retail

#672: “The”

GETTING MORE TALE #672: “The”

In the spring of 1996, the Record Store chain expanded to its third location. This was a life-changer for me, as it was my store — the store that I had been assigned to manage.  I spent eight years at that location, and that’s where most of Record Store Tales came from.  Myself and a young employee who was obsessed with Pink Floyd stocked the place.  It took weeks to manually clean, input and price thousands of used CDs.  We had fun working in a closed store away from the public, but the used CD stock we opened with was very monotonous.  It was just overflow crap from the other stores; a lot of the same-old-same-old.

When training the new young Floyd fanboy, the Boss told him, “When you enter a band’s name that starts with ‘The’, skip the word ‘The’.”  This makes sense for three reasons:

  1. Speed of data entry.
  2. Saving on the cost of expensive Dymo tape for the labeling gun (for the header cards).
  3. Alphabetical listings becoming much more tedious and cumbersome when scrolling through hundreds of “The” bands.

It’s pretty logical.

  • BLACK CROWES = The Black Crowes
  • FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS = The Fabulous Thunderbirds
  • FUGEES = The Fugees
  • KINKS = The Kinks
  • SEX PISTOLS = The Sex Pistols

This worked especially well with Fugees and the young guy’s favourite band, Pink Floyd.  Both artists had a “The” in their name in the past.  You don’t call them “The Pink Floyd” but it was certainly possible you’d see something when they still had the “The”.  Dropping the “The” on our header cards kept things simple.

The young fella got it, but followed it a little too closely.

One of his header cards said simply:

  • THE

“What is this one?” I asked and he showed me a CD by The The.

I told him to change it to The The, but he didn’t get it.  The Boss told him to drop the “The” on every header card.  But the header card didn’t make sense without it.  He wouldn’t change it, so I did it myself.

It seemed pretty clear to me then, and still does now.  The name “The The” just doesn’t make sense on a header card when it’s just “The”.  Tell me I’m wrong.

I was at Sunrise Records the other day, where I found The Best of Sword on CD. I eagerly put it under my arm, since I was missing the three previously unreleased bonus tracks.  (In case you didn’t know, Sword recently reunited and are recording a brand new studio album.)  But guess where I found the CD?  Or, rather, guess what two bands were filed together under the same name?

  • SWORD

Sword is from near Montreal, Quebec.  The Sword is another band altogether, from Austin Texas.  They both play heavy metal but are nothing alike.  In this case, there need to be two header cards, and one needs the word “The”.  It’s another rare exception.  The Sunrise store should have made these two header cards:

  • SWORD
  • THE SWORD

Even better:

  • SWORD (Montreal band)
  • THE SWORD (Texas band)

But clearly nobody who worked there knows enough about either band to see this.

A customer who enjoys The Sword could be very disappointed by picking up The Best of Sword.  Likewise, a fan of Sword might have thought the live Greetings From… CD was a reunion CD by the French Canadian metalers.

This is why it is critical to have staff who know music.  It’s the kind of proficiency that in our insta-knowledge internet era, most people don’t maintain anymore.  Proper header cards were a problem when I was managing the old Record Store too, and it was the same root cause:  It’s hard to find staff who know and care about this stuff.  And it’s not impossible to learn it.  The truth is, if I were a young The Sword fan today I would already know there was another band called Sword, because I would have stumbled upon their albums and looked them up on Wikipedia.

You could take this header card business too far, of course.  Just as you don’t need both “Pink Floyd” and “The Pink Floyd”, a record store doesn’t need two Queensryches or two L.A. Guns.  But you do need two Swords…with “The” and without.

* Here I am nitpicking about proper filing of header cards, when I should be complaining about the mistakes on this Sword CD.  Right there, on the back and inside covers, is a massive typo:  “Get It Whole You Can”.  Inside, the liner notes make the classic “there/their” screw-up.  Can’t believe nobody caught these before they went to print, but there it is.

 

 

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#671: A Clockwork Orange

Expanding on Record Store Tales Part 58 – Klassic Kwotes VII

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #671: A Clockwork Orange

“Do you like the drugs?” asked the creepy customer looking for the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack.

Let’s back up a bit.

One of our early employees, Scott, made a critical error one Sunday at the Record Store.  This is a great lesson for every retail employee, everywhere worldwide.  Never, ever, ever tell a customer that you have something if you can’t sell it to them.  Just lie.  Claim you don’t have it.  If you say, “We have it, but I can’t sell it to you,” then you are opening a potentially big can ‘o worms.

