miscommunicamp by steph katzovi header 02

Matters of Life and Steph: “For a Limited Time Only”- Musings from a Children’s Writer

“Thank you for always going above and beyond;” “Your hard work is exemplary;” and “Your enthusiasm is contagious.” These were words that managers never said to me at my first job. I was thirteen years old and had landed a part-time sales job at the Limited Too. To be blunt, I was a horrible salesperson. I did the bare minimum, though that was questionable. Even worse, I had yet to appreciate the power of appearing enthusiastic.

In fact, what started out as a somewhat mundane weekend job of selling overpriced children’s clothing turned into me being wrongly suspected of stealing. But there’s always something to be learned from even the worst experiences. My brief foray into sales taught me a valuable lesson: when you put care, energy, and passion into your work—even if it’s not always genuine—your integrity is less likely to be questioned.

Here’s what happened…

Limited experience

Like many teenagers, I wanted to earn some extra spending money. I decided that I’d need to get a job. My parents supported my desire for greater financial independence, so long as I only worked weekends.  The most obvious choice would be babysitting, but I didn’t like children. I also didn’t want a restaurant job, because eww. Gross. Who wants to touch other people’s food? (I was years away from becoming a mother when you can’t have any hang-ups about anything.)

As it turns out, most businesses did not want to hire a thirteen-year-old with absolutely no job experience—especially ones who could only work on weekends. Talk about having limited options. (Pun intended- keep reading!)

I decided that the best chance of getting a non-babysitting, non-food service job was to find work at the mall. So, I spent an entire day canvassing the stores in The Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall. Of the more than twenty places that I applied to, I got one call back.

It was from a children’s clothing store called The Limited Too.

Keeping a secret

The Limited Too was part of a company that has since evolved into “L Brands.” Even though I didn’t know anything about retail, I was able to pawn off an eagerness to learn with my promise to work every weekend. Without listening to any of the job responsibilities, I readily accepted The Limited Too’s offer.  

My starting salary? A whopping $4.65 an hour. This was in 1987 dollars and fully taxable. Given that I had limited options, it was better than nothing.

While I was too big for the clothes sold in the store, a job at the Limited Too meant an employee discount at all the other stores in the L Brands family. The promise of a discount meant a reprieve from shopping at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s (you may recall from an earlier blog that I both loathed and loved these stores). It sounded like a great deal to thirteen-year-old me. Too bad the closest stores where this discount applied were at The Limited and Victoria’s Secret; both of which were far too mature (and feminine) for my tomboy tastes. 

Options were options, though, even if they were limited options.

Greetings and salutations

After a brief tutorial on how to fold tiny clothing, ring up items on the register, and keep an eye on the dressing rooms in case they got overrun with clothes, I was assigned the role of a “greeter.”

Greeters, as the name implied, welcomed customers at the store entrance. I was told to repeat the Limited Too sales pitch of “socks are three for twelve dollars today” to everyone who walked in. Maybe I didn’t read the promotion closely, but I was pretty sure the socks were four dollars regularly. Not exactly a bargain.  

I was a greeter for weeks. It was boring. I hated approaching people. I did a so-so job pushing the socks.

Sensing my discontent, Lisa, a friendly assistant manager, suggested I be a roving greeter. This meant walking around the store asking people if they needed help with anything. Lisa had a haircut like Liza Minelli and abnormally large teeth. Whenever she smiled, her teeth looked like they consumed her face. It was hard not to stare at her.

“Take initiative,” Lisa said brightly. “Really engage with the customers. That way they’ll buy more.” Blech, I thought. Out loud, I said, “I’ll try,” trying to match Lisa’s breezy tone. But I didn’t really mean it. 

And so, I continued on with my indifferent greeting and assumed all was well. My assumption was incorrect.

Know when to fold ‘em

The feedback I received in my first review was to be more friendly. A shy smile, apparently, was not great in sales. The managers probably realized that I wasn’t salesperson material, but it wasn’t like my paychecks were chipping away at company profits. I guess they similarly had limited options when it came to hiring decent employees.

While I wasn’t good at greeting, I was even worse at folding. Despite using their special plastic folding board, my heart wasn’t really into tight, flat folds.

