The Demise of Circuit City: A Journal
© Jon Gallagher 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The store director, Tim, and I closed the store tonight. He told me that in the next couple weeks, I’d be taking over more and more duties of a manager, so tonight, he walked through closing procedures with me. I even got my own pass code for the alarm system.
We really didn’t hear any news today about the sale. The latest we have is that there are two “highly motivated buyers” and that they were working with them, trying to secure financing. I don’t understand a lot about any of that stuff, but then again, I don’t think I’m going to need to with the role that I’ll have in the store.
The drive home was uneventful but I couldn’t help thinking about the video message CEO Jim Marcum sent us prior to Black Friday. I don’t think he cracked a smile once during the message and the gist of the whole thing was that we really needed to do extremely well on Black Friday and throughout the Christmas season. I told one of the Firedog technicians that if we didn’t have a good Black Friday, then I was worried about how long the company would stay open.
I remember pulling into our parking lot on the day after Thanksgiving at 4AM. In the past five years, the line of customers waiting to get in the door had stretched down the entire front of our building, and snaked around the corner. Last year (2007), the line kept going, clear down the other side of the building, across the parking lot, out into the street and clear back to the driveway of the motel behind us. It was estimated that we had 1500 people in line. This year, the line didn’t even make it to the corner of the building.
Last year, the Fire Marshall limited us to 450 people at a time in our store. We had someone posted at the front door with a counter and when it hit 450, he would stop the line and then those in line would have to wait till someone came out. The same battle plan was in place this year… except that we never got to 450.
I checked the internet when I got home for any stories or news of the sale. The only thing I found was that Circuit City received a bid of four million dollars for their corporate jet. We have our own jet? Wow. Blockbuster executives fly commercial. Wal-Mart executives fly coach! But we have our own jet! If we get bought out, I hope some heads roll at corporate for whoever made the decision to purchase our own jet!
Friday, January 16, 2009
Obviously, I’m writing this when I already know the outcome. It’s been one hell of a day.
Today was our weekly sales managers meeting. At 8:30 AM, we gather to discuss the upcoming ad and how we’ll make our associates aware of what deals are being offered. By doing this, we focus on what will make the company the most money or be the most profitable items to sell. The first part of the meeting with Tim was spent discussing the sale. From what he’s been told by our district manager, it looked like we were being purchased by ____. The only thing I knew about them is that they were a store in the mall.
The guy from Mexico, Salinas, evidently didn’t want the whole chain. He was looking to buy just everything on the west coast, so that didn’t go over with our corporate people.
We adjourned the meeting at 9:30AM and prepared for the opening meeting which would take place at 9:45 with all associates who were opening the store. Just before we opened the doors, at 9:59 AM, Tim assured us that he’d just talked to the district manager and things were still looking good.
At 10:01, the first story hit the internet. Tim read it at his desk, then summoned his management staff to the office. I was a little late getting there because I was busy with one of the early bird customers so by the time I got to the office, everyone else knew. Tim was pretty down about it and told us that he didn’t care if we stood around all day, surfing the internet, and posting job resumes. We shouldn’t be real obvious about it, and we should help customers first, but other than that, he didn’t care.
As the word filtered through the store, the reaction was universal. Shock was followed by disbelief. Disbelief was followed by anger. Anger was followed by an apathy that would probably continue until the day they lock our doors. Almost everyone went outside for a smoke whether they smoked or not, and I don’t doubt that if alcohol were available at that time of the morning and close by, most of our staff would have been snockered by noon.
I stepped outside to call three people. The first was my wife. She took the news as well as one could expect. She didn’t say much and there was just a lot of uncomfortable silence on her end of the conversation.
The second call went to Levi, one of our Firedog techs. He and Ashley, a technology sales associate, are on vacation in California and I wanted to tell them in case they didn’t hear. By the time I’d called them, which was about 11:30 our time (9:30 their time), they’d already read the reports on the internet. Ashley reminded me that they were relaxing in 80 degree weather. My car’s digital readout this morning was a negative 23 degrees. Hard to believe there’s 103 degrees difference between here and Southern California.
The third call went to my son-in-law Erik who is also one of our Firedog techs. He and my daughter have been married for just over a year and he’s been with Circuit City for about nine months. Again, there was the same shock and disbelief that is running so rampant.
The store was dead customer wise. All the stories are saying that the liquidation sale starts tomorrow, but by the time I’d left the store tonight, we didn’t have any information at all from our district manager. There’s also been no communication to the store by Jim Marcum, our acting CEO who is famous for keeping us all in the dark.
Midway through the day, Circuit City did their damnedest to keep us from contacting the outside world. Whoever runs our internet and censors the sites we can visit from the store’s computers, shut off all access to hotmail, gmail, and any other e-mail services. This lasted a few hours, probably to keep employees from communicating silently with the media.
I’m worried about my fellow employees. Katie, the supervisor for the car audio department is a single mom just trying to make ends meet. Tim’s wife is seven and half months pregnant and he’s worried that we’ll close before she has the baby and that he won’t have any insurance. Chris, one of our Customer Service Associates is also a single mom, and she cares for her own mother as well. Another Chris, this one a guy, is a supervisor in the TV department and he’s almost as old as I am. It won’t be easy for him to find a job. Joel, our warehouse supervisor, has been here almost since the store opened and he has a hefty child support payment taken out of his check every two weeks for a daughter he never even gets to see. Nicole, the supervisor of the CSAs is a new mom. Sara, the operations manager, has a husband and a young son. Firedog Chris (our store has three Chrises… down from a high of eight), has three kids and a wife who’s a stay-at-home mom. He’s got a second full time job, but he depends on both incomes. Because he works a second full time job, he won’t be eligible for unemployment. Tyler, one of the TV salesmen, just bought a house. Our former operations manager who moved on to his own store in Bloomington just bought a house.
There are a ton of stories that will come out of this. Thirty-four thousand people nationwide are losing their job on account of this. That’s just about the size of Galesburg IL, a city just 45 miles away from here and where I basically grew up.
Many of the Circuit Cites around have high school and college kids who make up their sales teams. We’re a little different. About half of our sales force are kids but the rest of us are older and have families.
There’s a mom and pop TV store here in Peoria that runs commercials during the local news. The owner is their spokesman and he makes a big deal out of how in the “Big Box Stores,” the faces change every month. That’s something else atypical about Peoria. Most of us have been here for at least three years. I’ve been here for five and a half years and there are at least seven others who have been here longer than me.
I’m slightly worried about myself, but I do have some talents. I’ve been trying for a year to find a literary agent for a novel I’ve written. I’ve had two go-rounds where I’ve made my living as a professional magician, so I could always do that again. I think my teaching certificate is still valid, but no one hires at this time of year, so I’d have to find a way to survive until August. And then there’s the fact that I’m no spring chicken at 52.
I got home around 8PM. My wife and daughter are spending the night out at her mom and dad’s so they can get an early start on Saturday’s activities. I came in and sat down in front of the computer and just stared at it for a while. I didn’t even turn it on.
I remember back in 1968, when I was in 6th grade, my dad was a truck driver for the Illinois State Highway Department. He was a staunch Democrat and all state jobs were political patronage jobs. We went into election night confident that our candidate for governor would be elected and my dad would have a job the next morning. When we went to bed that night, Sam Shapiro, the Democratic candidate was slightly ahead of Richard Ogilvie.
When I got up the next morning, the house had a chill and there were no lights on. I didn’t even have to ask, but I did anyway. Mom just shook her head. I felt a lump in my stomach the size of a basketball. I wondered how long they’d let Dad work and how we’d ever survive.
I wonder if that’s how my wife and child are feeling now.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The vultures have descended.
I pulled into the parking lot this morning at 9:30 as normal for a Saturday morning. The lot was full already with major traffic jams at all the parking aisles as some of the vultures who showed up for the first day of our Going Out of Business Sale jockeyed for a place to park. A Black Friday like line was already forming at our front door and snaking its way toward the corner of the building. My God, there were more people in line this morning than there was the day after Thanksgiving.
When I walked in the store, it felt a lot like it did back in ’68. There was the same chill in the air and the employees who were already there were wandering around in a zombie like state. The warehouse team had been hard at work on the store already, tearing down signs for the “One Price Promise” and the “Unbeatable Price Guarantee,” piling them in a heap just inside the warehouse door.
I headed back to the breakroom/office area at the rear of the store to leave my coat, and see if there was any word from Corporate. Tim’s door was shut, so that meant he was either on a conference call, or he had someone in there with him. I didn’t really care which, so I knocked once and opened the door.
Tim was on one side of his desk with a guy about my age on the other. Tim introduced him as “The Liquidator,” and immediately, I wondered why Vince McMahon had never had a character like this in the WWE. This guy was hardly a wrestler but he did speak with authority, softened a bit by a trace of a southern accent. After being introduced to him, I was asked to go out and run the morning sales meeting till they got there.
Run the sales meeting? What the heck was I going to say to a crew of disgruntled, depressed employees who didn’t want to be there?
I started by telling them that I didn’t know anything, but that we shouldn’t take out our anger on the customers. I reminded them that some of the people shopping here over the next few weeks probably either owned or managed businesses where we might be able to get a job. “Treat everyone like they might be your new boss until they prove differently,” was what I said. About that time Tim and the Liquidator arrived. It was just as well because the vultures outside our front door were pounding on the glass wanting in.
