There are only three shopping days left before Christmas, and everyone, including myself is in the shop ‘til you drop mindset. This is surely the most challenge time of year to work in retail; the number of customers is high and their patience is low. In the spirit of, “go big or go home,” what better time is there to see if I can cut it in sales? I have a passion for shopping; maybe I could develop a passion for helping others shop.
The lovely ladies at North River Outfitters, on Charles Street in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston were kind enough to let me help them out on a recent Saturday. They have just moved into a new space (right next door from the former incarnation of NRO) that allows for more space to display their well-edited collection for men and women that includes Tory Burch, Elizabeth McKay, Vineyard Vines and Barbour. They are also one of the few retailers of Alden shoes, the New England cobblers. The day I was there they were hosting an Elizabeth McKay trunk show, so I wore my favorite silk blouse of hers so that I would look the part of retail goddess.
Kathleen Godbold, the manager of this NRO store (there are two other NRO stores on Charles Street, as well as on Martha’s Vineyard), started out by walking me around, and giving me some retail tips. The first one made me feel as if I may really be cut out for retail. When Kathleen said, “We always want things to look neat,” I dorked-out and I felt a goofy grin spread across my face. I too like things to be neat, so walking around the store straightening piles of fleeces and making sure the spines of the beautiful books on display here line up completely evenly sounded more of a treat than a chore. I thought that I may be just Type-A enough to succeed at this.
Then just as quickly, my perfectionist status betrayed me. The store got very busy, customers were finding treasurers for their family and friends, and logic dictated that I should approach one of them and ask if they needed any help. But I knew that unless they had a subjective question (Do I get the green or black Barbour motorcycle jacket?) for which I could rely on my style acumen, I wouldn’t really be able to help them. I didn’t know if there were additional sizes in the back, and I didn’t know exactly how the merchandise was organized, if the price was not clearly marked on an item, I would not know how to find out how much it cost without asking someone else.
If I asked someone if they needed help, and they took me up on that offer, what was I going to say? “Hold on just a moment and I will find the answer to that question for you.” Well, yes, that would have been the perfectly acceptable answer, but for some reason I felt embarrassed to let customers know that I didn’t know what I was doing. When I realized this emotion rising up in me was insecurity, I felt ashamed. Why was I concerned if someone knew that I am not a seasoned retail professional? Couldn’t I just explain that I am a blogger who tires different jobs and activities on the search for my next passion in life? I could call it grassroots marketing for The Great Wide Open. My perfectionist tendencies seem to be hard to shake off.
I was lucky to have some dear friends come in to shop early on, so I got to warm up with friendly faces and then I just had to jump into the deep end. The amazing NRO ladies, Kathleen, Josie and Maggie, where so helpful throughout the afternoon and we were able to seamlessly tag team with customers when I needed their help. I managed to help one woman, and while I waited to ring her up (the last time I worked in customer service, during college, cash registers were the standard, now everything is on computers, and I am not good with computers, so I needed a lot of assistance) I grew concerned that she was getting impatient, so I explained that it was taking a while because I had been working retail for exactly 45 minutes. It turns out she was not impatient at all. She laughed and complemented me on my courage to take on this challenge in late December. We started chatting about this blog, and her daughter’s upcoming wedding. It turns out that, like me, she attended Colby, and on top of that, I knew her daughter from college! Instead of feeling ashamed about being slow at ringing her up, I ended up reveling in my extra time with her.
After that sale, I was buoyed with newfound confidence. I approached many more customers, showed them to fitting rooms, offered fashion advice, found them different sizes, I even pulled items off the mannequins in the window when it caught someone’s eye. Yes, I had to ask a lot of questions, but I become more comfortable with that as well. Everyone was so nice, I could see exactly why Kathleen says the best part of her job is her customers.
By the end of the day I felt silly for being so embarrassed about my status as the newest member of the NRO team. This blog has been a great vehicle for me to slough off my perfectionist ways, but it seems my Type-A rehabilitation is a marathon, not a sprint. I will keep trying new and different things, searching for what I am passionate about, and (slowly) becoming a mellower version of myself in the process.
If you live in Boston and are in need of the perfect last-minute gift, scoot on over to the NRO shops (NRO, NRO Kids and NRO Sport), they have an amazing collection of apparel and accessories for everyone on your list from: from newborn to parents, fashionistas to adventurers. I must thank Marie, Kathleen, Josie and Maggie for being so kind and patient with me. I would also like to thank all of NRO’s customers who were equally patient. I was not compensated in any way for this post.