To make up for my folding deficiencies, I secretly put the clothes I’d just folded on the bottom where they were less visible. I was pretty sure that my tactic was effective, and no one noticed my shoddy work. Though perhaps someone did.  

That someone may have been the overall store manager, Michelle. She had a smoky voice and perfectly feathered 1980s bangs. Michelle didn’t seem to like me.

Perhaps due to my lackluster salespersonship, Michelle decided  I was better suited for the closing shift. That’s when there were fewer customers and more clean-up responsibilities. I didn’t take any offense when she adjusted my schedule accordingly. Though perhaps, given my limited options, I should have.

Fashionably late

I could tell that Michelle didn’t want to deal with me, so she often paired my shift with Lisa.  One night, when Lisa and I were working the closing shift, the store was particularly slow. Lisa suggested that we start our clean-up activities a little earlier than normal. I headed into the fitting room to collect the evening’s discarded clothing. Obviously, I preferred putting away the hanging clothes rather than folded ones. Lisa began closing out the register.

Minutes before the stroke of nine, a couple came into the store. They were followed by another nondescript person. Lisa greeted the shoppers since I had already scurried away to the sanctity of the fitting rooms.  

I paid no attention to the shoppers, just wishing they’d leave. I was, however, surprised that the couple’s sole purchase was three pairs of socks for twelve dollars.

When they left the store, Lisa pulled down the gate and went back to closing out the register. After a moment, she stopped suddenly.

“Steph, did you move anything from the register area?”

“No. Why?” I looked back at Lisa, even more puzzled.

“There’s money missing.” Lisa looked scared. 

In my youthful ignorance, I gave her a look that probably said, “Ohhh, that stinks. So, can I leave?”  

“We have to call Michelle. And mall security.” Callously, I wondered if I’d be paid for the extra time beyond my shift.

A real steal

We waited patiently as mall security asked us questions about the evening. They also asked whether we saw anyone steal the register money. I hadn’t seen a thing. Neither did Lisa.

When Michelle arrived, she looked more frazzled than Lisa. As the most senior manager of the store, Michelle would probably have some explaining to do to the regional managers.

After mall security left, Michelle continued asking Lisa and me about what happened.

“You’re sure you didn’t see anything?” If Michelle could turn the store’s bright fluorescent track lighting solely on me, I was sure she would. I repeated my story that I had been in and out of the fitting room. I confirmed that I hadn’t been paying attention to the shoppers. Surely, given my track record for poor greeting, Michelle would believe me.

Michelle’s final question stung like a dagger: “Did you take the money?” Wait. What? Was I that terrible an employee that she thought I would steal? I noticed that Michelle didn’t ask Lisa the same question.

Obviously, I hadn’t taken the money. Where would I even put it?  I didn’t carry a bag (this was a world before cell phones), and my pleated khakis hardly left any room for a wad of cash. I couldn’t believe that Michelle would suspect me.

Hanging on by a thread

By the end of that very long night, it was decided that the couple plus the random shopper had somehow stolen the money from the register. But I could tell Michelle didn’t really believe it. I had a sinking suspicion that she thought I had been an accomplice to their larceny.

Maybe if I had tried harder and appeared more enthusiastic, Michelle wouldn’t have suspected me of stealing. I hadn’t quite learned the art of “faking it,” but from my Limited Too experience, I definitely worked on that skill later in life.

And so, when it was time for my next quarterly review, Michelle told me that my greeting and folding skills still needed improvement. She also made up some other random developmental opportunities. Given my now six months of experience, as a courtesy, Michelle gave me a meager ten-cent raise.

I knew then that Michelle would never get over her suspicion that I was some teenage mall crook (yet still showed up punctually every weekend). I also realized that working for less than five dollars an hour minus taxes, was not worth it.  Limited options or not, I decided the Limited Too wasn’t for me.

Within a few weeks, I resigned. No one was terribly sad. I bet Michelle was relieved she didn’t have to fire me. I’m sure that would’ve happened eventually.

Perhaps if Michelle had seen some effort or enthusiasm (even if feigned) my time at the Limited Too wouldn’t have been so…limited. I guess when it came to falling short as a clothing salesperson, it “socked” to be me.

Do you recall a childhood experience where you wished you had done things differently? Please share your stories with me in the comments section.

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