Tim turned it over to the Liquidator who told us that he wasn’t there to make our lives miserable, nor was he there to rule with an iron hand. He told us that he’d been on both sides of the fence, having worked for a store that was closing as well as being the supervisor of the liquidation process. He said that we knew how to run the store and he was going to rely on us to do so. He also said that over the next few weeks, he knew we were going to be looking for jobs and that if we needed to take an hour or two off for an interview, to let our immediate supervisor know and that they’d work with us.
Before he started talking, the employees weren’t really fearful of him, but they were skeptical. His easy going tone and manner eased some of the skepticism, but the fear, mainly of the vultures poised outside, still remained.
Then he gave the rules for the day as the vultures started banging with more of a purpose. Most of the store would be 10% off. There were selected items such as cables and furniture that would be 30% off. All CDs and DVDs would be 20% off. We no longer accepted checks, the price guarantee was gone, all sales were final, and we would no longer accept the Circuit City branded credit card. None of the prices in the computer had changed, so after ringing up the sale, we’d have to go in and adjust the price manually. That meant it was going to be a long day.
When the doors opened, it was obvious that we were severely understaffed. No one had changed the schedule to bolster employee hours, and no one else had been called into work. I don’t know why. The wave of people that came through the front door was reminiscent of a Black Friday crowd, the vultures who were looking for something for close to nothing.
Before the doors officially opened, I walked back through the warehouse to see how the Product Flow Team was doing and to see if they had any kind of gossip. They were all busy, but I noticed that there were some packages that had just been delivered and opened. They contained our “Going out of Business” signs and there were a bunch. I wondered how they got those to us so quickly. It had to be a local company who printed them for us.
Wrong. They’d been printed near our home offices in Richmond, VA and they had been shipped to us overnight. I started doing some mental mathematics and nearly sprained my occipital lobe. But I did figure out that they had to have the signs printed no later than two o’clock Friday afternoon. I’m sure it was a rush job, but unless these were a stock design, I think someone knew the sale had failed long before we knew.
Later on in the morning, I overheard the Liquidator talking to someone and saying he was from Ohio. I asked him how long it took him to get here since he’d been here since 8AM or before, and he told me that he’d arrived last night and got a good night’s sleep. He had been notified at 1:00 AM on Friday morning that the sale had not gone through and that he was being assigned to Peoria. That was nine hours before the news broke on the wire services. That was nine hours before anyone in our store knew. During that nine hour period, someone had to have known, but not one person in upper management, from the regional office to executive offices had the decency to call anyone below them to pass along the bad news.
I wonder how long it will be before we hear from CEO Jim Marcum. Or for that matter, IF we will hear from him.
Lines were long, the store was noisy, and none of us wanted to be there. My job, for the most part, was either manning a cash register or running around solving problems that kept cropping up. People would complain that ten percent wasn’t enough of a discount or that the lines were too long. Some complained because they couldn’t find help.
I tried to explain to some of them in a civil tone that we weren’t exactly staffed for the number of customers we had. One lady didn’t want to hear excuses. “That’s why you’re going out of business,” she sneered. “You don’t plan ahead.”
“Lady,” I replied, “We only found out we were going out of business about 24 hours ago. We didn’t have a chance to plan.”
By mid-afternoon, all civility had taken a prolonged vacation along with every piece of playful banter among employees and customer, all smiles, and patience, both among employees and customers. One problem I handled as a manager involved the purchase of two CDs. The employee had used a calculator to figure the discount and made the adjustment, but the customer didn’t think it was enough of a discount. It didn’t take long to determine that the whole thing revolved around the 8% Illinois sales tax; the customer hadn’t taken that into account. He still complained, loudly, that he wasn’t getting much of a discount. I said, “You know what? Everybody here has just found out that they don’t have a job in a few weeks and you’re complaining about a couple of bucks. I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of sympathy here.” He left in a huff.
We’d done more than $100,000 by the time I left the store at 6:30. I could have probably worked till 10:00, but my in-laws got us tickets for Spamalot tonight, and I thought that would provide a needed distraction.
My last customer of the night bought a computer system that had been on display and was the last remaining of its kind. They were an older couple who didn’t know a lot about computers and knew nothing about how to set it up. They would have been the perfect candidates for our Firedog in-home service that we were so proud of just a week ago. For a fee, Chris, our in-home Firedog tech would have gone out to their home, set up the computer and given them about an hour’s training on it. As of yesterday, we no longer offer that service.
Instead, since they live out by me, I gave them my phone number and told them that if they had any problems setting it up, to give me a call and I’d come over and do it. They assured me I’d be getting a call. We would have charged them between $100-150 to do the in home service. I didn’t give them a price for me to do it, leaving the price up to them.
As for Spamalot, the show was good, funny, and entertaining, but I think I’d have enjoyed it more if I didn’t have this damn cloud hanging over my head with the one question that won’t go away: Where am I gonna find a job that pays $13 an hour in this economy?
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Now the fun begins.
Again, the vultures were out in full force, waiting in their cars as I pulled up this morning. Once inside, I realized that this was going to be the day from Hell.
The Liquidator began the meeting this morning by announcing that they weren’t able to stop the weekly advertisement from going in the paper. Thinking back to Friday morning and when we all went over the ad to see what kind of deals we were going to have this week, I couldn’t help but thinking how long ago that seemed, even though it had been just 48 hours ago.
The Liquidator then told us that we weren’t honoring the ad unless someone walked in with it and made a big deal out of it. Prices had been raised to Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price on everything in the store and the discounts were to be taken off that. Since the sale prices were better than the discount, we would be able to either give the discount off MSRP or give the sale price, but not both. In other words, if someone came in for a computer that we had on sale for $599, but the MSRP was $799, then they could get it for either ten percent off the $799, or they could get it for $599, but no further discounts would apply.
This would cause major problems throughout the day. Customers demanded that they be given a discount off the sale price, but we couldn’t do anything about it. Well, we could. If the customer bitched enough, we did have the power to change the price as we need to. This is going to lead to problems that no one has thought of yet, and I’m not sure I want to be around to see them or handle them.
Each morning, a print out will list each and every markdown we’ve done and give the employee’s name who did the markdown. That means the Liquidator will know who ignored his instructions not to give the additional ten percent off on sale merchandise. A lot is going to depend on how he reacts. If he’s pissed and comes down hard on people, I don’t think we’ll retain a lot of employees till the end. If he says nothing at all, then our employees will eat him alive and discounts will run rampant. His best choice is going to be to take a middle road, be understanding, yet firm, especially if there’s one or two employees who do it all the time. Only time will tell.
And again, throughout the day, we heard customers reciting the mantra, “That’s why you’re going out of business,” whenever they didn’t get their way. Oh my goodness! Can’t they come up with something original?
That statement never ever follows an intelligent statement. It never comes after something like “Your company spent too much money on the new Point of Sale system,” or “That ‘One Price Promise’ was one of the stupidest ad campaigns in the history of retail.” It always comes after we refuse to do something that will benefit ONLY that one customer.
Here’s an example. A customer came back in with a computer they’d purchased last October. She’d dropped it and the screen was shattered. She did NOT have the extended service that covers accidents. In fact, since I had been the one who sold her the computer to begin with, I’d electronically notated her receipt “customer refused extended service. Said she’d be careful.” I pointed this out to her along with the fact that since we’re going out of business, we no longer have technicians. She still thought we ought to be responsible since she obviously was not.
There was a legitimate problem today with a customer. She had bought something yesterday that didn’t work as soon as she took it out of the box (an MP3 player, I think). She just wanted to exchange it for one that did work. With the new rules in effect – no refunds, no exchanges – we went to the Liquidator to make sure we could do it. He said “absolutely not.” He suggested that she call the manufacturer since it was clearly under their warrantee. We told him that we needed to “take care of the customer,” but he said, “I don’t give a sh*t about the customer. We’re not going to be here in two months.”
We waited until he had gone to the Bloomington store (where he’s also in charge) and then we performed the exchange. Some habits die hard.
By the end of the day, my brain ached from doing mathematical calisthenics all day long. I watched the clock, which I swear someone painted on the wall, and when it struck 7:00, I put as much distance between myself and the store as quickly as I could.
When I got home, I “officially” started the blog that I’ve been working on to keep everyone informed as to where we all go. Website is circuitcity3167.wordpress.com.
Monday January 19, 2009
I worked a 5:00PM to close shift tonight. We received a truck today so there’s some more product in the store than we had yesterday. Three hundred and forty two pieces to be exact.
One thing that Tim pushed yesterday that I haven’t mentioned is watching, not only customers, but employees who might be stealing from us. I guess the way things typically run is that after the disbelief comes anger and after the anger comes the thought that it’s okay to steal because the company is going out of business anyway. He reported that 75 employees across the US were arrested over the weekend for one form of theft or another.
He told of an employee at a nearby store that we all knew of here in Peoria. Someone in management in that store had supposedly been arrested that day for taking markdowns on stuff that she had already purchased previously. I’m going to check out this story a little further because something about it sounds fishy.
Traffic has slowed down a lot. Seems the word got out that we raised the prices on everything before taking the discount.
When I got home, I worked on the blog some more. Nothing to report there.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
It was my day off, but I kept busy by applying for a bunch of jobs online. Many of them were blind ads, but I recognized several of the companies where I applied. I suppose I should, but I won’t list them here.
