RECORD STORE TALES #967: Dilemmas of Buying
Mixing friends with work is always a tough balancing act. When you work retail, it’s even harder. The friends come to you, and they’d like to do business with someone they are familiar with. Who wouldn’t? At the Record Store, it was particularly difficult to maintain a stable counterbalance when buying used CDs from people who consider you to be a friend.
One thing always said when training new staff on buying used CDs was that “every customer thinks their CDs are gold.” They don’t really understand why certain ones are worthless to you. When buying from the customer, we went into detail explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of the offer, breaking it down disc by disc. “These ones I can’t take because I already have two or more copies of each right now, and the other stores are well stocked too.”
When it’s a friend coming in to sell their discs to you, they don’t necessarily expect any special treatment, but they do expect you to “do your best” with your offer. And that wasn’t always possible.
Upper management really kept an eye on my interactions with my regular customers. They often complained to me that I paid too much for stuff when it was somebody I “preferred”. That may be true in some instances, but I believe that upper management were too focused on dollars and cents, and not maintaining good relations with a regular customer. A customer — somebody who spent money in our stores or supplied us with used stock that we in turn sold and made a profit on. The managers were always hammering us on COGS – Cost of Goods Sold. We had targets to aim for, and strategies for buying stock. Unfortunately, this ran contradictory to “doing your best” when buying stock from somebody who knows you.
Just because somebody considers you a friend doesn’t mean they won’t go somewhere else to sell their discs to get better money. They will. They did!
“Come on Mike, this was twelve bucks when I bought it from you! You can only give me three?”
“Fine, fine, I’ll give you four. Just don’t say anything. The bosses really hound me if they see me giving more than I should.”
Another factor is that every customer felt their CDs were in great shape even if the store didn’t. That was another source of conflict. We had a regional manager who was so picky that she would deduct money from a customer’s total for the lightest hairline scratches, even off the actual playing surface of the disc. When you answer to someone like that, it was hard keeping your regulars happy with your offers.
And they really did watch me. More than once they gave me shit for treating my regulars better than they thought I needed to. Conrad, for example. The guy bought in so many Japanese imports. I don’t know how he had so many, but I tried to give him the maximum. He could have taken them downtown, but he came to me. He chose me because we both liked heavy metal (especially Bruce Dickinson) and both understand the value of Japanese imports. He pissed off management because if I wasn’t working, the person who was usually offered him less, which he would complain about.
To me it didn’t matter that my COGS would take a hit by offering Conrad top dollar. What mattered more was keeping Conrad loyal. Where in Kitchener are you going to buy Japanese imports?
At Encore Records, that’s where, if Conrad thought he wasn’t getting enough money.
I’m sure, given the opportunity, the old management could run off a litany of reasons why I’m wrong. But the fact is they had their own preferred customer. They called him “Scottish Man” and only a limited number of employees dealt with him because he expected top dollar. Now, upper management would always tell you that “Scottish Man brought in better stock and was more pleasant than gum-chewin’ Conrad.” That sounds like a bias against heavy metal and chewing gum to me.
Just my opinion. Just my opinion from my position at the front counter.
Let’s just say that if Conrad was bringing in rare Van Morrison and Stones imports instead of Axel Rudi Pell and Helloween box sets, their opinions might have been different. With or without the chewing gum.