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Posts Tagged ‘malls’

Want To Write A Book? You Sure?

In blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, women, work on May 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

  As the pushpushpushpushpush of book promotion and marketing for “Malled’ My Unintentional Career in Retail” continues — today offering interviews with two Canadian newspapers, a photo for my local newspaper and a radio interview — time for a reality check on the reality of book-writing.

Yes, this photo is of me, summer 2010 — mid-revisions!

Writing a book, for me, is a tremendous joy. I love having months to think long and hard about what I am trying to say and how. I love doing interviews for background and a better understanding of my subject, and reading entire books — ten for this one, on low-wage labor, retail and management — to make sure my individual impressions aren’t overly personal and limited.

But, having just attended the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in Manhattan, I also appreciated listening to the comfort and wisdom of more experienced friends who have published five or six or eight books.

They all know the giddy excitement of signing that contract with your publisher, getting the manuscript in and accepted, publication date — and the anxiety over reviews. Will you get any? How will you handle the savage ones?

Writing and promoting your book(s) is an extraordinary process. It can also be an emotional roller-coaster.

At a dinner table after the conference, four of us — who had never before met — brainstormed how one of us, a fellow Canadian, might best introduce his non-fiction book, The Erotic Engine, into the American market.

Three of us: a education specialist from Vermont, a home decor writer from Florida and I all gave it our best efforts, all while eating some great Italian food.

I love and live for this sort of generosity and camaraderie. At the conference, when I went up to panelist Kathleen Flinn, whose memoir of attending cooking school in Paris, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” was one of my favorites, she was excited to meet me. (!) She’d heard about Malled, as had many people at the conference.

Becoming a published author and climbing the many necessary steps along the way: finding an agent, writing a proposal, finding a publisher, writing, revising and then tirelessly marketing and promoting it, is a little like joining the military.

Really want to write and sell your book? Drop and give me twenty, soldier!

Whatever branch of service — cookbooks, YA, memoir, biography, history — we earn those stripes! We all experience many of the same issues and challenges and — like veterans of battle — know that we all know intimately what others only fantasize about.

Writing books means joining a long ladder of success, with many rungs.

Some books become huge best-sellers, leaving the rest of us gnashing our teeth in envy. Others become films or television series. Many find their own niche, buzzing along through social media and word of mouth.

Some just…die.

Do you hope to write a book? What do you hope to do with it?

What steps are you taking to get there?

“Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail” — On Sale Today!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, Money, women, work on April 14, 2011 at 11:06 am

Finally!

My new memoir, which tells the story of retail work in America, is out today from Portfolio. It’s been getting terrific reviews — Entertainment Weekly calls it “an excellent memoir” and Herb Schaffner, a columnist for Bnet compares it to the best-seller “Nickeled and Dimed”, calling Malled “reality journalism at its best.”

I’m thrilled by the reception it’s gotten, with interviews and reviews, so far, from USA Today, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and Marie-Claire. I’ll be a guest on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, with two million listeners, on April 19; on Marketplace and on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on April 20.

I’ve also been invited to write a guest post for the Harvard Business Review blog.

My goal in writing this book is to make retail work — and the 15 million employees who make their living doing it — better understood. We all shop! The American economy, even in a recession, relies heavily on consumer spending, but we rarely talk frankly about what that demands of those workers, many of them part-time, with no benefits, earning low wages with little chance for raises or promotions.

I worked as an associate in a suburban New York mall, with some very wealthy customers, from September 2007 to December 2009, so this is also a portrait of the deepening recession and other workers who are taking low-wage work to make ends meet. I interviewed many others, from Costco CFO Richard Galanti to consultant Paco Underhill to best-selling author and owner of five elegant clothing stores, Jack Mitchell.

Like me, like this blog, “Malled” pulls no punches. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes dark, always honest.

And, yes, there’s plenty of outrage!

Wal-Mart has so far spent $2 million fighting an OSHA order and $7,000 fine to make their stores safer during sales  — after an associate in their Long Island store was killed when shoppers stampeded over his body.

Is this really what we want for our low-wage workers?

The sad thing is that such treatment is considered normal. In 1892, F.W. Woolworth disdained the notion of paying his workers a living wage — his business model, discount goods, simply didn’t allow for it.

I hope you’ll check it out at malledthebook.com, where you can read the introduction and Chapter One free.

You’ll also find there a listing of my many upcoming readings and events, most in and around New York City and some in Toronto; I’m talking at 10:00 a.m. on May 28 on the downtown campus of my alma mater, The University of Toronto.

The book also has a Facebook fan page; I hope you’ll “like” it and spread the word! If you enjoy “Malled”, I’d love it if you’d write a review at amazon.com

And here’s a funny/spot-on flow chart on what it takes to get a book published…

An Angel — At The Mall

In behavior, business, cities, Health, men, music, Technology, urban life, women, work on December 12, 2010 at 8:39 pm
the city of angels

Image by marie-ll via Flickr

“I’m scared,” my mother said last night.

She was on the ward phone in the hospital in a faraway city where she has been for the past three weeks, now facing bowel surgery.

There isn’t much very comforting or helpful one can do, from a distance, to soothe fear.

I know she likes to listen to music and asked if she had a radio, as she loves listening to classical music on her terrific set at home. She did not.

I picked a store a random, one of a huge national chain of electronics stores, choosing one in a downtown mall. The manager, Dean, quickly got on the phone to help me try to buy a small radio, but the payment — her in Canada, me in the U.S. — wouldn’t go through online.

“Let me make this my Christmas present to you both. I’ll take it over to her tonight. I’ll pay for it myself. Don’t worry,” he said.

A stranger called at random, his father had been ill and now, he said, he knew what this was like and wanted to help.