I did spend part of the day surfing the internet, looking for news stories about our stores. Most of them were negative, telling about how we raised our prices and then took a discount. One of the stories was from the Richmond Times-Dispatch and it contained quotes from several people at our home office. For the most part, they blamed the stores for not following the directives that they put out.
This pissed me off enough to go back to the blog and post a scathing reply. I’m calmed down a little now, but this was ridiculous to put all the blame on the stores. I think when all is said and done, the blame will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the executives who mismanaged money, bought too much of certain products, spent too much money on things that didn’t have a prayer of working, and having WAY too many people at the top of the organization.
The one big thing that I look back on is what happened two years ago when Phil Schoonover decided that the company had a lot of people who were making too much money at their jobs. He drew a line in the sand and anyone who was making over a certain amount was marked for termination.
There’s two sides to every story and I can see both sides. We had six people in our store who were let go because they were making too much money. One of the girls who was let go bragged once about how she had made more than $33,000 the year before. That’s more than twice what I made at the same job. Granted, she was better at the job that I was, but she’d been at it for nearly ten years and I had about three years under my belt. Was she worth twice as much as me? Not hardly. Should she have been fired because she made too much money. Absolutely not.
Circuit City had two choices, as I see it. They could have just waited for natural attrition to get rid of the 3400 people they ended up firing (nationwide), or they could have come to them, offered them less money, but retained them.
Schoonover’s thinking, had they done this, probably centered around how much the 3400 would have hurt the company in the long run. Many would probably have taken a lower wage, but they would have probably slacked off, not made as many sales, or even sabotaged sales efforts at the store.
Instead, in the end, Schoonover cut 3400 jobs which resulted in horrendous publicity for the company. Our store noticed a downturn in sales, and it wasn’t because of inexperienced salespeople; out of the six people who lost their jobs, only two were salespeople. Two were Customer Service Associates, one was a car audio installer, and the other was a merchandise specialist. Nationally, most of the people fell into the sales category. Circuit City elected to replace the 3400 with inexperienced, younger people, most who were either high school or college age.
This mean that Phil Schoonover put his future and the future of the company in the hands of high school and college kids. I’m sorry, but I used to be a high school teacher and there’s no way I would entrust the well being of a company like Circuit City to someone that young who had no vested interest in the success of the company as a whole.
The store got a small truck today, 100 pieces exactly.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
This was my second day off in a row, and not much is going on Circuit City wise. I took a break from surfing the internet for stories about the company and instead concentrated on looking for a new job. If I find one, I’m leaving as soon as the new company needs me. I hate to do that to Tim, but I’ve got to look out for myself and my family before I look after the interests of Circuit City or even those in our store.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
This was supposed to be my night to close. When the schedule was printed up, I was listed as the closing manager, but the liquidation company has decided that a salaried manager has to be on duty at all times. Those of us who are designated as “supervisors,” even though we’re considered part of the management team, are not all to be left alone in the store. They don’t trust us. In fact, they’ve asked for our keys to the store.
Tim talked with our district manager about this. The DM told him that Peoria had the best supervisory team in the region and that he had no problem with all of us keeping our keys. It’s reassuring that the DM thinks so highly of us, but we’re not working for him anymore. We’re working for a liquidation company that doesn’t trust us.
Speaking of trust, they’re running the same stories by us about how tons of people have been arrested for stealing. I ran a search on news stories and came up with zero. I’d think that if that many employees had really been arrested, that would make big news, especially given the way that the media is looking to portray Circuit City recently.
We got a truck today with 677 pieces on it. The store’s starting to look like a pre-holiday store with all the stock. They’ve told us that we’ll get “a few” more trucks, but that they want the warehouse in Marion cleared out to the walls by the first week of February.
XM-radio, who had been supplying all the XM radios in the store, including the one we played constantly on the overhead PA system, cut the signal to our store today. Where we once had perky pop music blaring out of hidden overhead speakers, it’s now eerily quiet. Nothing. Silence.
It made the four hour shift drag by.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Most of the feeding frenzy from last weekend has dissipated. The bargain hunters, for the most part, are gone, realizing that there’s not a whole lot of bargain in getting a low percentage off the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.
What this means is that some of our regular customers are coming back in the store. It may seem strange that we have “regular” customers because we don’t have a lot of repeat business like a video rental store or a gas station would have. But there are lots of people who have bought two or three computers from us, and they know us. We’ve taken the time to answer their questions, set up their computers for them, and helped with minor glitches along the way. Because of this, these customers come back to us whenever they need something electronic whether it be a big screen TV or just some new releases over in the DVD department.
Shika is one of our most regular customers. Shika buys a lot of computers, but she is probably as anxious to learn about how they operate as any person I’ve ever seen. She comes in about once a week, and while she doesn’t always buy anything, she does spend at least an hour, discussing the latest problem with her computer or just picking our brains.
Shika came in today and offered her condolences. She also gave us a pep talk and offered little tidbits of optimism that at least one of us (me) appreciated. She’s a pretty classy lady.
Pam’s another regular. She bought a computer from us about a year ago and got the extended warrantee. She’s been in from time to time on small issues that usually take no more than a simple explanation. Back in December, she had a more serious problem.
It was right before semester finals at the nursing school where she attended. The teacher’s lectures had all been on a Power Point presentation and the teacher gave the students a disc with every lecture on it so that they could study for finals. Pam’s computer had stopped working just before the final class and she only had a few days before the final test.
We gave her the bad news. Her computer’s mother board needed replaced and that’s something we didn’t do at the store. We’d have to send it off to the manufacturer. The good news was that it wouldn’t cost her anything because she had the extended service.
Then came the problem. She didn’t have a computer to use to study the Power Point presentations that her teacher had given her. She had the weekend to study for a Monday test, but no way to view the material. It was against store policy to give a ‘loaner’ computer, but we bent over backwards to try and help her. Pam was around my age and I remember what it was like to be a non-traditional student, so I was willing to do anything I could to help her get her nursing degree.
I took one of our open box computers and gave it to her. I told her I expected it back as soon as her computer came back, but this way, she had a way to study for her test. She was so appreciative, she broke down in tears. I knew at that point that there was going to be no problem getting our computer back.
She returned the computer a few days after Christmas with the news that she’d gotten a B+ on her final. She said she’d recommend us to anyone who was looking for a computer.
She returned today again to say thanks and to tell us all goodbye. She broke down in tears again, and for a few minutes there, I wasn’t sure I was going to or not. That’s the rules for me: no tears.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I’ve come to hate cell phones over the last five years. Since they’ve become affordable for everyone, everyone has one and it seems that they can’t go a minute of their lives without being connected to someone telephonically.
Customers with cell phones are the worst. They get on the thing and carry on a conversation with God-knows-who while they’re shopping. I remember when I first came back to the computer department, we had a little twerp of a guy on his phone, disrupting the entire department. He didn’t realize it but he was screaming into his phone and you could hear his side of the conversation from about a football field away. After about five minutes of him in the department, I went up to him and told him he either go outside and scream at his caller, or he was going to have to give me the phone for disposal in the nearest toilet. He left.
Most customers who came into our department in the past using cell phones were on the phone with their “computer guru,” a mythical figure who knows more about the computers that he can’t see than we as salesmen do. Because of this and the frequent arguments that evolve on account of the cell phone conversations, I’ve instructed all my employees to steer clear of customers talking on a cell phone. After all, we’re polite enough that we wouldn’t want to interrupt their conversation.
Today a woman came to our department with a cell phone pressed to her ear. We were all pretty busy with other customers, but noted that she was having a conversation with someone else. Not long after she entered the department, she took the phone away from her ear and yelled, “CAN I GET SOME HELP OVER HERE?” and went right back to talking on the phone. When I went up to her, I found that she was talking to a friend about clothing and what someone had been wearing that she wouldn’t have put on if her life depended on it. I stood there, not interrupting, my hands clasped behind my back. She continued to talk to whoever about the club they were planning to go to that night, completely ignoring me. I turned and walked away.
Within 30 seconds, she had dropped the phone to her side and once again was bellowing, “CAN I GET SOME F***ING HELP HERE?”
This time, I didn’t go over to her. I just yelled over my shoulder, “No,” and went on about my business.
She came charging over like a baseball manager about to debate a call with an umpire. “What do you mean ‘no?’” she screamed. I almost felt sorry for whoever it was she was talking to on the phone.
“No,” I repeated. “Evidently, you’re too busy yakking away on the phone to pay attention to what’s going on here, you’re being rude, and we just aren’t going to be able to help you.” She went back to her phone conversation, bitching and complaining about the mean old guy in the computer department who wouldn’t help her.
Another customer standing nearby came up and said, “I wish everyone would act like you.”
“Yeah, well I wish I could have taken that cell phone of hers and seen how far I could throw it.”
That would have been great. It would have made me feel really good inside. But I’ve gotten kind of used to going to the bank every couple weeks, and eating semi regularly. No need for that to end any sooner than it has to.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
We had a few more regulars in the store today. Since I worked the first three years as a Customer Service Associate, I’ve gotten so I know a lot of the people who come in on Sundays, either for the stuff in the new ad or for their weekly supply of blank CDs or DVDs. Most have come up to me and told me how sorry they’re going to be to see us go out of business. Again, there were a few times today where I had to take deep breaths to compose myself.
One guy who comes in regularly to by blank CDs made it into the store this afternoon. He grabbed his regular stash of four spindles (50 blank CDs per spindle) and came up to my counter.
