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Posts Tagged ‘North Face’

What’s your Plan B?

In aging, behavior, business, domestic life, family, journalism, life, Media, Money, politics, work on October 10, 2012 at 1:49 am
United (States) Parcel Service.

United (States) Parcel Service. (Photo credit: matt.hintsa)

Van Morrison — one of my faves — has a new album out, Born to Sing: No Plan B.

I’m eager to hear it, but it also made me stop and think…what’s my Plan B?

I have a few, but so far haven’t had to put them into action.

With decent French and Spanish skills, and my interior design training, I feel fairly confident I could pick up a job — albeit likely entry-level — in that field. Worst case, I have a Canadian passport and citizenship and another country in which to legally job-hunt, if necessary.

But I sure don’t want to start a whole new career, which many of my fellow journalists were forced to do after 24,000 of us lost our jobs in 2008; I’d love to do a story and find out where they have gone. I know one, a man in his 50s, now in culinary school in Florence — but he already owned a home there and has a high-earning spouse, both of which are damn helpful if you have to re-tool, certainly in your 50s or beyond.

As the American economy continues to eject too many people from fields they’re good at and like and pay them well, and thousands of others don’t (yet) have the requisite skills for a new career, whether as an X-ray technician or software designer, it’s a very real and pressing question.

A few days ago, I had a long, lovely breakfast with a good friend, a single woman a bit older than I who needed nine monthswith excellent skills — to land her last job in our field, journalism. In those nine months, she ran through her savings.

After she went home from breakfast, she emailed me: “Laid off.”

Holy shit.

When does this stop?

Will it ever?

If I had kids, which I do not, the only skill I’d suggest they develop to its fullest is the willingness to do whatever it takes to survive economically, pride be damned. I saw an ad this morning in another diner, hiring for waitress, delivery and hostess spots. I called my friend and told her. It’s not her dream job and it’s sure not in her field and God only knows what the pay is like.

But the key word here is hiring.

In 2007, terrified after working so hard through illness I got pneumonia and landed in the hospital for three days with a temperature of 104 and needing an IV, I gave in/up and took a part-time job, selling clothing at The North Face, an outdoor clothing company, for $11/hr. No bonus, no commission. Very few raises (like 30 cents an hour.)

I stayed 27 months, finally leaving December 18, 2009. I only left after I was able to replace that income with something else, then as a paid blogger for True/Slant, earning $400 a month without having to stand on my feet for seven hours. (That gig abruptly ended five months later when Forbes bought it and fired almost every one of us who had created the audience that made it attractive. Doncha love it?)

Plan B is never enough. We all, now, need Plans C-Z.

I was able to write a book about that experience, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, and interviewed many others nationwide in the retail industry as well. I also got some cash from CBS, who optioned it for a sitcom, which did not happen.

It looked like a Plan B might have shown up, unbidden, as a creative consultant on that show, which would have guaranteed me a  nice four figures every month. Didn’t happen. (It’s being read now by three film/TV agents and I’m pretty optimistic someone else will pick it up.)

I’ve gained some income as a paid speaker since then, but haven’t been able to win the consulting gigs I’d hoped. (Turns out the retail industry has more “consultants” than a dog has fleas, and they all guard their lucrative turf jealously.)

So the success of any Plan B, (or C-Z), hinges on a number of factors:

– Can you segue into another industry, transferring some of your skills, at anywhere near your current earning power?

– If not, how much of a hit can you take and for how long? Forever?

– How much time have you got, really, to learn an entirely new set of skills? Days, weeks, months or years?

– Who is going to pay all your bills, and those of your dependents, as you do?

– Who’s going to pay your tuition or training fees?

– How supportive of this is your partner or spouse? What if it means, as it often does now in this recession, losing 50% or more of your previous income?

– How will you fund your retirement if this is the case?

– What about age discrimination? Everyone over 40 faces it and anyone over 55 is toast.

– How much physical stamina do you have for grueling jobs like retail or waitressing? (Foodservice and retail are the two single largest sources of new jobs in America, yet both at extremely low wages.)

– Do you need to sell your home and/or move to a new area? What if you lose that job?

Have you had to move to Plan B, or beyond?

What did you do?

If you did have to, what would it look like?

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” now out in paperback

In blogging, books, business, journalism, life, Media, women, work on August 9, 2012 at 1:44 am

Some Broadside readers know that I’m also the author of a memoir of working retail. From September 2007 to December 2009, I worked as a part-time sales associate selling outdoor clothing and accessories for The North Face, a multi-national brand.

I never set out to write a book about this, even though several writer friends insisted from the outset that I should.

When the recession hit, I suddenly needed a steady, even small, part-time income to supplement my writing.

When a new store opened up, a 10-minute drive from my home in a suburban New York town, I applied — being athletic and a world traveler, I knew I could easily relate to North Face’s products and shoppers.

I earned $11/hour, with no bonuses or commissions.

I was 50, had been laid off from the U.S.’s 6th.-largest newspaper with a healthy salary, and had never worked a sales floor. My manager, a former military man who had served in Mogadishu, was five years younger, and the assistant manager was half my age.

It was, in every way, a whole new world.

But I proved to be good at it, and sold well. When I asked my boss for a raise, he looked embarrassed and told me he’d already given me one.

How can you get a raise you don’t notice?

When it’s 30 cents an hour.

So “Malled” — which includes many interviews with retail veterans nationwide — is also a book about working for poverty-level wages in the U.S. during the worst recession since the 1930s, in an era of growing income inequality. Our store was close to the homes of some of this country’s wealthiest people, the hedge fund managers and I-bankers who live in Greenwich, Darien and Westport, Connecticut.