A very creepy dude came in one afternoon asking for the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange by Wendy Carlos.  It is a potent mix of classical music and synthesizer compositions.  Beethoven was a major part of the film’s plot, and Beethoven is also a huge chunk of the soundtrack.  This customer wanted the soundtrack to psych him up for his court date.

That’s right.  For his court date.

Too much information?  Customers often shared with us the weirdest details of their lives.  We didn’t need to know he wanted A Clockwork Orange to pump himself up for court.

Thinking he was being helpful, Scott said, “Yes we have a used copy, we just bought it today.  But we have to hold it for 15 days before we can sell it.”

Scott was an honest guy.  According to the bi-laws, all used inventory had to be held for a 15 day waiting period.  In a business where buying and selling stolen goods was always a danger, this helped protect us, and any victims of theft.  15 days gave the cops time to go over our purchase reports and see if anything matched up.  If they did, then we already took the seller’s ID.  The cops can track the thieves that way.

The 15 day holding period was standard but not all stores honoured it.  We did, without fail.  There was no breaking the 15 day hold.  Not even for your court date.

The creepy guy tried to cajole Scott into selling the CD early and wouldn’t let up. He needed it before the court date, not after!  He had to get psyched up!  So much was riding on this one CD.  The soundtrack was still somewhat rare as a used CD.  The 1998 reissue was yet to come.

Eventually the creep tried to bribe Scott.  “Do you like the drugs?” he asked, implying he could get Scott anything he needed.

To his credit, Scott didn’t budge, though he certainly wished he never told the guy about A Clockwork Orange in the first place.  The customer asked to speak to the manager instead (me).  He came back then next day when I was working.

The guy walked in, wearing a green suit and carrying a briefcase.  He told me the whole story about how he “needed” that CD to get ready for court, but that nobody else in town had it.  He begged me for the CD, though with me he neglected to ask if I “like the drugs”.  He even said he’d pay over sticker price, but there was nothing I could do.

Scott was a little shaken by the creep.  It’s not every day you are solicited at your workplace by a drug dealer bound for court.  I can’t help it, but I think of him every single time I see the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange.

Oh, and by the way:  he did buy the CD when the 15 day waiting period was up!  I didn’t ask how his court date went.  Apparently well enough.

 

#668: It’s All in the Name

GETTING MORE TALE #668: It’s All in the Name

At the Record Store, we had a habit of giving customers nicknames.  It made them easier to remember…and it was sometimes good for a chuckle!

Some customers, however, needed no nicknames.  Their real names were definitely historic enough.

First there was Bill.  Bill Board.

If I had a name like Bill Board, I think I would prefer to introduce myself just as “Bill”.  Or I’d just go by William.  We had a few CDs on order for Bill Board.  It was one of those names that made you say “Come again?”

Charlie Brown was another one.  You were not required to give a last name to order a CD.  Only a first name was necessary.  The first time he phoned, Charlie Brown gave me both his names.  He requsted a CD.  I asked for his info, and I laughed!  I thought it was a prank call.  “You laughing at my name?” he said.  “That’s my real name!”  Charlie Brown, you will never be forgotten.

There was also a fellow named Lynn, no last name given.  Yes, there are men out there named Lynn.  It’s unusual but not unheard of.  However when Lynn was put in the system for a CD order, we made sure to add the notation “Lynn – a man”.  That way when you called for Lynn and left a message, you wouldn’t say something like “Please tell her that the CD she ordered was in.”  We’d know it was a guy and which pronoun to use.  That’s how “Lynn – a man” made it into our order entries!

Finally, we had Zoltan.  Zoltan Zonger.  What an awesome name!  It recalls the “Zoltan cultists” from the movie Dude, Where’s My Car.  Remember them?  “ZOLTAN!”  Good old Zoltan, “Double-Z”.  He was not seen much, but his name was there in the order system.  It’s the kind of name that jumped out every time you scrolled past it.  Zoltan Zonger.

Fuck, I wish I had a cool name like Zoltan Zonger!

#650: Frequent Buyer

GETTING MORE TALE #650: Frequent Buyer

I heard through the grapevine* recently that my old store (“the Record Store”) are discontinuing their frequent buyer cards.  These cards have a long, long history going back more than 25 years.  First we offered free tapes and CDs – buy 10, get one free.  Those were eventually phased out when we stopped carrying new tapes and CDs, but due to popular demand we added a free used CD card – buy 12, get one free.

Minimum wage just went up on the province of Ontario, to $14 an hour.  In 2019, it will go up again, to $15 an hour.  There is an election in six months, and the present provincial government is pulling out all the stops trying to appeal to young voters.  Some restaurants are battling the wage increase by cutting hours, raising prices or cutting staff breaks.  At the store any time wages went up, hours were cut and we reviewed what we were paying for incoming used CDs.  It appears that this time out, the Record Store is cutting the frequent buyer card.

Frequent buyer cards are on the way out anyway.  Remember when Subway used to have them?  Seems like a long time ago now, because it has been:  Sub Club cards were phased out back in 2005!

Our frequent buyer card was very popular.  We would redeem several of them on any typical day.  You could cash it in for any used CD, $11.99 or less, and we gave away a lot of free CDs.  Customers would collect the cards, save them up, and treat themselves to something they really wanted.  It was a great incentive to get customers to buy more than one CD at a time.  People would buy an extra CD or two to collect the stamps, especially if they were close to completing their card.  Very few were the people who turned down the card.  “I have too much crap in my wallet,” was the most common reason for declining, but most people like the feeling of getting something for free.

It’s sad to see this era pass.  My wallet is empty; I redeemed my card last visit.  I know some customers would be furious.  People love to complain.  They used to whine that we wouldn’t stamp their cards if they bought a cheapie out of the “bargain bin”.  (If they were nice about it, I’d give them a stamp for every two cheapies they bought, though it was against the rules.)  Now they’re going to be pissed that they can’t get stamps at all.  I don’t envy the staff members who have to explain this to the complainy types.  (“Do you know how long I’ve shopped here?” will be one complaint they can look forward to.)

Prepare for more minimum wage fallout in Ontario over the next year.  This is only beginning.

 

*  I won’t say who told me…even if you do the unskinny “Bop”.

** That was a clue.

 

 

#649: Denizens of “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”

Every mall has its questionable denizens.  I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters.  I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.

Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.

One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”.  Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays.  He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead.  We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day.  Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs.  It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny.  A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off?  Why not just leave him alone?  I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick.  (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)

Sue came along a little later.  She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker.  She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner.  We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card.  She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours.  We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk.  It was one of the drawbacks of working there.  One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine.  He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it.  He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that.  I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by!  And that wasn’t an isolated incident.  I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.

The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him.  He was known as Johnny Walker.  Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John.  They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day.  The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day.  He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked.  If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know.  People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work.  Maybe it was an inheritance.  Maybe an insurance claim.  Nobody knew.  His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him.  It was no act.

The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”.  Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent.  He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell.  Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again.  He was never gone too long.

As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store.  He strolled in, talking to himself.  I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off.  He walked, talked, and picked out a tape.  He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself.  I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.

All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.

I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”.  If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time.  I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person.  But he was still a person, a human being.  Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect.  We don’t know anybody’s secret battles.  Walker minded his own business any time I was present.

If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment.  I hope they are all doing better.

 

 

 

 

 

#642: Who Was Your Servant Last Year?

GETTING MORE TALE #642: Who Was Your Servant Last Year?

 

I had a few big pet peeves at the Record Store, but I absolutely hated those customers who needed me to do everything for them. I don’t mean “Can you put these CDs back for me?” I don’t mind that. If I put them back at least I know they’re going back to the right place. I’d prefer to put them back myself. I’m talking about things far less reasonable. (Note: some of these stories previously appeared in Klassic Kwotes.)

Imagine this scenario.

Customer: “I heard a song on the radio, and it goes like this.” They sing a snippet. “Do you know what it is? They never say the names of the songs on the radio.”

Me: “I can’t tell from that, but I always advise people to call the station when they hear the song so you can ask them what they just played.”

Customer: “Come on you have to know the song. It’s really popular!”

Me: “Sorry I don’t, but the radio station will be able to tell you.”

Customer: “Can you call the radio station for me and ask?”

Whaaaaat? Do you want me to sing that out-of-key snippet too? Come on people. Do your own homework. You heard the song, not me. Be a grown-up and ask yourself. Fortunately, record store kids probably don’t get this question anymore. Radio station websites list all their recently played music now.

Another real favourite: “Can you watch my kid for me while I go to Canadian Tire?”

Who the hell trusts a random record store guy to watch their kid? Bad parenting, people. Never ever do this.

One person asked for a list of everything he bought from us. What? We don’t keep that data. It would be something of an invasion of privacy if we did!

Another gentleman had an SACD (Super Audio CD) that he bought at our store, but was dissatisfied. When he played it at home, the little SACD logo on his player didn’t light up. Why? I don’t know. I’ve never owned any SACDs or any SACD players. But this guy was quite insistent. “I want you to write to Sony and find out why my player doesn’t light up when I play the Super Audio CD I bought here.”

I did not write to Sony and ask. I also couldn’t believe he’d ask me to do it.

One guy lost his entire CD collection. Whether it was in a fire or to theft, I cannot remember. He asked me to help with his insurance claim. He needed retail prices for all the CDs he lost, and he had an extensive list. I complied with his request because sometimes in the past, people would replace their CDs by buying them at my store. I once made a huge $1000 sale off an insurance claim. A lot of people liked coming to a used CD store to replace CDs because they’d get a lot more music for their money.

I went through his list and provided the best estimates for retail prices I could, which took a few days. I did this at home using my own bandwidth. There were some that were out of print that he wouldn’t be able to replace easily, but I got him most of the prices. We then discussed replacing them.

“I could probably get most of them for you used, for half the price, right away,” I told him.

“Oh, I don’t want used,” he demurred.

“That’s what we sell,” I explained, having already done all this work for him.

And I didn’t make a sale – not even one disc. Two days’ work and all wasted, because this guy didn’t bother to check what kind of store he walked in to. He took his insurance claim and went to Future Shop. I guess there’s a sucker born every minute and I was one.

Finally, there was one older gentleman who wasn’t a jerk. Yes, I only have one story about a guy who asked for a lot of help, who wasn’t a jerk.

The man walked in and asked if I could find a CD for him. It was a combo that he had seen play at a resort. If they had CDs for sale, he would like some. Most of the time it’s best to ask the band while you’re at the actual gig if they have merchandise for sale. He knew it wouldn’t be easy for me to find out, so he paid me for my legwork. He handed me a $20. I didn’t want to accept the money but he insisted. “Just let me know if you find anything,” he said, and I got to work.

I found the website for the hotel but there was not much there. I contacted them with as much information as I could provide, hoping at least to find out the name of the group. They never got back to me and I eventually gave up the search.

Yet that was the first customer who asked for a big favour and actually appreciated the effort. I won’t forget that. It’s too bad that there are jerks out there that treat retail employees like their own personal servants.

#617: Now! 2

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GETTING MORE TALE #617: Now! 2

“Have you had a lot of people returning this CD?” asked the irritated mom standing at the front counter.

“Not that I know of,” I answered, truthfully.  Unless one copy counts as “a lot”.

“Well this is the second copy I got from your store!  And it won’t play!”

The steaming woman handed me her copy of Now! 2.  This was a Canadian spinoff from the popular Now That’s What I Call Music series.  All pop hits.  And the CD was a mess.  A totally destroyed disc.  Instead of a nice, clean surface, it was a series of tight concentric circles.  You could feel them.  It looked like somebody tried to carve LP grooves onto a CD.  Even the plastic case was already a skating rink.

I’d seen this kind of damage before.  Car CD players were notorious for that kind of scratching.  The technology of the 1990s didn’t make for very good portable CD players.  I saw plenty of discs with the circular damage.  A CD player’s laser can’t hope to read a disc looking like that.  And they didn’t come out of the case that way.  Yes, CDs can be damaged with you buy them.  Usually that’s from the packaging process and results in a few cracks or large scratches.  But patterns of concentric circles didn’t come out of the box.  That was caused by a CD player – period.  It used to blow customers minds when I’d ask if they owned a car or portable CD player just by looking at their damaged discs.  I was never wrong.

Additionally, even though I told her otherwise, I’d seen that kind of damage once before on a Now! 2 disc…returned by the same woman a few days before!  Same story then too, only I wasn’t working that day.  The lady claimed to have bought the CD like that, so our helpful staff exchanged the disc for her.  Now she was returning the replacement copy too.  Two copies, utterly and carelessly destroyed.

I’m sure the lady couldn’t fathom that it was her kids who wrecked the CD with their portable players.  Little Timmy or little Suzie wouldn’t lie about such things.

Because we had a “no questions asked” exchange policy, I had to do the exchange.  But I made sure it was the last one.

I grabbed another new copy of Now! 2.

“I’m going to open this CD right now,” I explained, “so you can see its condition right out of the package.”  I cut off the shrink wrap.

I carefully removed the CD from the case and showed it to her.  “As you can see this one is clean and brand new.”  She nodded yes.

“This is the way they should always look coming out of the wrapper,” I explained.  “Since you’ve seen this one for yourself, we know it’s in good shape.  I’m going to write that on your receipt.”

She said “OK”.  I took her receipt and wrote, “CD was opened for customer in perfect condition – NO EXCHANGES.”  I signed it and handed it to her with her third and final brand new copy of Now! 2.

We didn’t have any more problems with the lady and her destructive kids after that.  Fortunately our distributor let us return both wrecked copies of Now! 2.  They didn’t have to.

“Now” that’s what I call CD abuse!


1. “Wannabe” Spice Girls 2:52
2. “That Girl” Maxi Priest featuring Shaggy 4:00
3. “Mouth” Merril Bainbridge 3:21
4. “Your Woman” White Town 4:18
5. “You Were Meant for Me” (Unreleased radio version) Jewel 3:13
6. “I Love You Always Forever” Donna Lewis 3:59
7. “Spiderwebs” No Doubt 4:28
8. “No Diggity” Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre 5:03
9. “Da’ Dip” Freak Nasty 3:52
10. “Jerk” Kim Stockwood 4:12
11. “Fastlove” (Summer Mix) George Michael 4:40
12. “Wrong” (Todd Terry Remix Edit) Everything but the Girl 3:55
13. “On & On” Erykah Badu 3:45
14. “Twisted” Keith Sweat 4:11
15. “I’m Still in Love with You” New Edition 4:39
16. “I Don’t Want to Think About It” Wild Strawberries 3:45
17. “Barely Breathing” Duncan Sheik 4:14

 

 

#605: “Hey, you got a message, use Western Union!” 

GETTING MORE TALE #605: “Hey, you got a message, use Western Union!”

Featuring guest essay by John Hubner

“A lot of bands mature, which means they get square; they start delivering messages. Hey, you got a message, use Western Union.” – David Lee Roth

When David Lee Roth made that legendary statement, he was talking about rock and roll bands who take things too seriously.  Might as well jump?  This is course is a matter of taste.  I enjoy Van Halen and ZZ Top, but I also enjoy the more cerebral works of Marillion and Dream Theater.  In music there truly is room for all tastes and styles.  Few genres are as diverse as rock and roll, even lyrically.  If a writer is a strong enough to embed personal messages in their words that might go undetected by the listener, then this kind of lyric should be celebrated.  On the other hand, fans are sometimes turned off when the messages are too overt.  U2 have faced some backlash over this.

So, rock bands:  by all means, feel free to tell us all about climate change, globalism, big pharma and Wall Street.  If you do it well, the fans won’t mind.  On the other hand, there is no shame in rock and rolling all nite and partying every day.  As Paul Stanley once said in one of his many stage raps, “We all came here tonight to escape from the world! Tomorrow morning when we get up it’ll be just as screwed up as it is today. We might as well have a little fun!” And that is certainly one very valid reason to rock.

Even here, in these very virtual pages, I’ve taken a few liberties where I’ve veered slightly off course.  I’ve preached a little bit about the plight of the Indigenous Canadian.  Other tangents included mental health, stigma, religion, tolerance, and even the rights of service dog owners, with music as the common thread.  I hope I haven’t offended anyone with these fairly benign notions.  I try to be careful.  As a writer, I founded myself with two projects:  my reviews, and Record Store Tales.  Most of you got here because of the music, and so that’s what I deliver.  I don’t need to bore you with social justice or environmental ideals.  I don’t want to bore myself, either.

Speaking of Record Store Tales, one of its many focuses was to relay lessons I learned from a decade of retail management.  Any time I walk into any record store, I could make mental lists of things they are doing great and others for Continual Improvement.  That goes for a lot of retail in general too.  Back to the subject at hand…and this should be patently obvious to most sensible people…leave your personal politics out of your customer service job.

Mrs. LeBrain and I were up at the cottage a couple years ago, and we stopped at Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up some bathroom essentials and some candy.  There was only one cashier on duty and she was a chatty one.  There was a problem with the person in front of us; something wasn’t scanning right.  It took forever to fix, and this cashier would not stop talking.  I had a feeling we’d be in for some chatting when she finally got to us.

I was right, and it didn’t start well with a “How are you today darlin’?”  Fine…thanks.  “Would you like a bag for this?”  I glanced at Mrs. LeBrain who nodded yes and said, “Yeah a couple bags.”  Her response threw me for a loop.

“Well have you seen the landfill?” she asked me in a condescending tone.

“Ummm…no?” I answered, very puzzled.

“Well,” she began, “There’s no room left in the landfill and the birds are choking on plastic from garbage bags…”

I politely let her finish, and then explained, “OK, but we have dogs here at the cottage, and these bags will be used for them.”  There were in fact three poop factories (Schnauzers) at the cottage that weekend.*  Stoop and scoop, people.  Stoop and scoop.

It’s none of her business why I wanted those bags, I didn’t need to explain myself and I certainly didn’t need to be lectured about reusing and recycling.  I went through highschool at the start of the green revolution.  I do my best to be a responsible inhabitant of Mother Earth.  Rest assured, I am not some littering jackass who doesn’t give a shit.  Sometimes you just need a couple plastic bags, goddammit!

I thought about being “that customer” and complaining about the talky cashier, but decided to live and let live, and instead save it for this story.  Consider my wisdom, young padawans.  You don’t know your customers as well as you think you might.  Say too much, and you just might lose your customer, or find them complaining about you to your boss, as happened to me once when I made a snarky comment about Radiohead!**

So ends today’s lesson, friends.  Do you agree with this experience and advice?

We asked Schnauzer expert John Hubner for a “message” about how awesome Schnauzers are.  He sent us the following treatise:


Klaus. Dieter. Helmut. Otto.

No, these are not the names of former members of Kraftwerk. Nor are they the names off the guest list to Angela Merkel’s surprise birthday party. Those four names are the miniature schnauzers that have had a profound effect on my life. “Miniature schnauzers? What?” Yes, those sometimes salt and pepper, sometimes gray, sometimes black, and occasionally blonde yippy terriers that bark bloody murder at you every time you pass by their house(the bark is usually followed up with a crazed “KNOCK IT OFF!” from the same house.) Those dogs with the short stature, manly beard, and a nub for a tail. They have personality for miles and loyalty till the end. They’re the go-to pooch for old ladies and your great aunt that doesn’t like men all that much.
How did I end up miniature schnauzer poster boy? I was a sick kid who suffered from allergies. When I asked my mom why we couldn’t get a Boxer she said it was because of my allergies. But not long after that a book on miniature schnauzers showed up at our house and I was told if we ever got a dog it would be a schnauzer. When I asked why my mom said “Well, schnauzers have hair like your dad’s hair, while a Boxer has hair like your uncle Chuck.” “We never see uncle Chuck” I said. “Exactly, because we’re allergic to him” my mom replied.
Regardless of that bizarre exchange, a miniature schnauzer ended up at our house when I was 8 years old and the rest is history. Growing up with a mini schnauzer I grew to love their loyalty but need for personal space. They weren’t goofy and sloppy like bigger breeds; but they weren’t standoffish like poodles and cats. What I came to realize is that miniature schnauzers are a lot like me. They can laugh and joke and rub elbows for awhile, but eventually they need to retreat from the crowds and the chit chat. Every mini schnauzer I’ve ever known mingle for a bit, then they say “See ya” and head for the comfort of their favorite spot on the couch. I love that about ’em. I respect that.
Miniature schnauzers are better than your dog. Sorry, it’s true. They’re like grumpy little people that don’t take crap from nobody and they’ve got an awesome beard to prove it. They’re loyal, temperamental, prone to anxiety, and do NOT like people knocking on the front door. They like to nap and will tell you what they want when you’re in the kitchen. They howl when left alone in the house and they keep the couch from floating away for a greater part of the day.
I think I’m part schnauzer.

** Freed of the shackles of the Record Store, I can say I like Radiohead enough to own a couple CDs, but still find them so very pretentious. 

#603: Canada Wants to Tax Your Staff Discount

GETTING MORE TALE #603:
Canada Wants to Tax Your Staff Discount

Record store employees! Have you heard? Now the Canada Revenue Agency wants a piece of your staff discount.

According to CTV, “when an employee receives a discount on merchandise because of their employment, the value of the discount is generally included in the employee’s income.”  They will calculate the tax by using the “equal to the fair market value of the merchandise purchased, less the amount paid by the employee.”   That is unless the discount is “available to the public or a segment of the public, at some point during the year.”  Those car deals where you “pay what the employees pay” wouldn’t count as a taxed staff discount, which is good for people who work at dealerships.  CD stores generally don’t have a “staff discount sale”.

Let’s say, just like when I was working in the Record Store, an $11.99 CD gets sold to you at the discount price of $7.99. The government now wants to tax you on the $4 discount that was the only perk of a crappy retail job.

I used to buy several CDs a week.  Let’s say for the sake of conservative estimates that I bought three CDs a week with my discount.  Let’s take the same $4 discount used in the example above, with Ontario’s 13% sales tax.  That’s $0.52 of tax now added.  $0.52 per CD on three CDs a week, multiplied by 52 weeks:  That’s $81.12 a year of brand new taxes, enough to buy several albums instead.

Conservatives are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of exploiting Canadians who can least afford it. Lisa Raitt, Conservative Deputy Leader, said the government is “picking the pockets of minimum wage earners.” Finance critic Pierre Poilevre says the tax will “target those who can least afford to pay more”. Other commentators have noted that staff discounts will need to be rigorously tracked for taxation.

It is true. At the Record Store, a manager would simply ring in the staff sale with discount. Now, copies of receipts will have to be kept, filed and forwarded to Payroll, with the original price and discount.  This will cost businesses time, but they will have no choice but to comply with whatever law takes shape.  All paperwork would have to be kept in case of audit.

If this goes through on January 1, it will stink to high heaven.

Staff discounts on a CD, or a pair of shoes, or a meal are part of the perks of working a thankless job. It’s something people can look forward to. Celebrate passing your three month probationary period with a discounted purchase.

Who is going to pay this tax, the employee or the employer? It will hurt both regardless. Employees may have to stop taking advantage of discounts and just buy less from their places of work.  Some people only buy non-essential luxury items from work (like CDs), but what about those who get a staff discount on necessities?  That’s a part of their shrinking budget.

Canadians are tired of being nickel and dimed to death with taxes. It’s hard enough making ends meet, and this tax goes after something previously held sacred. It’s not good for Canadians and we certainly hope it does not come to pass.

UPDATE:  Feds are now denying this story and say there’s no such tax coming.   Hmmm.

 

#602: Nepotism

GETTING MORE TALE #602: Nepotism

Small businesses without oversight can sometimes suffer from nepotism. At the Record Store, the senior supervisor who I refer to as “the Bully” seemed to favour her friends over the rest of us.  I say this with complete certainty.  This was not only my observation, but that of others who were questioning what they were seeing at work.  I still have emails from old co-workers about it.

The personal goal for every store manager was to eventually get out from behind the counter. Nobody wants to be there forever.  It wears you down.  We had all been told that hard work would get us out. But it only happened for the select chosen few. One of the first was the Bully’s fiancé. He was promoted to an office job running our website. No one questioned that he was good and qualified. He certainly was. But would he have gotten that promotion if he was me?

Other store managers that were close personal friends with the Bully got off easy when it came to inspections. She would come in to my store and point out every fingerprint or coffee stain that hadn’t been cleaned up yet, throwing down words like “disgusting” and “gross” to make me feel extra bad. Meanwhile, when I was visiting the store in Cambridge managed by one of her close friends, I found a pile of crumbled drywall bits on a window sill that had obviously been there a long time.  It looked like a drywall anthill.  Others also noticed that the Cambridge location was not held to the high cleanliness standards as the rest of us. We would talk and wonder how they got away with this stuff, when we’d been raked over the coals for less. The Bully would even spend every Friday afternoon working with her friend in Cambridge. It was like clockwork. Every Friday afternoon, she was gone from her desk and working in Cambridge with her friend. Cambridge was “really busy” on Fridays and they needed the extra help, it was claimed. It became a joke around the store. “It’s Friday, she must be in Cambridge working with her friend again.” The owner didn’t question this activity, if he was even aware of it. It seemed strange to the rest of us that this one powerful regional manager would have to work every single Friday in the store where her friend worked.  What are the odds?

The bright side to this was actually that the Bully would be out of my hair on Fridays. Normally she worked at her desk, right in the back office of my store. She couldn’t harass me so much from Cambridge. I didn’t mind that every Friday was spent with her friend. It worked out well for me, but it smelled fishy.

Nepotism reared its ugly head again in 2003. All the store managers showed up for another late night staff meeting. This time, a bombshell was dropped that didn’t sit right with a couple of us. Yet another closer personal friend of the Bully was getting a promotion. A new position was created for her.

“She’s a helper,” said the store owner. “She is not your boss! She’s not in charge of you. She’s just here to help. If you need someone to cover shifts, she’ll be there. She will be in charge of store displays. If you need help with signage, she can do that.”

The accountant Jonathan told me the next day that he advised against this change. “In retail, you never create a new position that doesn’t make money,” he told me. Others were confused. “How did she get that job and not you?” a few people asked me. I’d been there almost a decade and was stuck behind the counter every day. In fact, in my time at the Record Store, the only people who got away from the counter permanently were friends with the Bully. Nepotism at its finest.

One day the Helper was in St. Catharines working on a display of CD wallets. She made the display, tore it down, started over. She spent an entire shift working on that display and signage. Money well spent?

Something strange happened in the months afterwards. Even though we were all assured “she’s not your boss”, the Helper quickly became another boss. Before too long we were answering to her, as if she was a surrogate of the Bully. Some used to refer to her as the Bully’s “Handmaiden”. It stank to high heaven. We’d all been lied to, right to our faces.  And not one of us said anything about it.

It was very clear that the Bully and the Helper didn’t give a shit about me.  Jonathan caught them having a laugh at my expense.  They thought it was hilarious that I was going to have to work all summer without any full-time backup employees.  One day the Helper was in my store, doing a store inspection. I think she purposely did it before I got in that day. I had been hearing that they liked to stack the deck against certain managers that they didn’t favour. One manager had “garbage was piled to the ceiling” written on an official store inspection document. If that had been written on mine, I wouldn’t have signed off on it. Garbage “piled to the ceiling”? Horse shit! That wasn’t even physically possible. Pictures or it didn’t happen!

I came in for my shift, not knowing a surprise inspection had been done. I started as I often did, by cleaning glass surfaces and counters. The place was spic and span. Then the Helper came out to talk to me about the store inspection. “Fingerprints on glass and counters” was a complaint she wrote down.

“I cleaned that as soon as I got here,” I said. “Have a look yourself. Nothing’s dirty.”

She responded, “It was when I wrote it down.”

“Yeah but as soon as I got here, I cleaned it, without even knowing you’d inspected the store. It’s a non-issue,” I protested.

“Well, it’s too late, I already wrote it down” she said. And so it went on my official report. That seemed very unfair. If they inspected stores before I even got there for the day, of course they would find issues. There was only one person on duty before I got in for the day. If he was busy with customers, he would not be able to do a really solid cleaning. When I got in, there were now two people on duty.  One is free to clean.  They knew this.

It was patently obvious that the one who was “not our boss” was in fact another boss we had to answer to. She even got me to run and do bank deposits, which was her responsibility, not mine. But I did it because I wanted to be “helpful” and maybe one day prove that I deserved a promotion too.  What was I supposed to do, say “no”?  If I had, she’d be on the phone with Bully next.  If I refused, they would have made sure I paid for it.

Lessons learned from this: When you do something once to be “helpful” or as a “favour”, by the second time it becomes expected. The harder lesson to learn was that I was never going to get anywhere. I wasn’t a member of the inner circle. I never was going to be. I had dug my own grave. I didn’t want to hang out at bars with her crew like some of the inner circle did. I’ve always been the kind of person who looks forward to coming home after work, and enjoy a movie or a couple albums. Even going out to a bar once a week is too much for me. It’s not something I enjoy. Whether Bully took this as a snub, or whether it just meant I wasn’t going to work my way into the inner circle, I do not know. All I know is that some were lucky enough to escape the wrath, and enjoy an easier work life. Others were not and quit in frustration, and in some cases, tears. It was pure favouritism and the owner was oblivious. He was too busy out wheeling and dealing, opening new stores and making contacts.

I still have friends who work there.  Bully is long gone from that place now; I hope that means the nepotism is too.