“I don’t think you’re going to want these,” I warned.
“Whatchoo mean I won’t want ‘em?” he said in a heavily accented, totally street savvy accent (he’s white, but sounds black). “I always buys these.”
“Okay,” I smiled. I scanned all four spindles into the cash register and announced his total. It was over a hundred bucks.
I’d have gotten less of a reaction out of him if I’d have smashed his hand with a ball peen hammer. He started dancing and prancing, making signs in the air with his hands that looked like he was trying to either shake out an arthritic condition, or imitate Eminem, or Reece’s Pieces, or Skittles or whoever the latest rap star is this week.
When he calmed down (it was quite a show he put on, complete with a feigned heart seizure), I explained that the price on everything had been raised to MSRP and then discounted. He muttered a few swear words and questioned the marital status of the parents of some of our executives when they were born, then left the store.
At least we were entertained for a while.
When I got home, I went to a chat room full of Circuit City alumni. There was the expected bitching and bellyaching going on, but one member of the chat had some very interesting accusations to make.
He worked in the Atlanta market, one of the areas that closed all their stores prior to Christmas. His district manager supposedly told him prior to Black Friday that the entire chain would shut down by Spring. His reasoning was pretty sound.
First, they didn’t close the 155 least profitable stores. They closed a lot that were unprofitable, but if you look at a map of those that closed, it was more of a strategic closing than economic closing. Sure, economics played a major part, but just because a store wasn’t profitable was no sign it was being closed. He said that they knew when they closed the first 155, they’d be filing bankruptcy and so the closure of the first 155 ended up being just the first step.
He went on to say that the company knew that no matter how good we did on Black Friday, we were still going to close just after the holidays.
He says all of this was told to him by his DM prior to Black Friday. It could have been a disgruntled employee, but this guy sounded a little more intelligent than someone who was just angry at the whole going out of business thing. Besides, he’s had time to get over his anger (his store closed prior to Black Friday) while the rest of us were still wanting the head and testicles of any and all CC executives.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Oh my God! We received a truck today with 1358 pieces on it. According to Joel, our warehouse guy, that’s the largest truck we’ve ever received. Our inventory has gone from 1.2 million dollars to 2.2 million dollars in just two weeks time. The warehouse is busting at the seams and the store looks full. It’s amazing.
The entire Product Flow Team looks like they could kill someone if the wrong phrase was uttered. They’re tired from unloading the truck and they’re even more tired from putting it out on the shelves.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Today the truck was a mere 211 pieces. That doesn’t even include the UPS shipments that we get that contain DVDs and CDs.
The mood today was a little better than it has been in the past couple weeks. I think part of it has to do with the store being full of product, but a major part of it has to be tonight’s party. Zach, our assistant manager, has organized a get-together at Buffalo Wild Wings for all current and past employees that will get started tonight after the store closes at 10PM.
I’m not going for a few reasons. First, a lot of our people are underage, but that’s not going to stop them from drinking. We’ll have our own little room at the restaurant/bar and the underage kids will just get someone who is old enough to buy them alcohol. That’s an arrest waiting to happen.
The big reason I’m not going is because I don’t think I can handle it emotionally. I really like and care about the people I work with and although we’ve still got a few weeks left at the store, this will be the first step in saying goodbye. Out of everything that we’ll go through, that will be the single hardest thing to do.
January 31, 2009
I was right about the party and the underage drinking. A guy who used to work for us who got fired because he couldn’t control his drinking (he was and still is under 21) showed up last night, and as always, he was running his mouth like he does when he gets drunk. Unfortunately, he ran it in the direction of one of our newer salesmen and his girlfriend. By the time the dust had cleared, the ex-employee had managed to bounce his face off the current employee’s fist several times. The police showed up and ended up arresting the ex-employee for, you guessed it, underage drinking.
Because the party didn’t break up until around 4AM, most of the store this morning was dealing with a rather sizable hangover.
I don’t know what happened inside the store today, but we’ve had the trashiest people I’ve ever seen. We’re used to dealing with professionals or at least people who can construct a grammatically correct sentence. The customers today would have been better off buying soap and deodorant than electronics.
One person suggested that a lot of our business today was the result of people getting their W-2 forms in the mail. Lawfully, the W-2s had to be sent out by today which means most companies sent them out this week. A lot of the customers we had today were using debit cards from either H & R Block or Jackson-Hewitt Tax Services. They had large refunds coming back to them and didn’t care that they were having to pay loan shark interest rates to get the money now rather than waiting a few days for the government to directly deposit their refunds into their bank accounts.
One lady I had who bought a laptop had two kids in the shopping cart that she was pushing. She kept telling them to shut the f*** up, and how ugly and stupid they were. The kids were not being bad; they were being kids.
As per our policy, I took down her phone number and her name and address for the transaction. When I finished, I made sure I had a copy of it. Then I laid into her myself.
“Lady,” I said, “Those kids are being good. One of these days you’re going to tell them to shut up and they’re going to be big enough to knock you across the room. I wish I was able to see that.”
She started to insult me and ask for my manager. “No problem. But I should tell you this. I am a certified teacher here in Illinois and because of that, I signed a statement that says I am required to report child abuse whenever I suspect it or see it. If I don’t, I could lose my certification.
“As far as I’m concerned, telling those kids that they’re ugly and stupid is just as much abuse as if you’d backhand them across the face. I’ll be calling DCFS in just a few minutes to let them know how you treat them. Thanks for your phone and address.”
“You can’t prove nothin’!” she screamed at me.
I pointed at the ceiling. “Our security captures both video and audio. Have a nice day.”
Our security only gets video, but there was no need for her to know that. I finished with her, went to the back, looked up the child abuse hotline and spent the next ten minutes filling them in on what had just happened. Let’s hope they take it further from there.
As for the rest of the store, I go through about every hour and pick up CDs and DVD from wherever people have just put them down, and return them to their rightful spots. We never had this much of a problem, even during our busiest Christmases. I don’t think the customers we’ve had today are allowed out in public very often. The way they treat our store, I’d hate to see their homes.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
We are officially out of IPods. We still have some mp3 players, but the IPods are gone as of last night. They said we probably wouldn’t get any more in.
The trashy customers continue to overrun our store. It’s getting worse. I mentioned this to The Liquidator and he said that from his experience, it will continue to get worse and worse till the final day. Wonderful.
I know that some of the people we’re getting in here are having problems reading simple signs like “DO NOT OPEN MERCHANDISE.” Every big ticket item we have is already on display. Those items in their boxes are locked up or otherwise, I’m sure people would be opening them. Smaller things, however, like IPod Accessories don’t need to be open; you can see them through the packaging. Evidently, the folks coming in now don’t believe what they see; they have to touch. The result is 20 IPod armbands, all the same type, laying open and scattered on the shelves. People open the items, then don’t even bother to put them back. Some of them open the item right on top of the freaking sign that says, “DO NOT OPEN MERCHANDISE.” I think I spent half my day yelling at people to stop opening stuff. By the afternoon, my voice had lost any semblance of politeness.
Shoplifting is running rampant as well. We’ve always been pretty good about preventing shoplifting in Peoria. In fact, during fiscal year 2008, we were the best store in the company shrink-wise. Less stuff walked out of Peoria without being paid for than any other store in the company.
Now, however, we’re finding empty boxes all over the store. People are using razor blades to slice open CD cases and then they take just the CD (this prevents the anti-theft device from triggering the door alarms because the case is left in the store). Thumb drives are another target as are portable hard drives.
I noticed one guy in the very back of the computer department who kept looking up to see if there was anyone watching him. I went over to help him because he was exhibiting all the classic signs of a shoplifter, but whenever I’d walk down an aisle, he’d move to the next one. He finally got frustrated and left. I found a 320 GB hard drive that had been sliced open from the back. There was too much plastic for him to cut through and he couldn’t manage to get it out of the package, so he ditched it in a laptop bag in hopes that he could come back later and get it.
The other thing we’re finding is that both customers AND employees are hiding merchandise in hopes that there will be a larger discount soon. Employees have an advantage in this little game because they have access to areas of the store that customers can’t get to. Unfortunately, Store Director Tim told us at the beginning that doing this is a terminable offense. He equated it to stealing. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it because I think we ought to take care of our employees and if they can get an extra 10% off an item, then more power to them.
Besides, I don’t think anyone will ever find that Wii game I’ve got hidden for my kid.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Katie, our merchandise/car audio supervisor gave notice today. She’s going to be taking a job just down the street and around the corner from us at Lowe’s. Her job title is “Head Cashier.” She said she’d stick around and help us as much as she could, but I think we’ve probably seen the last of her, at least on an employment basis. She’s a good kid and she deserves a break like this.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
They’ve got me doing the overhead announcements now. They gave me a script to read along with the admonition, “Don’t screw with it.” I used to be a radio DJ a long time ago, so they like my voice. I thought it might be kind of neat to have Bill Clinton reading one announcement, John Wayne doing another, Hulk Hogan another, and Richard Nixon assuring customers that we were not crooks, but upper management neither shared my vision, nor my sense of humor.
Here’s a big problem. All the signs in the store now say “20-40% off” The problem here is that computers are still only 10% off. I asked The Liquidator how we could do that, and he said that since we put up little signs that say, “Home Computers, Laptop Computers, and Apple IPods excluded.”
