The Great Sales Races by Josh Oldridge

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

The female colleague-to-be on her third trial shift says, “Is that everything I can help you with today? … Okay, well we’re handing out these cards to all customers. The link on there is for an online survey on service in store. Any feedback is appreciated; so if I’ve been terrible, just say so –”

“You’ve been great. Very helpful.”

“Oh! well, thanks. Oh, and by completing the feedback you’re automatically entered into a prize draw to win a £100 voucher to spend in store. Here’s your bag. Have a great day.”

“Thank you.”

The duty manager has been not so secretly watching the transaction from a vantage point behind a peacock-tail display of cricket pads. He wanders over to the tills now in the large shop – quiet on a Tuesday morning – the keys for the valuable goods cabinet attached to his belt, jangling proudly by his left trouser pocket as he moves.

“Right, that was … well firstly -” He takes a step back so that she can see his arm gestures properly, “- well done. Excellent customer service – if he doesn’t fill in the online survey and give you ten out of ten then I’ll make it my personal responsibility, as duty manager, to track him down and kill him. Ha! No, I’m serious. Just one tiny little thing; instead of ‘Is that everything I can help you with?’, try ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’. It’s nothing much, but just a bit less of a closing question. Just a bit of gentle persuasion that might make the customer think: ‘Oh, actually, is that everything?’ which could get us an extra sale.”

She nods, but asks, “Why are we so focused on giving those cards out to every customer?”

“It’s how our bonus is worked out – on the number of positive feedbacks we receive. If we don’t hit our feedback target, no bonus for that quarter I’m afraid.”

The drone of the duty manager’s voice complementing the drone of the company radio station is interrupted by the automatic doors sliding open.

The duty manager is instantly triggered to greet a customer wearing a grey flannel hat. “Hi there, sir. Is there anything I can help you … oh, sorry, Gary.”

“Hello, Arron.”

“I thought today was your day off?”

Gary doesn’t explain why he’s here. “How’s things?” Gary, store manager, drags his duty manager along, metaphorically, as he cannot stop to talk on his way to the office. He glances up briefly to pull an exaggerated smile at the new potential colleague, Louise – trying to impart an impression that everything here is rosy.

“Thought today was your day off?” says Arron again, his head poking around the office door, waiting to be asked in by his senior.

Gary is hurriedly tidying the small room. “How is, erm, Louise doing?” he asks, and then bins a scrapheap of paperwork on the office desk which has buried the company laptop.

“Yeah, you know, she’s doing really well. Fantastic customer service. I was just going over one or two things about how she could do things a little more –”

“Is she going to get us out of this hole?” Gary asks, though not seriously. If he was asking a serious question he’d stare at his duty manager to press for a serious answer, but instead he continues sorting paperwork. He arranges the laptop so that the webcam looks just over the top of his desk chair and takes in the company poster behind the chair on the office wall.

Arron stares at Gary. “Are we in a hole?”

Gary removes his hat and whips off his t-shirt to replace it with a dark red company polo. He scrapes his short, receding hair across into some sort of form. “I think so. I think we are in a hole, mate. How have sales been this morning?”

“Ah, you know, steady.”

“Steady?” Gary asks, still moving documents.

“Okay,” says the duty manager. “Very steady.” Arron puts his hands on hips, and feels for his valuables key to give it a little jangle for comfort and pride. Pride in adversity. “We’ve had three customers,” he confesses.

“Three!” Gary stops. He stares at his duty manager. “It’s half past eleven – we’ve been open two-and-a-half hours and we’ve had three customers?”

Arron nods, and begins to fight his corner. “Well, you know, it’s up and down, though. Look at this time two weeks ago – you couldn’t move; couldn’t get from one side of the store to the other without stepping on a customer’s toe. We had to call in extra bodies every day that week, remember?”

“We took over six-grand on the Saturday afternoon alone, did I tell you?” Gary says, whipped into blasé reverie and an altogether happier place. “I checked about that, mate, and it’s a record for the whole area. Six-grand in four hours – never been done before. Fuck me we all worked our balls off for it.”

Arron puffs out his chest and nods, hands on hips in the doorway, pride reclaimed. “So, why are you here on your day off?”

“Because we’re in a hole.”

“But two weeks ago –”

“But this week.” Gary slumps into the desk chair and rolls up to the tidied desk. He logs onto the laptop. “Pete called me in for an area conference call, and then a chat.”

A look of concern sweeps over Arron’s face. Pete, area manager and therefore a more important person than all of the store colleagues together, is invariably the bringer of bad news. Light pats on the back when the store does something well, heavy lashes of the whip when anything remotely bad occurs – the usual management strategy Arron has found prevalent in the various big store chains he’s found himself working at.

“We’re doing everything, you know, asking all the right questions. We can’t force people to part with their money.”

“We can persuade them better,” Gary overrules.

Arron sighs. His tone turns a fraction quieter. “Only one of those customers this morning actually bought anything as well, you know.”

“You’re fucking shitting me?” says Gary.

“Yeah … no – a tube of tennis balls and a pair of goalkeeping gloves on reduction.”

“Goalkeeping gloves on reduc… We’ve paid for the lights to be switched on, then, so far today. That’s what you’re telling me?”

Duty manager Arron can say nothing, so stares down and furtively reaches for the comfort keys to give them a little jangle.

Gary sighs and leans back on the chair. “Fuck me. I’m gonna get nailed.”

“We’re asking the right questions, you know, if the company’s not going to spend on advertising then –”

We should be doing our bit to advertise. That’s what Pete said last time.”

Gary had overruled his duty manager again and his duty manager again looks to the floor. But his keys give him power. He has responsibilities to the staff. “On eight-pounds an hour there’s only so much we can do.”

Gary nods the head now held in his hands. The laptop springs into life with a telephone imitation ring and a large side-photograph of the area manager with his spiked silver hair and cleanly shaven cheeks with a little grey goatee perfectly peened at his chin.

“Anyway …”

“Good luck.” Arron leaves and closes the door.

“Hi, Gary. How are you?” asks Pete. It’s obvious he’s important since his video stream, via a perfectly stationed webcam in the modern boardroom somewhere in the country, has not one but two inspirational company posters in shot – one either side straddling the face Gary has come to loathe.

“I’m well, Pete. How are you?”

Pete does not answer. He announces to all stores participating in the conference call that monthly sales in the area are down on a rival district composed of seven stores in the same company. This ‘trouncing’ has been felt across all areas of the business. It’s a ‘whitewash’. He then asks each store manager why this is. He then swears a lot and repeats some of the latest techniques and corporate jargon expected to lift sales, and asks all managers to take what he has said and go back to work and improve, before tying up the call by jibing the rival district to make sure everyone is on his side, and asking area manager Gary to stay on the line.

Total sales and revenue this year to date have exceeded last year, at Gary’s store, and two weeks ago they’d broken records. But during this first week of the month they’ve plummeted, and why the fuck has this happened? Gary can’t answer because he isn’t allowed to call it an anomaly; they don’t exist.

“What can I do, mate? Learn to lasso and stand at the door dragging passers-by into the shop?” Gary pleads.

“I want you to stop making jokes and fucking improve before we have to cut more hours, and before we all lose our bonuses.”

“So, that’s what this is about?”

Pete doesn’t take the bait, but he does defend the argument; offering the point made by powers above him – that bonuses mean more money to spend on family. He doesn’t mention the detraction of time, though, Gary notes. In fact, Pete’s job is almost solely composed of passing on messages from that office hideout to the store managers. He’s a translator working in a blurred land, not a true manager working in reality.

“Look, learn the fucking lasso if you want, just improve sales. I’ll speak to you next week,” Pete says.

“Bye.”

“Oh, and, Gary … I do appreciate you coming in on your day off.”

“Bye,” says Gary. He slams the laptop lid and puts his head in hands.

After a couple of minutes there’s a knock on the office door. The duty manager’s head peers around it. “How’d it go?”

“As expected.”

“Well, if it helps at all we did have a few customers in while you were on the call. Bought a few bits and bobs, football shirts included. Louise gave great service as –”

“Are there any customers – sorry, that’s good news, Arron, thanks but – are there any customers in right now?”

“Not right now, actually.”

Gary rises to his feet and runs a hand down his face, making an expression as though he’s just woken up. “Have you asked the new girl if she rides?”

A smirk rises on Arron’s cheeks. “I have.”

“And?” Gary loosens a button on the company polo.

“She’s interested.”

The two managers run out onto the shop floor, past the basketball bin and the bikes, and to the stand with the foot-scooters arranged in excessively sharp fonts and brash colours to appeal to kids craving extreme fun.

“Nobody can report me because I’m not here – it’s my day off,” yells store manager Gary, as he whizzes through putting club lane and the avenue of football boots.

“Yes they can!” Arron is pushing as hard as he can to try and keep up. “You know you’ve still got the polo on, Gary.”

Gary verifies this, stops, and whips off the polo. He hangs it on the head of a mannequin doing its utmost to advertise hi-vis running gear; then zooms off again. “I love this job!” yells the shirtless store manager. “Come on, Louise. One of the perks.”

“Shouldn’t we –”

“Come on. As your manager, I insist. Going against your manager when you’ve just started is very serious.”

Louise tentatively selects a scooter from the stand, and with the drone of store radio, the panting from duty manager Arron, and yells from store manager Gary, none of the colleagues hear the automatic doors slide open as customers come and go while Louise, for the next fifteen minutes, earns just shy of two pounds for scooting at her own pace over the buffed floor.

About The Author

Josh Oldridge recently graduated as a mature student from the University of Exeter (Penryn Campus). His work has been shortlisted in the Mind annual short story competition and was included in this year’s edition of the university’s student showcase publication, Q Journal.

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