Whenever people hand over bags of items to donate, it's customary to ask if they're a 'Gift Aider' so that we can get extra cash from the govenment if we sell the goods. This afternoon, when asking a lady if she was a British Tax Payer, she replied that she was too lazy to work! Unable to think of an appropriate response to her comment, I simply thanked her for her kind donation, whereupon she responded "My daughter's just kicked her husband out - it's all his cr*p!" We're used to people saying that they've had a clear-out of their cupboards or that sadly someone has passed away, and they're giving us their loved ones belongings, but I confess, that has to be a new one on me. Luckily, his stuff was not actually "cr*p" but rather high quality items, for which we're very grateful.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Regardless of the fact that you're a volunteer, or that you're only on the premises for a few hours each week, at some point you’ll be required to undertake the excitingly-named ‘Health and Safety Training’. Although a vital part of the work-based learning experience, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s never going to be a laugh a minute. When my time came, I dutifully sat alone in a small room reading all of the bumf that my manager had presented to me, while skimming through sections which probably ought to have been renamed 'Spottin' the bleedin' obvious!' No, I don't intend to lift a heavy crate of books off the floor by myself... yes, if I'm faced with an irate customer who's making me feel threatened I'll ring through to the manager... no, if I see a large wet area on the floor I won't leave it there so that customers can break their necks... Having said that, there WERE things in there which I actually didn't know, but NEEDED to know, such as where the fire alarms are situated on the shop floor and the locality of the nearest fire assembly point, so despite the fact it wasn't much 'fun' to do, I now feel a lot more confident in my working environment.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Sooner or later, if you work in any shop in your home town you'll bump into someone you know. However, when you work in a charity shop, these friends and aquaintances can often seem embarassed at being spotted. While I accept that in years gone by there was a certain stigma attached to entering a 'second-hand' shop, not helped by a few less well run organisations lacking in the hygiene department, but these days things are vastly improved. For a start, many of our items are brand new, created by the charity especially for sale in their retail outlets. Other brand new stock comes from clothing stores which have folded or simply need to ethically dispose of last season's fashions. As for our donated goods, every item is carefully checked for any damage and instantly discarded if not in excellent condition, the clothing is all hygienically steam cleaned and all games are inspected for missing parts; our quality control is second to none. In fact, you're far more likely to get duff goods from a privately owned establishment than you are from ours, so why do some people still feel the need to mumble excuses and appear embarassed about browsing our rails? I'm immensely proud to be a volunteer for a charity shop, and there's absolutely no reason for anyone to be ashamed to be seen shopping in our store!
Sunday, June 12, 2011
We were fortunate enough to have been given a lovely designer jacket to sell in the shop, and we’d all been told that under no circumstances were customers allowed to take it into the changing room unaccompanied. This proved to be sound advice, as within just 10 minutes two different gentlemen had wanted to try on the jacket, but both had suddenly lost all interest once they realised they wouldn’t be allowed to be left alone with it.
These low-lifes assume that charity shops are easy pickings, just because we don’t have a vast budget for employing security guards, however, they totally underestimate the vigilance of the eagle-eyed volunteers.
Shop work requires tact and diplomacy by the bucket-full, especially when one of your ‘regulars’ is a rather portly, folically challenged, older gentleman shopping for party dresses….for himself. Being the non-judgemental type, I can usually offer some friendly advice, steering him away from horizontal stripes and gently guiding him towards the below-the-knee section.
Shoppers are aromatic creatures it seems. The other day an aesthetically pleasing young man wafted past me, trailing in his wake was the delightfully distinct scent of coconuts, reminding me of exotic holidays to far flung places (and bounty bars). Unfortunately, while I was copping a lungful of this tropical Adonis, what can only be described as a particularly offensive-smelling hobgoblin also shuffled by. The acrid stench of many Benson & Hedges on a man who’s clearly a stranger to soap almost made me gag. That’ll teach me to smell the customers!
It beggars believe just how low some people will sink when they choose to steal from a charity shop, and it transpires that thieves and swindlers really do come in all shapes and sizes. For example, the ‘quaint’ little old lady who spent the best part of five minutes picking at a price label on a jigsaw with her thumbnail so that it now read 99p. When she was told at the tills that the true price for the puzzle was £1.99 she had a strop, saying that was far too much to pay for something which was originally given for free and that we’d deliberately put misleading price labels on our goods in order to fleece people! Needless to say, she left empty handed.
It was a similar story when a smartly dressed, well-spoken lady asked if she could try on a good quality, heavy winter coat in the changing rooms. When she brought the item to the till she wanted a £5 discount because the lining was torn. Those coats were put out that morning, all had been cleaned and checked and none of them had any rips in them….. not until she’d been behind a curtain for 5 minutes in our changing room in any case. The manageress called her bluff, saying that it was the shop’s policy not to sell damaged goods and therefore the coat would be removed from sale immediately. Funny how the woman was suddenly happy to pay the original price once she realised she was going to lose the coat.
Stock rotation is an utterly mind-numbing, yet vital part of retail work. It involves checking every single label on every pair of trousers, every jumper, and every blouse on each and every jam-packed clothing rail so that anything that’s been on display for longer than two weeks can be taken down in order that new items can be added. However, the moment you attempt to begin wedging your fingers between impossibly tightly packed clothes to locate a small, paper ticket, the world and its wife decide that they wish to browse the rail you’re currently working on. Another joy of stock rotation is reaching up to check every label on the highest rail in the shop - especially for vertically challenged individuals like myself. After five minutes you’ve managed to look at less than a dozen dates and your arms are now killing you!
Sooner or later, if you volunteer in a shop, you’ll probably be asked whether or not you’d like to work on the till. For me it was a vital part of my work-based learning as I’d never actually touched a cash register before in my life, however, it was a daunting prospect and a huge responsibility. As a member of the general public I’d obviously experienced many millions of transactions in my life, however, seeing things from the other side of the counter was an entirely new experience. I’d previously been spared the ‘till training’ until the new computerised one had been installed and road-tested by experts, but soon enough the day arrived where I’d be given my login details and shown how to type in codes and figures. I’d felt it only fair to warn my tutors that this would be an interesting time for all of us, including the bemused customers, but after several weeks of gentle coaxing I finally got the hang of it.
I was to undertake a trial hour in order to be certain that I would fit in, and to ensure that I'd made the right choice about volunteering in a charity shop, so the following week I turned up promptly and was put to work tidying up clothing racks; which had been left looking like a jumble sale after a large crowd of shoppers had randomly discarded unwanted items without a thought to the poor volunteers who then have to put them all back where they belong. I was mostly left to my own devices, but common sense prevailed and I simply acted like an over-enthusiastic womble until my allotted time had passed. It really wasn’t rocket science ....a pink size 12 top doesn’t belong on a rail with men’s trousers any more than a tiny child’s dress belong on a women’s jeans rail. Thankfully, once my hour was up it was all smiles as I was informed by the manager that I'd passed my test with flying colours and was duly invited to join the gang.
When job-seeking results in endless rejections on the grounds that you need “proven experience” there is only one way to gain the necessary ‘work skills’ required by prospective employers, and that’s to become a volunteer. Judging by the volume of available positions in retail I decided that the best apprenticeship I could probably undertake was in a shop, learning how to work a till and finding out all about stock rotation and so on. After careful consideration, I visited a local charity shop, whose friendly and approachable staff all welcomed me with open arms and the manager very kindly agreed to train me up in return for some free labour.