Now if I was a customer and I saw a sign that said 20-40 % off entire store, I’d assume that was the “entire store” which would include computers. I’d be extremely pissed off if I got all the way back to the computer department and found a little sign written in 12 point font that told me computers were excluded somehow. But, we’ve also been told that we can’t change prices, even if the customer complains, has a heart attack, and dies at our register.
I gathered my team and told them how I was going to handle it personally. Basically, I’m going to agree with the customer and tell them that we’re working for a really shady company that can get by with this type of crap because they’re only going to be here for six weeks. By agreeing with the customer, showing the customer that we’re on their side, it’s going to cut down the amount of screaming and yelling we’ll have to listen to.
By the end of the day, I’d gone through this song and dance at least a dozen times. It worked every time. The Liquidator said he didn’t agree with the policy either, but it wasn’t his decision.
Chris Yount, the supervisor of the TV department got in some trouble today. A couple weeks ago, he was contacted by the Associated Press and was interviewed about the store closing. The story ran today nationally, and Chris was quoted in the story. He didn’t give any inside information; he merely observed that the 34,000 employees losing their jobs was more than the population of the city in which he lives (Pekin).
One of the Liquidator’s counterparts in another part of the country saw the story, saw that it said Peoria somewhere in the text and called to let the Liquidator know. Chris got called into the Liquidator’s office and was almost terminated. We had been told NOT to talk to the media in any way and he was informed that if he spoke with the media again, there wouldn’t be a second chance.
It’s a good thing that Chris wasn’t quoted any more than what he was. He told me when he was interviewed that he had not held back. He’d been very critical of the company and of the liquidators. Had they used all his quotes, he’d have an early date with the people at the Unemployment office.
Monday, February 9, 2009
The vending machines in the break room left today. That came as a bit of a surprise since we’ve got more than a month to be open. I had called the vending service last week and asked them to fill the machines because we were out of Pepsi and those of us addicted to the stuff were having to run down the street to Dollar Tree or the gas station to satisfy our caffeine cravings. Now, both soda machines and the candy machines are completely gone.
I was just going into the store when the vending driver was loading the last machine onto his truck. I asked why he was taking them so soon and he said that his company was afraid they wouldn’t get their money. That didn’t make sense because Circuit City wasn’t having to pay for the machines to be in there and the vending company always just took the profit from the machines rather than to collect any sort of rent of them.
I asked the driver what we were supposed to do now for soda and he just shrugged his shoulders as he strapped the machine down for transport. “Couldn’t tell ya,” was all he said.
I’m told that we were visited today by the Secret Service. President Obama is due in Peoria later on this week so this may have been advance Secret Service scouting locations for him to stop. This is all speculation. I’m told that the two guys who came in to the store were very polite, asked a lot of questions, and did a lot of looking around, but not at product necessarily. That would be cool if he stopped by, but he’s scheduled for the 12th and is supposed to visit Caterpillar before attending a Lincoln Birthday celebration in Springfield. I’ll be off that day, so no chance to shake hands with POTUS or tell him any really bad jokes.
Thursday, February 12. 2009
President Obama didn’t stop by the store. He probably heard the discounts aren’t that good.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
In the back of the store, right at the beginning of the computer department, is the Firedog bay. This is where our version of the Geeks on Call or Nerd Squad (or whatever they are) calls home. The Firedog guys are just a little off center, but in a good way. Back on the 16th when the closing was announced, our Firedog guys took the big sign that hung from the ceiling, and blacked out the “OG” in Firedog so that the sign read, “Fired.”
Today, their assignment was to take away the stuff in the Firedog bay. This mean cleaning out all the drawers, nooks and crannies. Everything had to be taken out and laid out on the central work bench. Then the Liquidator dropped the bomb on them.
All the stuff that they had just taken out was to be sold as is.
The techs, Levi in particular, had to look up each item that he pulled from the drawers on the internet and get a retail price for it. Then he was to mark it at 50% off that price regardless of what condition it was in.
This means that we had a few video cards, some of which didn’t work, selling for half of their new value. We had four power supplies for a desktop computer. Out of the four, only two worked. Levi didn’t mark which ones worked and which ones didn’t because he didn’t know. He just remembered that two of them were junk that never quite made it to the compactor and now some unsuspecting consumer was going to pay between $20-40 for something that didn’t have a prayer of working.
When they got done, the whole workbench resembled a giant garage sale. There were Ethernet cables and blank CDs. There were screwdrivers and needlenose pliars. There were mousepads (which read “Firedog” on them), priced at six cents each. It looked and felt like an electronics yard sale from Hell.
Meanwhile, over in the printer ink department, someone had put up a sign at the top of the display that read, “Stock Up!” I couldn’t resist a sign of my own. Down at the bottom of the display, I put a sign that said “Stock Down.” I figured that the clientele we have right now would have no chance of getting the joke so I also put up signs that said “Stock Left,” and “Stock Right.”
The Firedog techs haven’t quite cornered that market on weird senses of humor.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Yesterday was Decatur’s last day in business. The manager from there, Harvey, had been our technology supervisor for a while last year, so we all know him. Over the past few days, he would call us daily to tell us, “We’re down by three more aisles. We’re down to 12 aisles total.” He said the final day, yesterday, was a zoo.
Their store was sold out of almost everything and closed by 1PM. From 1-4, the employees got a shot at anything that was left over. He said that they sent a bunch of employees home, then did a regular close out procedure on all the remaining registers, only this time, instead of leaving each register with a bank of $50 or $100, the registers were completely emptied.
Brenda Stewart has been through a lot with our store. She was one of the original employees who opened the store back in 1994. In fact, she did the first transaction that our store ever did and it wasn’t even a sale. It was a refund of an item that someone had bought at another Circuit City Store. She’s still with us, but her role has changed quite a bit over the years. For a while, she sold appliances. For a while, she was a Customer Service Associate. For a while, she was unemployed.
Brenda was one of the six people from our store and one of the 3400 nationwide who were terminated two years ago when Phil Schoonover got the bright idea that some of our people made too much money. She was unemployed for almost a year before she decided that she missed us, and so she came back to work for us during the Christmas season. She has asked Tim if she can work on the final day, whenever it is, so she can handle the FINAL transaction. Tim doesn’t see a problem with that.
Verizon has left the building. The four guys who worked at the Verizon kiosk inside out store have all been transferred to other Verizon locations around the Peoria area. Our Verizon guys got lucky in that there was only four of them. In larger markets where the Verizon kiosk had substantially more employees, Verizon made cuts to their sales staff in order to accommodate the influx from Circuit City.
They came in today and cleared out everything. They’ve been boxing up all their phones and paperwork for the past couple weeks, but today was the day they came in and carted it all away.
It looks a little strange to see the barren kiosk sitting there with no people in it and no product on display. Although these four guys weren’t part of our Circuit City family, they were like distant cousins, and they’ll be missed. They were always fun to talk with on slow nights or when a new phone came out. They had as many stories to tell about crazy customers as we do. The kiosk itself is scheduled to leave, probably on Wednesday.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The first condensing began today. I’ve been looking for it for a while. We took what used to be 13 rows of CDs and DVDs and condensed them down to six rows. They brought in yellow caution tape which looks like police barrier tape to cordon off the empty aisles. This part of the store sits right in front of the home audio department and most of the receivers and speakers have already been sold, so we’re using that part of the floor for storage.
When you walk into a store that has been a part of your life for the past few years, it really hits you hard when you see that area cordoned off. Each day when I pull up in front of the building, I look up at that stupid “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS” sign that hangs down from the roof, and a small little part of my brain hopes that this has all been a big mistake, that we’re not really closing. When you walk in, see the empty aisles, and remember the throngs of people pushing and shoving in those aisles at Christmas time, tears well up in the eyes and a hard knot forms in the pit of your stomach.
As I was standing there tonight, hands on my hips, just staring at the vastness of the empty area, another employee came up beside and assumed the same position I was in. “How in the hell did this happen?” he asked.
I assumed it was a rhetorical question and just shook my head. We stood there together for a few more seconds before customers interrupted our reminiscing.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I took a poll of our employees. What’s the most frequently asked questions you’re getting from the customers. In no particular order, they are:
“How much is this?” This is bothersome, but since they’ve taken away the tag printer, we have little choice. Sometimes people are too lazy or too dumb to figure the discount themselves, so that’s why we get the question, but for the most part, it’s a legitimate question that deserves a legitimate answer.
“When are you closing?” We don’t know. They haven’t told us but Tim seems to think the last day will probably be March 16, just based on projected sales figures based on what we’ve done so far.
“What are you going to do?” Well, gee… maybe hunt for another freaking job? What do you think we’re going to do? Sit around and collect welfare? Sometimes I make a joke and tell people I’m considering bank robbery. Others I tell that I’m going to get off my ass and finally find a literary agent for one of those three novels I’ve written.
“Will you take less for this?” What do you think this is, a yard sale? Oh yeah. It sort of is a yard sale. The question still upsets us and from time to time we politely say “no.” Other times the reply is a little less polite.
“Where’s the bathroom?” Yeah. See, regular customers, even those who only come in once a year, usually know where the bathroom is. It’s marked pretty well. Those who haven’t come in to the store, and thus haven’t supported our store (thus keeping us in business), get a variety of answers. One employee told an enquiring customer “We use a tree out back.”
CDs went to 50% off today. That ought to clear out the remaining stock.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Now we’re really condensing the store. Most of the computer department has been condensed. We’re down to just the aisle with the laptops and a few items on peghooks which face the laptops. The rest of the stuff has been moved up to where we used to keep games. The games were condensed during the week. We’re completely out of most PS2 and PS3 games, Wii games, and Xbox 360 games. The store’s really starting to look bare.
One thing I haven’t talked about here is the recruiters who have been coming in the store since the first day. They are people who represent companies who may have jobs for Circuit City employees. Some of them approach the employees directly while others approach management and ask that their blank applications be left in the break room.
One of the companies was a shoe store in the mall. They left a packet with information about the store plus blank applications. They’re looking for management which is fine, but it’s mandatory that you relocate after your training period. For those of us who have kids in school or who own their homes, relocation is not something that’s very appealing or practical.
Three auto parts stores have been in to leave information as well. One employee reports back that he had an interview with one of the stores, and that they pay just slightly more than minimum wage. Ouch.
Of course, the Armed Services have made their presence felt. Something tells me they won’t want a 52 year old guy who couldn’t run to first base on a softball diamond let alone do the rigorous training required by them.
Then there are the Amway people. I guess it’s not called Amway anymore, but whatever it is, it’s not a job. They’re more interested in recruiting than they are anything else. I asked one of these people point blank, “It it Amway?” and he smiled and said, “What do you know about Amway?” I told him I knew enough not to want any part of it.
Some insurance company was in too and they operate on much the same multi-level marketing system that Amway does. I looked them up on the net and decided that I wouldn’t be attending the “opportunity meeting” that they were sponsoring next week.
It’s nice to know that some people care about us enough to come in and offer positions in their companies. The bad thing is, most of them are no better than the vultures looking for a bargain; they’re more concerned about what they’ll get out of recruiting us than they are what we’ll get out of it.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Customers continue to be rude and trashy. They’re upset because we’re out of certain items, like IPods. I guess we should have bought more when we knew we were going to be going out of business.
I’ve heard through the internet chatrooms and bulletin boards that some stores have disconnected the phone lines. I wish we had done that. Actually, I think we may have done that on the first couple days, but because we were so swamped with customers, we really didn’t have time to answer the phone.
Speaking of the phone, I was on the phone with a customer this morning when a guy walked up to me with a product and asked how much it was. Talk about rude! He’s one of our “New” regular customers, that is we never saw him before the liquidation, but he’s been in every day since it began. It seems his only function in life is to run around our store, find items that aren’t priced and bring them to us to ask how much it is.
I couldn’t believe that he had totally disregarded the fact that I was on the phone and in mid-sentence when he asked how much something was. I asked the customer to hold on just a second, then I ripped into the guy, telling him how rude he was for interrupting and that I’d be with him when I got off the phone. I went back to trying to solve the problem on the phone, and he immediately went to another employee to find out the price. Guess he was in a hurry.
We’ve also got a problem with employees getting lazy. Tim told me that read an internet story about a store where all the employees have taken to wearing blue jeans and sweatshirts because no one at their store enforces the dresscode and their attitude is “What are they going to do? Fire me?”
Our store is a little different. Tim’s been very fair with everyone and although we wear jeans, we all still wear the red Circuit City shirts. Nametags are required as well, though those have started to go by the wayside here in the last week or so.
Some of our employees just flat out have bad attitudes. One of the guys back in my department who has never been known for his work ethic actually refused a direct order today. Now I’d been pushing for his termination even before I took over as the supervisor. When we were open, he was more interested in playing around on the internet than he was in working. Once I had asked him to help out by ringing up some customers and he said he couldn’t because he didn’t know how to work the cash register.
Today, he was standing around doing nothing, so I went up to him with a price gun and told him to start marking merchandise that didn’t have prices on it. He took the gun, said, “No,” laid the gun down and walked off.
I’m still not sure why he wasn’t sent home on the spot. I wasn’t allowed to send him home so basically, my power is gone. I’m nothing but a glorified key carrier.
Later in the day, I caught him and another salesman sitting in the boss’ office, playing on the internet. I told them that I needed both of them on the floor now, and both made excuses. The second guy told me that he was on lunch. I went back out on the floor and to a terminal where I could check the time clock and I found out I’d been lied to. The kid had already taken his lunch earlier. By the time I got back to Tim’s office, the kid had left, gone through the warehouse to avoid me, and back to his position in the TV department. Fifteen minutes later, he must have gotten tired of working because he just punched out and left. He didn’t tell anyone; he just left. He still had more than an hour to go on his shift. If it would have been up to me, this would have been his last shift, period.
But it’s not up to me so he’ll be back to work tomorrow.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Is there a full moon out? All the weirdos made sure they came out today.
First was the woman in the parking lot before I even got out of the car. He pulled up beside of me and asked how much of a discount there was on appliances. We haven’t carried appliances in eight or nine years! When I brought up this fact, she swore up and down that her friend bought a washer and dryer from us just last year. She didn’t believe me and later when the store opened, she was inside making sure hadn’t lied to her.
Jeron, one of our TV salesmen, quit on the spot today. Just walked out. He was finishing up with a customer when he heard someone yell, “Hey Jim Bob. Got a question over here.” Jeron ignored him, I guess, mainly because his name isn’t Jim Bob. A minute later, he heard the guy yell, “Hey Jim Bob! I’m talkin’ at you boy!”
Now Jeron is a little over 6’3, and tips the scales in the mid 300 range. He’s got a shaved head and can be very intimidating. The customer was a little guy, better dressed than most of the people we’ve been getting in here lately, but could have fallen into the “redneck” category without stretching the imagination too far.
When Jeron realized the guy was calling him “Jim Bob,” Jeron just left. He went to the break room, sat for a little while, then decided that he didn’t want to work here anymore. He took off his shirt and left. Jeron’s going to school over in Macomb, so on some days he drives almost 2 hours to get to work. Other days, he drives just an hour. His gas bill will go down in direct proportion to his stress level.
Just before I left for the day, a man came up to complain about, well, everything. He was a jabber, that is, a person who jabs his index finger at your chest all the while espousing the latest conspiracy theories. He never touches you, but he’s always dangerously close.
Tonight, in the midst of his complaints, he let everyone within earshot know that this whole going out of business thing is just a hoax. According to this guy, we’re doing this just to make a bunch of money. That’s why we raised the prices to MSRP. With the discounts we’re giving, we’re still making a profit.
I told him to take a good look around the store. Half of the store is missing! Fixtures are being taken off the walls, product is flying out the door, and employees are soon to be unemployed.
He replied that we were going to continue in business at this level for years. We’d just continue to make it look like we’re going out of business. I had to wonder if this guy was born this stupid or if he had to take lessons.
Monday, February 23, 2009
The computer department is gone.
It had comprised about 2600 square feet, the size of a good size house, and now it’s gone.
They moved all the display laptops to the front of the store, secured them on their special anti-theft shelves, and put up the yellow tape to block off the 2600 Square feet.
That was really hard to take. I worked in the department for two and half years and helped to build it into the best computer department in Peoria and made it one of the leaders of our district. Now, it’s nothing more than a bunch of empty shelves, empty peg hooks, and the clutter from discarded signage. I’ve never used the word “forlorn” to describe anything in my life, but that is the best description I can give of this place. Circuit City has become and Electronic Ghost Town.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
They’ve been telling us for some time now that they don’t know the exact date of our closing but that it definitely won’t be any sooner than March 9, and it won’t be any later than March 20.
Corporate hasn’t told the truth about anything in the past six months so I don’t know why I thought this would be any different. They announced the closing date today.
It’s March 8.
In all honesty, I’m not sure how we’re going to stay open another 11 days. There’s not a lot in here. They’ve shrunk the store several times and we’ve gone from being a 45,000 square foot store to maybe a third of that. Tim says we’ve still got half a million dollars in inventory but it must be disguising itself as printer cables (we actually have 335 of those).
The Liquidator told us today that all ink cartridges that were not sold by next Thursday were going to be boxed up and shipped to a central location. Someone has bought all of Circuit City’s unsold ink cartridges nationally and every store will be shipping what they have to them. He didn’t tell us who the buyer was.
Friday, February 27, 2009
We finally got rid of the last remaining desktop computer. Actually, we took it off the floor about a week ago, but we had just moved it to the warehouse till we could figure out what to do with it. It was a high performance HP that had 8GB of RAM and a 720GB harddrive. It had a DVR in it so you could hook it up to cable or satellite TV and record your favorite shows, then burn them onto a DVD. It retailed for $899, but with the discount, it was just $809. Not a bad deal, but when you consider the fact that it wouldn’t even turn on because it had a bad motherboard, there wasn’t exactly a line of people waiting to buy it. The Liquidator insisted that we leave it on display and sell it as is (no further discount) because it was under HP’s warrantee. In other words, whoever bought it would have to immediately send it off to have the motherboard replaced.
We finally moved it to the back room of the warehouse and today got permission to make it officially defective and send it back to the vendor so we could receive credit for it. I have no idea what took so long.
I had a guy today that almost pushed it past any limit previously set. I was working with a customer on a printer and was walking back to the printer area with the answer to a question about the printer. I had to pass the camera display.
I heard a shrill whistle. I turned around to see what kind of an idiot was whistling like that and had my answer. It was a guy looking at camera. He motioned me over to him.
“I’m not a dog,” I said, my voice with more of an edge than even I’ve heard. “If you need help, one of the other salesmen will be with you in a bit. I suggest you show them a little more respect than what you just showed me.” All the time I was speaking, my voice was clear and unwaivering, but I felt it catching in the back of my throat. The last time I saw someone whistle at another person like that was one night in a restaurant and a patron was trying to signal his waitress. That person got a drink in the lap (it was clearly an accident; all the other diners swore it was).
None of the other salesmen even approached the guy. He left without getting help.
It’s easy to tell someone who had never worked in retail. They treat us differently. I’m not sure what the dog trainer guy did for a living but I’m wondering if he ever had contact with other human beings or not.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
I’ll admit that people are getting on my nerves. My fuse is getting shorter and shorter every day, and today that fuse was practically non-existent. I managed to piss off several people, two of them to the point where I thought I might not even be allowed to work out the remaining week.
The first lady was one of those people who have the misconception that she’s more important than those people she has to deal with or come in contact with.
We were busy trying to condense the store even more. We were trying to condense the remaining six aisles of CDs and DVDs into a sixteen foot section of shelves. As I was standing there, clearly talking to three or four employees and giving them their tasks, she came up and started asking questions about a cordless phone that was on display. She didn’t say, “Excuse me,” or in any other way apologize for interrupting. She just started talking. She wanted to know if accessories were available for the phone that was on display. I told her I didn’t know, but I’d check as soon as I was done directing my employees.
“You really don’t want to help me, do you?” she asked.
I’m a very honest person. I didn’t see any reason to change that for her. “No. Not really. I want to get these guys busy with what they’re doing.”
“So you don’t want to make this sale.” It was not a question.
“Ma’am, the phone is less than twenty bucks. If you don’t buy it someone else will. I’ll get with you as quick as I can.”
I finished up with my team, then rounded the gondola to talk with her and get the model number of the phone so I could check the accessory closet for accessories. Instead, she waved me away with the flick of her wrist. “I don’t need you,” she said. “You’re dismissed.”
Dismissed? I haven’t been dismissed since I was in junior high and that was more than a few years ago. I laughed out loud.
A few minutes later she was on her way out of the store and she stopped and talked to the guy checking receipts. Curtis is barely out of his teens, but he listened patiently as she described the “asshole” she’d just dealt with. Curtis told her that he wasn’t a manager but he’d be glad to call one. She said that would be fine.
He called me over.
“You’re a manager?” She looked like she might need medical attention.
“Nope,” I said. “I’m dismissed.” With a smile on my face, I turned and left.
She eventually got to talk to Store Manager Tim who pulled me aside and through controlled laughter, suggested that I be a little more understanding of the less intelligent.
That was fine until the end of the shift, right about 6:15 or so. I was tired, I was getting hungry, and I had dealt with difficult people all day. Zach, our assistant manager went to lunch and left me in charge. Tim had already warned him about what kind of day I was having, so he promised that he wouldn’t be gone long. Tim had already left for the day.
Zach should have been back by 6:15 but he wasn’t. So when Diane called for a manager at the front, it fell into my lap. “Be nice, be nice,” I kept reciting to myself on the way to the front.
A customer had purchased an air freshener for his car. This thing attached to the vents on the dash, then filled the car with fruity smelling stuff. It was priced at $3.00, but since it wasn’t in our system, it didn’t come up when Diane scanned it. Instead of panicking, she gave the customer 50% off the sticker price, so it was a buck and half.
The customer complained. He claimed that the sign above it said it was 70% off. Quick calculations told me we were talking about a difference of a whole sixty cents. I should have just used better judgment, given the guy his sixty cents back and been done with it. I should have, but this was one of those days when I left better judgment at home in bed under the nice warm covers while I trudged off to work.
“Take me back and show me,” I said to the customer.
We started toward the back of the store. All the while, he complained about how we were ripping him off and how we should know the prices and not have to go to this much work. He bitched about the selection of merchandise that was available, the fact that none of the employees he approached during his visit knew the prices of things that weren’t marked (I asked him if anyone had refused to check a price for him and he said “no”), and lots of other things that I just allowed to go in one ear and right out the other.
The customer was right as it turns out. There was a sign directly above where he’d gotten the air freshener that said it was 70% off. “SEE!” he shouted, then ripped the sign off the gondola and held it very close to my face. “It’s 70% off. Not 50!”
I told him to head on back to the front and I’d tell them to refund his sixty cents. I was boiling inside, but was being on my best behavior.
When I was sure he was out of earshot, I used my walkie talkie to radio up to the front. “He was right,” I said. “Give the goofball his sixty cents.”
“Goofball? You’re calling me a goofball?”
I didn’t want to turn around. He was supposed to have gone away. He was supposed to be on his way to the front counter to get his sixty cents back. Now, for reasons unknown to me, he was standing about two feet behind me, questioning my choice of words. I did a mental eye roll, and turned around to face the music.
“Why are you calling me a goofball? I told you it was 70% and not 50%! Why are you calling me a goofball?”
I believe in honesty. “Because you’re making a federal case out of sixty cents.”
“And that makes me a goofball?”
“I don’t think I stuttered. I think you have the concept of goofball down pretty well.”
“And now you’re calling me a liar because you didn’t believe it was 70%?”
“I didn’t believe you. I don’t believe anyone. If that qualifies as calling you a liar, then so be it. I just wanted to check for myself.”
“So I’m a goofball and a liar.”
By now, I’ve had it. I’m making my way back up front, but people are staring at us. I have not raised my voice, but then again, I rarely do. My kids will tell you I’m most dangerous when my voice is calm and quiet.
“Sir, to tell you the truth, we’re all losing our jobs in eight days. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. Nothing. And there’s not a whole lot of people in this store who gives a rat’s ass about your sixty cents or whether or not you ought to be believed or not.”
“You are nothing but a stupid American!”
Oh oh. You don’t say that in the middle of a store in Peoria IL and not get some flack over it. The collective gasp from the people watching us was audible and I think the tips of my ears turned red. At least they felt like it.
I didn’t have to react. A guy stepped out of the crowd and offered to take Mr. Goofball outside for a personal psychological assessment and to further discuss the “stupid American” comment. Mr. Goofball started in on him and had I not stepped in between them, our store might have made national news.
I pulled seventy-five cents out of my pocket and handed it to Mr. Goofball. “Here’s your sixty cents back plus interest. Now just leave the store. For your own safety, leave the store.” I turned toward the large hairy man who looked like he could play NFL football and asked him to please let me handle things. He agreed, but flipped Mr. Goofball the bird while doing so.
I continued toward the front counter with Mr. Goofball, and now his wife, trailing behind me and offering ME money. By the time we got to the front check out, he was sputtering faster than the guy who used to do Federal Express commercials.
“Look,” I finally said. “You’ve got your sixty cents. Just forget it and leave.
“I want to see a manager.”
“Okay. Poof! I’m a manager.”
“I want to see a real manager.”
“You’re looking at a real manager. I’m in charge right now, so it looks like you’re stuck with me.”
“I am going to have you fired. You won’t have eight days left. I want the name of your boss.”
“My boss’s name? It’s Kiss… My… Ass.”
At this exact moment, Assistant manager Zach chose to walk through the front door. He had a huge smile on his face that would vanish in the wink of an eye.
“Kiss your ass?” Mr. Goofball stuttered. He seemed to be searching for just the right thing to say. He found it. He dropped the F bomb on me. That’s the instant that Assistant Manager Zach’s smile fell off his face.
“No thanks,” I said. “You’re not my type.”
The situation deteriorated from there. Zach told me to take a break and he’d handle it from there. Mr. Goofball was satisfied only when Zach assured him that I’d be out of a job because of this incident.
March 1, 2009
A little bit of bitter Circuit City humor: Performance evaluations are due by the end of the month. Those will determine our raises for the next six months. One of my employees asked if I thought they’d be done by the end of the month. I told him his was already done. He’d done a really bad job and he was fired. It’d take me a week to complete the paperwork. We all laughed, but only because it was better than crying.
Also, at the beginning of each month, our access code to the cash register system changes. We have a two digit code that we punch in whenever we need to do anything at all with the cash register or store computer system. I’m not surwhy they call it a “two digit” since it almost always is two letters instead of numbers, but since that’s what it’s always been called, I don’t see that changing in the next week. Anyway, my final “two digit” is NA. Great. I’m Not Applicable.
After last night, the entire theme today was “Let’s keep Jon away from customers” which was fine by me. Store manager Tim was scheduled for his regular day off, so that left Assistant manager Zach in charge with Joe, the installation supervisor and myself as his underlings.
I spent a good part of the day surfing the internet and trying to see if my Dodgers were any closer to signing Manny Ramirez than they had been last November (they are not), to see if there are any literary agents looking for a funny mystery (there are a few), and working on this journal.
In the time that I did spend on the floor, I saw a few more regular customers. One guy who has been coming in as long as I’ve been there is a guy we call Captain Kirk. Kirk is his name and Captain Kirk is what he prefers to be known by, so we are not ones to deprive him of such a request.
Captain and I got to be friends way back when he came in and told me as he was checking out that he was trying to collect songs with the word “Rain” in the title. He liked to sit out on his porch and listen to songs about rain whenever it was raining.
