Any of you who have ever worked even a short time in retail will be able to identify with almost the entirety of Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook. Written by Norm Feuti, creator of the comic strip Retail, this book gathers together everything Feuti has learned during his many years of working in the retail field, as well as giving us the source for many of the strips he has created. I haven’t seen the strip before, so the book was even more refreshing than if it were full of stale material. The book itself is pretty funny, and it also works as a handy vision into the stressful world of retail. That in itself makes it worth it to anybody who may be considering going into that war zone.
Feuti runs the gamut from blowing up common retail myths (such as “You get a great employee discount!”) to how to get hired, what to do when you are hired, on up to management and corporate headquarters. At the end of the book, he talks about various types of customers and co-workers, Christmas, and the best part of a retail employee’s work-life: the Going Out of Business sale. Feuti relates all this in a charming, witty manner, sprinkling the material with real-life examples from his own experiences in the field.
One of the best examples is the “double standard” regarding break time. He relates the story of how he was bringing his food back from the food court when a customer accosted him. Insisting that helping her would only take a minute, she kept on badgering him to help her rather than paging somebody else to come, despite the fact that he was in the middle of his break and wouldn’t have time to eat if he assisted her. When he said that he wasn’t getting paid right at the moment, she called him one of those people who only work if paid, implying that he was greedy and arrogant. As Feuti points out, “At no other job could an employee conceivably be accused of being lazy if they refused to work for free.”
The book does suffer a bit from mood swings. Most of the time, Pretending You Care is fairly lighthearted, and while the problems Feuti points out are real, he handles them with humor. Occasionally, though, he sounds outright angry at the way retail employees are treated (by both management and the customers), resulting in a few passages where the tone is more downbeat than anything else. Feuti quickly recovers, though, and gets back to the amusing (though still real, of course) content of the book.
As I said at the beginning, if you have ever worked in retail, you will recognize almost everything Feuti talks about, from the annoying types of customers to the way your district manager treats you and beyond. Much of the information included is quite useful, such as the section on training. The usual first step in training is reading the handbook, which is mostly full of legalese to keep the corporate office happy and rarely covers anything actually useful to the employee on the floor. He then covers training videos, including a hilarious “what a realistic training video would look like” that shows what the new employee is really in for. Finally, there’s the training on how to use the register.
I especially love the way Feuti includes what you will see and then what it will mean. For example, the personality test may include a question - “Supervisors need to monitor their employees carefully if they expect them to be productive” - with the answers of “Completely agree, Mostly agree, etc.” What Feuti says the question really means is “Do you slack off when unsupervised?” with the answers “Always, Usually, Sometimes, No.” He takes on all of the questions this way, and it’s truly inspired.
I found myself laughing out loud and nodding my head in agreement with a lot the information that Feuti includes, and his stories rang every bell in my memory because I had many of the same sorts of experiences. Even better, unlike some books based on comic strips (like the Dilbert business books by Scott Adams), the information in Pretending You Care is actually useful. For a new retail employee, some of this would take away a lot of the stress, especially the first time he or she got one of those customers who insists on telling their life story just so the employee knows why they need this specific brand of pantyhose.
Those who have worked in retail will find this a hilarious reminder of your past life. If you’re thinking of going back (or going into it for the first time), you owe it to yourself to pick this up. It may even amuse some non-retail people, though they’re more likely to actually see themselves in the “annoying customers” section than they are to identify with Feuti and his stories. Whatever your circumstance, though, give Pretending You Care a try. Sorry, no coupons for this book, though your employee discount will apply.