In case you didn’t know, I work in an office supply store. It’s a pretty large chain and I’d rather not mention the name of the company because I am unsure of how, if at all, I might create a conflict of interest by having a personal blog. But yesterday, something odd happened to me and I felt compelled to write about it.
To start, if you’ve ever worked in retail, then you know about the concept of Plan-O-Grams. Now, a Plan-O-Gram, or POG, is a way for a large retail company to set up their stores so that store employees do not have to think about things like merchandising. In fact, retail chains would rather not have them think about anything at all; they do this so that they can hire inexperienced people and pay them much less than what an experienced counterpart would make. And my store Plan-O-Grams everything from the shelves in the aisles to the drawers of the registers. It’s really ridiculous and doesn’t have much to do with the story, but I felt it necessary to say so that it explains my next sentence.
I was working on the pen and pencil POG (see?) and I was approached by a customer. He started asking me some questions about our fancy house brand of pens. How do they write? Are they anything like the Papermates? Now, I know a bit about pens, and about the particular brand he was asking about, so I answered his questions as honestly as I could. (“Well, it’s our brand of pen so it’s mostly made cheaply for a higher mark-up, but it’s pretty decent besides that.”)
I walk the customer to the register to show him a one of our display pens of that brand so he can see how it writes. While we were up there he asked about the new Post-It pens that have adhesive flags in the barrel. He was surprised to see that Post-It was making pens, and asked for some more information. I showed him the packs of the pens and highlighters, and this is when he told me that he invented a new kind of pen.
OK. This is where the situation deviated from my usual encounters with customers. (“What kind of ink do I need for my printer?” “What model of printer do you have?” “I don’t know.”)
The customer’s main purpose of coming into the store was to find information on pen manufacturers and see what kind of competition he would have. After I showed him the Post-It pens, he pulled out his BlackBerry and copied down the company address written on the back of the package. When he finished, he looked at me and basically asked me “What else you got?”
We walked back to the pen aisle and I began showing him the other pens we had. I started with the new Sharpie pens, mostly because I really like writing with them. He copied do that information and looked around. He said he already contacted Papermate, Bic, and Zebra. So I began looking around trying to find what other pens we carried.
Now, most of this story is pretty repetitive with me showing him pens and him copying the information. But the guy was quite impressed with the how I was able to show him a bunch of different things and explain the types of products the company produces. (Like TerraCycle, a company that makes all different products from recycled shit, like wall clocks made out of records.)
So I basically showed the guy practically every pen we carry, as well as a few pencils, so I walk back with him to the cash register so he can purchase the pack of pens he was originally looking at. I wish him luck on his endeavor and walk away and he catches up to me to ask me a strange question.
“Did you ever consider learning more about pens and the history and quality of different pens?”
Well, I have to admit that I hadn’t. He then goes on to talk about Mont Blanc, a company that produces very high end pens, most of which sell in the range of $100 to $300, even up to $1,000. He suggested that I dress really nicely and look around a Mont Blanc store and find out a little bit about them. Apparently, selling pens can be a lucrative career and, based on the way I was able to help him in his task, he felt that I had the knowledge and expertise to be able to sell Mont Blanc.
My job is what I would classify as a dead-end job. I’ve been there for almost two years and there is no room for advancement unless I’m willing to move out of state (which I am not.) I also hate the way that I have a college education and I’m stuck in a position where I am not using my knowledge. Never once, in the last 20 months, have I considered that what I learned in my job could be applied to any other career. This customer is the first person to make me realize that this isn’t necessarily true. That’s not to say I’m going to put in some resumes to a Mont Blanc store, mostly because I hate sales (“Are you gonna buy the fucking pen or not?”) But it was validating to see that a stranger felt I had a semblance of intelligence, despite the fact that I work in retail.