From a recent piece in The New York Times:

If we’re to get people out of poverty [we need] more jobs that pay decent wages. There aren’t enough of these in our current economy…

This isn’t a problem specific to the current moment. We’ve been drowning in a flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in poverty comes from work. According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, 104 million people — a third of the population — have annual incomes below twice the poverty line, less than $38,000 for a family of three. They struggle to make ends meet every month.

Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“Malled” has won some nice reviews: Entertainment Weekly called it “an excellent memoir” and USA Today said “a bargain, even at full price.” It’s in bookstores and for sale on amazon, where its 78 reviews are deeply divided. (If you enjoy it, please add a positive review!) It’s also available, of course, as an e-book.

Many retail veterans, both managers and associates, have since written to thank me for telling their story, saying that “Malled” echoes their experience.

Retail is the U.S.’s third-largest industry, largest source of new jobs in this recession, but typically offers only poverty-level wages for part-time work.

One of the reasons it’s so poorly paid is that the skills required — which include patience, empathy, compassion, humor, attentiveness and a good memory — are often dismissed, by shoppers amd by senior retail managers, as not being skills at all.

In fact, retail workers perform emotional labor.  Their ability to relate quickly and easily to strangers, and to convert them from browsers to shoppers, isn’t something everyone can do well. And studies have shown that great salespeople move merch, not fancy ads, celebrity spokespeople, cool store design or deafening music.

“Malled” was nominated for the Hillman Award, given annually to works of journalism “in the service of the common good,” and tells many stories, from the Foxconn workers making Apple products committing suicide in China due to terrible work conditions to the CFO of Costco explaining how his company pays some of the nation’s highest wages, typically $15 to $18/hour.

I’ll be speaking about the book, and selling copies, at 2:30 Sept. 2 at the Decatur Conference Center Auditorium, at the Decatur Literary Festival, the nation’s largest independent book festival, in Georgia and at 6:00 p.m. at Neiman-Marcus in White Plains, N. Y., on Sept. 6.

On October 30, I’m addressing a retail conference at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Here’s a radio interview I did for WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, replayed last September as one of the year’s best and here are the the first two chapters, free.  If you like what you find, I hope you’ll also “like” its Facebook page, “Malled the Book”.

If you’re a blogger, I’d love to do  a guest post or a Q and A about any aspect of book-writing/publishing, with a book giveaway!

Have you ever worked retail?

How did you like it?

The Next Chapter Of “Malled” — A Possible CBS Sitcom

In blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, television, women, work on August 23, 2011 at 1:08 am

There I was, sitting on the sofa at 10:00 p.m. watching a too-violent movie on HBO, when I read three emails congratulating me, including one from the veteran TV writer who’ll be writing a script based on my new book; if it’s accepted, the next step is to cast and film a network television pilot.

Shriek!

I was hired on September 25, 2007 to work for $11/hr. as a sales associate for The North Face. I quit on December 18, 2009, knowing I had a contract to write a memoir of what it’s like to really work retail. The result, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was the result, and was published April 14, 2o11.

So, how did all this happen?

And so quickly?

My agent, the day we first met in June 2009 — months before we sold the proposal — said: “You know, this would make a terrific sitcom.” I agreed. I wasn’t surprised by her idea; growing up in family who worked in television and film I know that networks are always seeking good new material.

As the book neared publication date, I began getting emails from a variety of entertainment companies asking who my agent was. I confess, the first one I read I assumed must be a hoax. I quickly learned this interest was real and serious.

On my birthday, June 6, I got on the phone to grill my two agents about the many items in the contract I didn’t understand and which are very different from a contract for a magazine story or a non-fiction book. Then (lucky enough to have family connections in the industry) I called someone in Toronto who referred me to her experienced entertainment lawyer to review it all.

It all felt a little surreal.

I love the irony that, after eight days at a Buddhist retreat discussing and pondering the nature of the self, I was on the phone discussing which actress might play “me” in the show.

It’s a long road to that possibility, but this is the next step.

Fingers crossed!

Working Retail? A Shopper? This Book’s For You

In blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, news, women, work on March 24, 2011 at 1:37 am
Mall in Jakarta

Mall life....some of us survive it! Image via Wikipedia

Three weeks from today my new memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” appears from Portfolio, the imprint of Penguin Press focused on business.

It tells the story of my two years and three months as a sales associate at a suburban New York mall for The North Face, an internationally known brand of outdoor clothing. In it, you’ll also hear from many other associates nationwide, and from consultants, analysts and senior executives — like Richard Galanti, the CFO of Costco — working in the nation’s third largest industry and largest source of new jobs.

If you’ve ever worked in a retail job — or any job with the public (God help you!) — you’ll find something in it to identify with, especially customers from hell, whether entitled finger-snappers or the perpetually dissatisfied.

I started out, as many retail workers do, psyched. New job, new industry, new skills, new co-workers. It was all good!

A few years later, shaking with rage, I actually ran and hid in the stockroom one afternoon after the umpteenth whiny shopper hit my last strained nerve.

“You’re being hostile,” she sniffed.

Truthfully I replied: “You have no idea what hostile looks like!”

Please check out the introduction and chapter one here.

The book — yay! — is getting all sorts of media interest. I’ve already been interviewed, so far, by the Associated Press, Washington Post, WWD, Marie-Claire (May issue) and USA Today. I’m booked on NRP’s Diane Rehm show April 18, and will travel from my home in NY to DC to do it in-studio.

Entertainment Weekly just named it “an excellent memoir.”

Please cross your fingers for its success, come check out our FB page and, if you like it, please spread the word!

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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