Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Retail

While I waited and searched for what to do after college graduation, I ended up working retail part-time. It has now been added to my “everyone needs to do this” list. (My retail experience lasted just under a year at LOFT. Not a bad place to start, and certainly not a bad discount!)

((photo credit))

Why? Because [almost] everything I needed to know about the real world, I learned working retail. Here are a few examples:

1.  Listening is important.

One of my favorite roles during a shift was working the front. I would straighten endless stacks of imperfect blouses on the front tables, while also greeting everyone who entered the store. We typically were not overrun with clients, so it was priority to give special attention to each person.

I would usually look the person in the eye, smile and say something like, “Good afternoon! How are you doing today?” No joke, at least half of the time I would get an indifferent wave along with, “I’m just looking.”

Oh. You’re just looking? In general? That’s how you’re doing?

People are people, are people. Even the girl who works at the front of the store folding another laced graphic t on a weird looking cutting board.

2.  Being considerate goes a long way.

Some days I would be in charge of the fitting rooms. I enjoyed helping women pick out a new outfit for a special occasion of some sort, but I dreaded following up on the rooms after a full Saturday. Loft is a nice store, with a target market of young women who are moms, professionals, and care about themselves. For the most part, that translates to hanging up their clothes after leaving the fitting room.

It was not necessary for them to even bring the unwanted clothes out of the room, but occasionally I would come across a fitting room with half the store wadded up on the floor. Seriously? You could not even take five seconds and hang up that only-to-be-steamed dress stuffed underneath those new heavy boots?

3.  Be confident in your role.

I think fashion is fun. I read some fashion blogs. I’ve watched What Not to Wear plenty. But I am no expert. I’d certainly never write a fashion blog myself. Yet, being a sales associate in a clothing store means you automatically have fashion wisdom. After all, I was around it all day. Surprisingly, I had serious clout with some women! Everything from, “What would you put with these pants?” And my personal favorite, “Is this too small? Too tight? Does it make me look fat?”

Yikes. I would daily remind myself to be confident in my role. I was not an expert, but I knew the clothes. I knew how things were supposed to fit, and I had valuable advice to offer. Confidence plus gentleness. Try telling a woman twice your age that those white pants are yes, wayyy too tight!

4.  Everyone takes out the trash sometimes.

I really hate taking out the trash. Working at camp trash is certainly higher on the sick-gross level than retail trash, but it still exists. And someone has to take it out. Someone also has to swiffer the never-ending wood floors every night. And here’s the tricky truth: even though all of us girls were decked out in summer scarves and the perfect high-waisted skirt, we were all responsible for getting it done. Sometimes it was the manager, sometimes it was me. But we all did it. Dirty jobs, with a smile. Because that’s how life works. No one can really be above the dirty jobs.

5.  Debt is real.

I loved just about every aspect of this job; it was the perfect in-between job for me as I tried to figure out what was next. I loved it all, except trying to persuade people into getting a credit card through our store. I understand the business side of it, but I cringed every time someone said yes. I worked with one assistant manager with over a thousand dollars to pay off- just on her Loft card. Just say no people. 15% off is nothing. Just say no.


There were lots of other lessons too, like the importance of making a first impression, the ugliness of entitlement, why keeping a commitment really does make a difference, and even more. I really am thankful for the time I got to spend working in such a beneficial part-time job, even when the hours got long, or when I had to hang up the same black sequined dress that doesn’t really fit anyone right. Again.

Anything you would add to the list?

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