And he did it, that night, taking a radio he bought and paid for to a stranger’s mother he had never met. He emailed me to tell me he had put in batteries, showed her how to use it and “left her with a big smile.”

So said his email to me, sent three hours after I’d called him, 30 minutes before closing time on a busy Saturday night.

I couldn’t quite believe it. But he did it and my Mom was thrilled.

I am amazed, stunned, deeply grateful for a stranger with so wide and deep a heart.

There are angels, even at the mall.

The Hell Of Holiday Shopping: A Few Last-Minute Tips

In business on December 15, 2009 at 9:10 am
Drawing of a self-service store.

The associates have fled in fear...Image via Wikipedia

If you’re still holiday shopping, you’re almost out of time. Working retail offers a front-row seat to the annual insanity of people trying desperately to buy things for people they apparently don’t know.

Yesterday a man in his 60s came in. “I need a gift for my daughter,” he growled. Happy holidays to you, too.

I wheedled and cajoled and finally got enough details from him to show him about half a dozen items that might gladden the heart of a 17-year-old. No retail associate has the time or energy right now to do this a dozen times a day. Here is why he is sadly typical:

1) He had no idea of her size. 2) He had no idea of her taste 3) He had not asked what she might like 3) She had not told him what she might like 4) She was spoiled and fussy enough her father was too intimidated to just buy her something, trusting she’d appreciate his love, attention and thoughtfulness; at least he didn’t hand her a gift card 5) He threw his frustration and bad temper at me to solve.

Don’t be this guy.

Tips:

1) If you have no idea what size your wife/kids/husband/partner is — look in their closets and drawers! How hard is that? Or, just ask them. I found out my partner’s neck size is larger than I thought, so I could order his shirt in time.

2) Take a good look around your home: garage, kitchen, terrace, back yard. If you’re totally out of ideas, these might inspire you to refresh or replace weathered, broken or out-of-date items.

3) Give gifts of your time and talents: babysitting, dog-walking, tutoring, knitting, cooking, home repairs, snow shoveling. The best gifts are about love and attention to someone’s needs, not just their material cravings.

4) If you ask a retail associate for help, be nice! Yes, it’s their job to know their stock, but demanding “Would he like this?” when you have no idea of the recipient’s size, age or tastes is absurd.

5) Stores run out of things. Do not snap at the associates if this happens because it is management’s decisions that have created this siutation — and, just because the associates are standing before you and physically available to take the brunt of  your rage, it is not their fault. We ran out of gift boxes yesterday morning for a few hours and women in their 50s stood there, paralyzed with disappointment and disbelief, for many long minutes, sighing and moaning “What will I do without a box?” Get a grip.

6) Call ahead. Our phones are ringing off the hook as people ask for specific sizes, colors and items that we place on hold for them. This saves everyone time, energy and frustration.

I'm Working Retail Black Friday — Here's Some Shopping Tips

In business on November 24, 2009 at 7:52 am
Facade of Shoppers' Center The Gateway

Image via Wikipedia

Last year, a stampede of crazy people killed a sales associate working on Long Island on Black Friday. This year, fractured foot and all, I’ll be safely stashed behind a heavy, fixed metal sales counter working the register at The North Face, in a fancy White Plains mall called The Westchester. Come say hi!

If you’re heading out this week on a mission, a few things to keep in mind:

1. Pre-shop on-line or using our catalogue first, if possible, to determine the name, size, color and prices on items you want to find fast within a busy and crowded bricks-and-mortar store. If you wander in, as many do, asking for “that jacket, the one with the belt”, we  can’t do much for you. The more detail you can offer, the more quickly and easily we can help.

2. Build in plenty of extra time for finding a parking spot and/or standing in line to pay. Please don’t roll your eyes or sigh or curse or threaten to call corporate if things don’t run perfectly smoothly. We’re dancing as fast as we can.

3. Please, please, please bundle your requests: if you want to see something in black, brown and blue, or two different sizes, ask us once. We’d rather bring them all at once than run and schlep to the stockroom over and over. It’s only once for you, but it’s dozens of times in our long day.

4. Don’t throw tantrums over items we don’t have, whether gift boxes or a certain object you crave. Almost every retailer this year is hedging their bets with much smaller, tighter inventories.

5. Eat, drink, pee. Bring water, energy bars, aspirin, Pepto-Bismol — whatever it takes to keep you relaxed and comfortable. Stay hydrated. Take breaks and sit down. It will significantly improve your stamina and your mood. Ditto for anyone shopping with you.

6. Don’t freak out or take it personally if we’re watching you more closely. Shoplifters love Black Friday and holiday shopping — lots of crowds and, ideally for them, distracted associates. We have to keep a close eye on everyone. It’s our job.

7. Say thank you and please to the people trying to help you. Really. We know you don’t have to, but it makes the day a lot easier and so much more pleasant for everyone.

8. If at all possible, leave the kids at home, especially smaller ones who get bored, noisy and run all over the store, worrying us, if not you.

9. The store is actually not a garbage can. It’s not like going to the movies, no matter how entertaining — so do not dump your half-eaten pretzels and cookies on the floor or your loose-lidded soda cups filled with sticky fluids high on a shelf where someone is going to knock it all over the clothing/items.

10. If you are truly getting nowhere with an associate ask, nicely, to speak to the manager. Don’t abuse the help. In most instances, no matter how bad it can get, many of us are really trying our best to help you.

11. Get off your cellphone/Blackberry while we’re cashing you out or speaking to you. It’s rude, slows everyone down and makes it difficult for us to communicate with you in order to accurately and quickly fill your needs.

12. Have fun! Shopping can indeed be an exhausting and overwhelming ordeal. Remember it’s a great blessing if you still have the health, strength, mobility and income to even head into a store these days.

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