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How to Survive a Retail Gig

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We’ve survived another year of  8 A.M. lectures and caffeine addiction. Our drunken immunity has been tested like never before. What is our reward? For most of us, a summer job. And for many of us, a summer job in retail.

I’ve had my fair share of retail gigs and, let me tell you, they’re not all rainbows and awesome discounts. Nope, most of the time, they’re just folding, counting and really bitter customers… with a pretty great discount. If you find yourself behind the register this summer and want to make it out alive, keep these key things in mind:

1. Keep your peace of mind.
I’ve had more crap summer jobs than I can count and I don’t think I made more than 50 cents over minimum wage at any of them. Some money is always better than none, but don’t forget to put a premium on your peace of mind. So many nights I would come home and be totally exhausted from rude people and domineering bosses, but I would keep myself awake for 2 or 3 more hours wondering if I had balanced my register or entered the security code correctly before I locked up. Take it from someone who learned it the hard way: forget about it. This isn’t your career, it’s your summer job. Focus on it  from 9 to 5 and the second that glass door locks behind you, use your time to enjoy your summer.

2. Set a budget for using the employee discount.
Whether or not its written explicitly in your employee handbook, most retail stores will allow some extra perks to employees and their family members. To you it’s only a measly 10%, but to an employer it adds up. I remember working at a convenience store one summer where I made all the neighborhood kids pay every last cent for their candy bars. Unbeknownst to me, my male co-worker on the other shift was handing out free cigarettes to hot chicks who would show off their ta-tas. Even in a classier, structured environment, moderation is still key. If you abuse your privileges, you can be sure that they will start to disappear. And why waste them on others when you can use ’em for yourself, am I right?

3. Know when to take a break.
I remember one afternoon, 15 minutes into my shift, I experienced the worst-case scenario for retail. I had a customer screaming at me on the phone and a merchant in front of the counter demanding a check from me that I was not authorized to sign. As if that wasn’t enough, my register went haywire and started shooting out receipt paper like silly string. I took one deep breath, focused really hard, and fixed everything in 5 minutes. The small queue of people that had formed at my register cheered good-naturedly. In the next available minute, I vacuumed the floor. It wasn’t really a “break” but it did give me a moment to clear my head, cool down, and center myself. Even if you can’t run outside, kick your feet up and suck down a much needed Diet Coke after disaster strikes, doing something mindless has a wonderful calming effect.

4. Be glad they’re not your boyfriend/mother/sister.
Men, women, young, old – ignorance seems to know no bounds. Time will be flying, the store will be quiet, and suddenly that one loudmouth who thinks their sh*t is cream will come in and make life hell for you — just because they can. No matter what, service with a smile should still reign supreme; it’s just good business. To keep my spirits up after these terribly depressing people leave, though, I’ll think of my nasty customers’ spouses, or parents, or kids. No matter how rude they may be to me, I pity the poor people that actually have to live with them.

5. Wear comfortable shoes.
This may be the best piece of advice I can give you. After all, Ginger Rogers was the only woman who could glide through her days backwards in high heels. Without fail, the days I left my house wearing the shiny red pumps that matched my favorite skirt so well were the days I was climbing latters in the stock room, dusting off displays, and taking out trash. While looking good will make you feel good, being comfortable helps, too. Never underestimate the power of ballet flats!

I wish you the best of luck as you begin your battles. No mater how posh your store is or how nice your bosses are, the bell that rings when your door opens will give you a gag reflex by August. The way your wallet bulges, though (well, assuming you don’t abuse that discount), is sure to make you smile when you’re back on campus, soaking up your first Thirsty Thursday.

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