By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding
“The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”— Billy Joel
Hang around any retail store with a gathering of more than one sales veteran and you’ll be sure to hear the war stories about “the good ol’ days of retail.”
But time tempers all experiences, and a clear-lens rearview-mirror look at times past would reveal how challenging our retail world has always been.
For the last half century (yes, that means starting in 1970), working in the retail world has meant suiting up for a lot of evenings, weekends and holidays. Add in having to capture your share of shoppers, each with tightly held spending dollars, and then pile on sharp competitors, whether down the street, in the next town, or now located anywhere in the world. And even when you get the sale you can only hope you meet your customers’ ever-rising expectations for product appearance, delivery time and durability.
Toss in a few more disruptions like staffing, shoplifting, theft, road construction and changing regulations and you may have earned the right to say retail is hard work.
In our business it’s a compliment to say, “She’s a hard worker” or “He’ll really work hard for you.”
I’m not sure though if “hard work” really applies to our profession. I used to think that the people who install roofs in the summertime, repair power lines in hurricanes, and clear our streets of snow in the winter were the real hard workers. After all, we spend most of our time inside air conditioned or heated buildings with easy access to coffee and donuts!
Then the definition of “hard work” occurred to me: In life, hard work is having to do a job that you dislike, loathe and despise.
In the 1974 book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” Studs Terkel interviewed people from all types of professions, from gravediggers, spot welders and cab drivers all the way to jockey Eddie Arroyo, NFL coach George Allen and actor Rip Torn. There’s a common thread to all of them — they get up early, put in long hours, experience inconveniences and aggravations, and sometimes they win and sometimes they lose.
Yet of the 130 people interviewed, very few considered themselves hard workers. Perhaps a more accurate description and the common denominator between them is how they approached their jobs: with passion. You’ve heard it before, but it was Mark Twain who said it first: “Find a job you enjoy doing and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
When people ask me about being in retail, I tell them it’s a great career except for the products and the customers! Despite the hours, obstacles, disappointments and unforeseen challenges like COVID, we continue to work and win with passion — that burning drive inside that makes us suit up, show up and smile every day. Chances are very good that if you are reading this article you have that same passion, and want to surround yourself with passionate people too. We do what we do because we love it.
The next time you want to compliment a co-worker, an employee, or (imagine this!) a vendor rep, skip the part about being a hard worker. Call them a passionate worker, or just say “You really work with passion.”
Just like the Depression, the Recession, inflation, deflation, the housing market crash, the energy crisis and everything else the world throws at us, the pandemic will eventually be behind us. Never lose your passion.
Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.