped a photo and handed it over to the manager.  The manager responded by offering him his drink cup.

Pictures or it didn’t happen?  Do not, under any circumstances, click the link to the evidence.

This is your final warning.  Do. not. click. the link.

*** GRAPHIC *** Inside the park home run *** GRAPHIC ***

 

You don’t see that every day.  A home run for the record books.

What happened to my (not Craig’s) “worst McDonalds ever”?  Find out in the next chapter.

#545: It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere

GETTING MORE TALE #545: It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere

Back in the Record Store Days, 5:00 pm was when the “day” shift ended and the “night” shift began.  It was typical that the boss would call every day just before five to get the “five o’clock read”.  He wanted to see what the stores’ sales were each day at 5:00.  That tended to indicate if it would be a “good day” by the end of it or a “bad day”.

I discovered there was more to the daily 5:00 call than just sales.

The sly dual purpose was to make sure employees didn’t take off early.  The bosses could have asked anybody to do a “five o’clock read” but they usually asked for the managers (except when they were mad at/not speaking to the managers).  The cover was blown when the boss called Jonathan the accountant at five one day.

“I’m just calling to see how it is over there,” said the boss.

Jonathan was an accountant.  It’s always the same over there.

He came out to tell me.  “Man!  Can you believe they were checking to make sure I was still here?  They asked me ‘how it was going’ in the accounting office.  The accounting office!  You think it’s a coincidence he called right before five?  He was checking on me.”  He was pissed!

No early home time if you’re an accountant, or a store manager either!  I was busted leaving a few minutes early one Friday.  It didn’t matter that I showed up for work an hour and a half early.  That five minutes at the end was all they wanted to talk about.  I was given “the talk” and never once mentioned how the person giving me the talk was usually out well before five on a Friday.

Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky!