retail

#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.

 

 

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#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

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

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.

#601: Can I Get a Witness?

GETTING MORE TALE #601: Can I Get a Witness?

I owe the Jehovah’s Witnesses a debut of gratitude.  I developed my cat-like stealthy ninja skills thanks to them.  I was able to take this talent into the Record Store a decade later.  How?  Read on.

If you’re not familiar, Jehovah’s Witnesses travel the streets of everyday neighborhoods, going door to door to preach the word.  They have a little magazine called the Watchtower that they distribute.  Every kid in my day was taught “don’t answer the door if a Jehovah’s Witness comes knocking.”  You could see them walking down the street, in formal wear, usually in pairs.  I would hide behind furniture and watch them through the window.  You could see them ring a doorbell, get no answer, and move onto the next house.  That’s how you’d know.  Sometimes we’d even phone neighbor friends.  “Jehovahs are coming down the street! Don’t answer the door!”

It’s not that Jehovah’s Witnesses are bad people.  Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness.  It’s just that nobody really likes an uninvited religious sermon in their homes.  As kids it wasn’t a good idea to open the door to strangers anyway.  And I had some good hiding places to watch for them.  Our big front bay window didn’t offer much cover, but I could spy from other strategic places.  I’d sneak downstairs silently, and get a closer look at their faces through the blinds.  Once, I think I was spotted.  If they rang the doorbell more than once, I assumed I’d been noticed and took deeper cover.

This worked like a charm, until one day I let my guard down.  It was my OAC “Grade 13” year.  I was working on a major project and I needed an audio recording.  I called up my buddy Bob to come over for an hour and help.  He said, “Sure no problem.  I’ll be there in an hour or two.”

An hour later the doorbell rang, and I ran down the stairs excitedly.  I was able to leap an entire staircase in one jump.  I loudly hit the main floor and ran to the door.  Opening it, I saw a kindly little old man in a blue suit and hat.  It was not Bob and I instantly regretted my haste.  It was my first Jehovah’s Witness.

I smiled and let the man speak, but after a few minutes I had to stop him.  “I’m sorry but I’m in the middle of a school project.  I really have to go.”

The man was fine with this.  “Education is very important,” he said, “I’ll come back another time.”

“Sure, sure,” I said, “Have a nice day.”

I got back to my project, but the next week, the old guy came back.  This time my dad answered the door.

“Is the young man available?” asked the Jehovah’s Witness.  I don’t know exactly what my dad said to him, but he never came back again.  I actually felt bad.  He was a nice man, and I’m sure my dad let him have it with a few F-bombs!

Clearly, my method of ninja-like avoidance and surveillance was superior.  I never rushed to answer the door in haste again.

Now, how does this all relate to the Record Store?  Well, I’ll tell ya.

Yours Truly

As discussed in Record Store Tales Part 190: The Early Bird Drops the Discs, I hated when people would bang on the door before we were open.  It wasn’t like our hours were a mystery.  There’s one store in town, Orange Monkey Music, that doesn’t really have posted hours.  It was a day to day mystery.  Whenever they showed up, they’d open.  Some days they wouldn’t open at all.  Not us!  It was the same schedule every week, posted on our front door for easy reference.  It was also on our website.

I’m not sure why some people felt entitled to get in the store before we were open.  I’ve never presumed that a store should let me in just because I was there 10 minutes early.  If I’m there 10 minutes early, that’s my 10 minutes to kill.  It’s not some store employee’s responsibility to let me in because I showed up before the posted hours.

Every Record Store employee had to show up 15 minutes before opening.  This allowed us to vacuum and set up for the day.  If I showed up earlier than 15 minutes, it was because I was the manager and had other things I wanted to get done before opening.  I didn’t get paid for being there early so there was no way I was opening early.

Sometimes I’d be in the back room looking at inventory, when I’d hear banging on the door.  Maybe it would be a boss who forgot their keys, or maybe it would be a customer.  Using my Jehovah-honed ninja skills, I’d skulk behind counters and displays so I could get a clear look.  If it was indeed a customer, they’d usually be carrying a bag of crappy CDs to sell.  Early morning booze money!  I’d stay hidden until they fucked off, then I’d get back to work.  Ninja skills:  maxed out!

The owner of course would let people in early, even though it was me who had to serve them and not him.  I remember one time, local weather man Dave MacDonald showed up early.  The boss let him in well before opening; they seemed to know each other.  But because he was in, that meant everybody else was welcome too.  And I wasn’t even supposed to be on duty yet.  Fuck me, right?  I hated when he let people in early.  Another effect of this was, if you do someone a favour once, they expect it next time.  “The owner lets me in early…”

I’d like to thank every Jehovah’s Witness who ever took a stroll down my street.  You taught me skills you didn’t even know!

 

#599: Tagged

GETTING MORE TALE #599: Tagged

 

Let’s say you’re in a store and you need help.  Who do you ask?

There are usually three good answers to this question:

  • Look for the checkout counter and ask the person there.
  • Find a person wearing obvious store uniform/gear.
  • See if someone is wearing a “STAFF” tag.

We had “STAFF” tags in the Record Store days, as well as store shirts and hats.  Fortunately they didn’t have our names on them.  Wearing one of these was compulsory, but lots of people hated wearing the tags.  They were printed on card stock paper, laminated and punched with a hole for a lanyard.  Ugly and cheap.  They were quite large – about 5” x 7”.  They bent, frayed and ripped quite easily.

“See, they look like a backstage pass,” the boss used to say to assuage us.  They did not look like a backstage pass, except maybe for some crappy highschool band.

People hated wearing them because they made us feel like walking billboards.  The boss used to say he’d walk in the store and see the staff immediately put their tags on, because they hadn’t been wearing them.  It was true!  And some stuff refused to wear the T-shirts or hats too.  Presumably for fashion-conscious reasons.  One higher-up in particular always got a free pass on wearing tags and shirts.  I wore mine all the time, because there was nothing wrong with our staff shirts.

In fact I still have one.  My blue store sweatshirt was amazing, and it has come with me on many adventures since.  I slightly modified it after I quit the store.  I sewed on a patch for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology (which I visited in Drumheller, Alberta), over where the store logo was embroidered in.  That didn’t fool guys like Tom, who immediately recognized the shirt from the store.  It did fool lots of other people!  “Where did you get the cool Tyrrell sweatshirt?”  I donated the rest of my old staff shirts and hats to Goodwill, but I will always keep my old “Tyrell” sweater from the Record Store.  It has a hole in it and I do not care.  I have always loved that shirt.

Regardless of comfort or style, I think there was one overwhelming reason why staff hated wearing those tags.  It’s because you’d be out working on the floor, when some goof asks, “Do you work here?”

Once I answered, “Nah, I just wear this for fun.”  Fortunately the guy got the joke.

I will say this.  Wearing a staff tag is still a hell of a lot better than an apron for flipping burgers.

 

 

#582: Erasure

GETTING MORE TALE #582: Erasure

Fixing CDs is a delicate business. You need a steady hand, the right tools, and patience. A buffing wheel with the right textured attachment works, and you also need an abrasive to gradually smooth out the scratched plastic of a disc. We used to use a special wax but found that regular hand soap and water worked better.  That’s all the abrasive you need.

In short: Yes! You can fix some scratched CDs. There are two factors that might make a CD impossible to fix, however: deep scratches, and top scratches. A deep scratch that you can feel with your fingernail probably won’t be fixed. It’s just too deep. A top scratch happens on the top layer of the CD and goes into the aluminum, destroying the data encoded in it.  Pinholes weren’t usually a problem.

The best way to fix a surface scratched CD

I spent a lot of time talking to the guys we contracted out to fix our CDs. We used one Toronto-based company for a few years, until one of our guys cracked the secret of fixing discs. Once he had a method, he went into business fixing discs himself. This gentleman (now actually a Sausagefest attendee himself) shared a lot of interesting info about fixing discs.

One thing I learned was that if you had a bunch of scratches close to the outer edge of the disc, and you went too deep trying to buff them out, you could lose the ability to play the last songs on the CD. The information would still be on the disc in the aluminum layer, but your laser can’t read it due to the excessive buffing of the plastic. The plastic layer would be no longer perfectly flat, and your laser won’t read through it.  When playing, it sounds like the music fades into static and then disappears. The end effect is that it sounds like the last few tracks have been erased. This happened rarely, but it could and did happen.

Customers could come to us to have their CDs fixed. We charged them a fee and their CD would be back in a week or two. One of my regulars named “Kitchener Rangers Al” had one of his discs fixed. Unfortunately it was buffed too deeply on the edge and he couldn’t play the last tracks. It didn’t skip anymore, but you couldn’t play it to the end either.

I remember when Al came in with his CD after it was buffed. He was helped by the supervisor that I refer to as the “Bully”. Other people used other words that are not as nice, but she could be very difficult to deal with. That went for staff and customers both. Unfortunately Al was treated like a liar when he came back with his CD.

“Bully” heard his story: He brought the CD in to be fixed, it no longer skips, but it also now won’t play to the end. He said “I think the last songs were erased.  That’s what it sounds like.”

The “Bully” dismissed Al’s complaint. “It’s impossible to erase a CD,” she said. I heard all this and kept my mouth shut. I learned from experience that correcting her, especially in front of other people, was as dumb as kicking one’s own ass. I didn’t feel like dying that day. She sent Al home with his useless CD that he paid to fix, that we failed to fix. She didn’t even listen to it to test it. She just insisted, mockingly, that he was wrong and sent him away. Quite frankly, she treated the customer like he was either an idiot or a liar trying to scam us, and he didn’t deserve that. I thought to myself, “If she caught me talking to a customer that way, she’d really let me have it.”

I chose to stay out of it, because I learned from the past. This “Bully” was a vindictive bully and it would have been a no-win situation with her again. I didn’t want to spend another three weeks of her abuse, as was par for the course when she exploded on me.  Roughly three weeks.  I just minded my own business, even though I absolutely knew 110% that she was wrong.

Al wasn’t stupid, and he came back when “Bully” wasn’t in. Al had dealt with her before. He told me the story directly, and I explained to him how the end of a CD can come to be “erased” due to buffing. I refunded him the fixing fee, and he was happy. He said he’d come in and buy another copy if we saw one. Customer retained.

I’ve been criticized by other former employees for not speaking up. That’s fair and all I can say to them is, if you walked in my shoes all those years, let’s see how willing you’d be to jump into the lion’s den. I don’t know what it was about us, but she had an evil place in her soul reserved just for me. Other people had felt her sting before, but nobody I have asked ever experienced the brutal treatment I got. She’d explode on me periodically, year after year after year, right to the end, when I removed myself from the circle permanently.

No thanks to “Bully”, Al got his refund and kept coming back. He had been there since Day One, and I hope he still shops there today. As for me, nobody knows the role I played in keeping that customer. At least they didn’t until now! You can, technically “erase” the songs at the end of a CD, or at least make them unreadable. Not exactly the same as erasing, but the end result is a wrecked disc no matter how you look at it.