Once when I had nothing better to do, I entered every single song that has ever made Billboard’s Top 40 into a database along with the artist’s name and a whole bunch of statistical information about each song. I started in 1955 and ended in about 1995. That database is sortable, and I’m able to set some parameters. I asked it for a list of every song that had the word “rain” in it, then printed a list for Captain Kirk. The next time he came in, I gave the copy to him. We’ve been buddies ever since.
For the last five and a half years, Captain has been working to collect every song on that list, plus a few that I added after the fact (my list only contained Country songs that crossed over so I added a few of those). Captain walks with a cane and has a hard time getting around, and most often, he depends on other people to drive him to our store since he doesn’t drive himself. Until just recently, he didn’t own a computer, so he didn’t download any of the songs. He spent his time searching our collection of CDs as well as those at Best Buy and Barnes and Noble and other retail music outlets.
He came in today, not to hunt for music (he knew we wouldn’t have much left), but just to tell me goodbye. There were some tears in his eyes as he thanked me for only the 9327th time for the list. He told me he was really going to miss me and all the people in our store who have sort of adopted him. I gave him a handshake, and then a hug, and told him we’d all miss him too.
Then I went back to the warehouse and cussed Phil Schoonover for about the 9327th time. His decisions and stupidity did just affect 35,000 people who were employed by Circuit City. It affected people like Captain Kirk as well.
Monday March 2, 2009
When I got in tonight at 5:00, Tim wanted to see me. I kinda figured that.
I sat down across from his desk and he asked, “Did you really tell him you weren’t his type?”
He just shook his head. Then he made a joke about firing me in a week. The firing jokes are getting a little old and they’re getting that way real fast.
It was a quiet night customer wise. On nights like this, the hours drag by. With more than half the store bereft of product, it’s not a fun place to be.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
We had a lot of employees on duty tonight. We outnumbered the customers about 2-1. That means we had a lot of free time on our hands. Operations Manager Sara and I were in charge tonight, which means Tim wasn’t around which means I could have some fun.
I enlisted the aid of one of my computer associates and one of the warehouse guys. Since we’ve blocked off most of the barren aisles with yellow caution tape (that looks so much like police tape), I joked that we should have the chalk outline of a body on the other side of it. Tonight, it became a reality.
I had Drew, the computer associate, lay down on the floor in the classic body outline pose. One knee was lifted while one hand was flailed up by his head. The other hand rested out to the side of his body. The warehouse guy and I then outlined his body with masking tape.
The result was spectacular, if I do say so myself. It only took about ten minutes to complete, but customers got a kick out of it all night long. Too bad Tim will rip it up first thing in the morning.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
It’s my day off.
I got a call at home anyway.
It wasn’t Tim.
That’s because he was too busy laughing at the outline of the body in the center of our store. He not only left it there, he shot pictures of it with his phone and sent the pics to our old District Manager, and all sorts of other people on his contact list.
Guess I won’t have to go sit in his office tomorrow night after all.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
This story comes from Firedog Chris because I wasn’t there to witness it myself.
When the store was getting ready to open, there was a line of customers standing outside. Thursdays are when the next wave of markdowns usually take place. Televisions had been 30% off, but today they were going to 40% off. Since most of the TVs were over $2000, that extra ten percent was a couple hundred bucks. We had nine TVs left. There were a lot more than nine customers outside.
In the past, employees came second. If we wanted to take advantage of a Black Friday special, then we had to come stand in line like everyone else. When Playstation 3 went on sale, if we wanted one, we had to pitch a tent like everyone else in front of our store did. Same thing when Wii first came out.
But now, we’re going out of business. The customers don’t mean a whole lot right now. We look out for our own.
When the doors opened, customers ran to where the TVs were displayed on the floor. Most of them were in boxes with the price tag attached. None were in the warehouse. One of the boxes did not have a price tag on it.
Two people hovered over one box, arguing about who got there first. Apparently, there’s some rule that we weren’t informed of that says whoever puts their hand on the TV first, gets it. These two were fighting over a TV without a tag on it. And they were getting loud.
The reason the TV didn’t have a tag on it was because Firedog Chris had the tag and he was being rung up for it at the front counter. After he paid for it, he and the warehouse guy went over, stepped in between the arguing customers, and carted the TV off to load into Chris’ vehicle.
The quarreling customers were dumbfounded for just a few seconds as they had to be wondering which of them had won the rights to the 52 inch TV. When they found out neither of them, it got a lot louder in the store. I’m sort of glad I wasn’t there to hear that one.
The bottom line is this. We finally rewarded a loyal, longtime employee who had just as much right to a TV as a customer who may or may not have ever spent a dime in our store before. He just had a little advantage because he didn’t have to shove anyone out of the way when the doors opened. He was already pulling to price tag for purchase.
The bottom line is this. We close in three days and as of 6:00 tonight, all of our TVs, boxed and displays, are gone.
We have three DVDs left in the store. Two of them are the boxed set of Ugly Betty, the complete first season, and the other is a Tony Randall movie, the Seven Faces of Doctor Lao. There are 40 CDs remaining.
Assistant manager Zach revived a long standing tradition that we’ll no longer get to do. It used to be that about once a month, usually on a weekend, we’d grill out. Someone, maybe the store’s petty cash fund, maybe one of the managers, would buy hamburgers, hotdogs and brats, and we’d fired up a gas grill out behind the roadshop. Someone donated the gas grill, I guess, because it’s been there longer than I have.
Tonight, Zach bought all the fixin’s for a cookout and so Dustin, one of our roadshop guys, proceeded either to poison us with undercooked meat or treat us like Gods by placing burnt offerings in front of us. Given a choice between hamburgers that resembled hockey pucks on the outside and raw meat on the inside, I declined the invitation of ptomaine.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Today, tomorrow, and Sunday.
Then we go stand in the unemployment line together.
I’m not sure we’re going to be open until Sunday. There’s just not a lot here. Sure, we’ve got plenty of printer cables, but that’s about it. As of 5PM tonight, we’re down to 17 laptop computers, 33 CDs (the fact that we sold seven today amazes me), and eight cameras.
The area that this junk is taking up is smaller than most yard sales. I’m not exaggerating when I say you could fit this into a 24 x 24 garage if you had enough folding tables.
I asked the fixture people today about what all we’ve sold. Basically, everything in the store that isn’t nailed down (and some things that are) will be sold or has been sold. I asked what the weirdest thing was that we’ve sold and they suggested it was a case of Tampons for the vending machine in the women’s restroom.
I’ve been there five and half years and didn’t know we had a vending machine in there. Now I’m curious if it left when the soda and candy vending machines left.
The case of Tampons were put together on a pallet along with sanitary toilet seat covers, some very large rolls of sandpaper that had disguised itself as toilet paper, and a few bags of soap for the dispensers. It was going to be sold as a pallet, but one of the warehouse guys got into the box of Tampons and did some creative decorating in the warehouse. I went out and surveyed his handiwork then suggested that he donate his brain to science. I’m sure it’s worth a lot of money since it’s never been used.
I didn’t have any problems with customers today, but I did with another employee. It was the same one who lied to me a couple weeks ago about being on his lunch break when he wasn’t clocked out. He was avoiding work today, I think mainly to heal a massive hangover (something he always seems to have). He was sitting in Tim’s office on the computer when Tim walked in and asked him what he was doing. The kid told Tim he was on his “ten minute” break which we’re all entitled to for each four hour shift we work. The kid had been in the office for more than a half hour.
Tim kicked him out of the office, and the kid headed down the hall to the break room where he, behind a closed door, proceeded to continue his ten minute break which was now stretching upwards of 45 minutes. I went in and told him that when he was done with his ten minute break, I needed some help moving shelves. He said he thought he was probably going to go home early today since there wasn’t much to do.
I enlisted two other employees to help with the moving of the shelves and when we passed by the breakroom, the kid was still sitting there. It’s now close to an hour since he’s done any work. I told him to get off his ass and help. He said he was going home.
Instead, he went back to where the TV department used to be and hid behind a fixture. I already knew that I didn’t have the power to send him home, so I noted the time. When Tim returned from lunch, I told him that a decision needed to be made. He could either have the kid who was hiding from work and collecting a paycheck or he could have me who would actually work, but one of us was going home in the next five minutes. Then I explained all the BS we’d just been through.
Tim called the kid back to his office and within minutes, the kid left with his jacket, shooting me a nasty glare in the process. I don’t think I’ll lose any sleep over it.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
When I arrived this morning, there were 13 cars sitting in the rain in our parking lot. Employees don’t park where customers do, so I knew all 13 cars were customers waiting for the doors to open.
At the front door, a man and his son were huddled, right next to the door. “What’s left in there?” he called to me as I headed to the employee entrance.
“Not a whole lot,” I told him. I explained that we were out of TVs, and were very low on everything else. When I got inside the store, I saw what was left.
There were 13 laptop computers including those on display now 40% off as of this morning. There were several satellite radios now at 90% off. We had four cameras and two camcorders, none that had accessories, at 60% off. There were 18 CDs remaining, four printers (all display models, none with power cords), a ton of printer and ethernet cables, and not much else. They told me today that we had a high inventory of 3.2 million dollars and that as of today, we had just over $130,000.
That inventory doesn’t take into consideration shrink over the last 12 months or especially the last seven weeks. Honestly, I’d bet that we have less than $30,000 worth of product, even at MSRP.
After an initial rush of customers, we were down to three computers, no satellite radios, no cameras, and really just a mishmash of assorted odds and ends. I have no idea why we’re staying open late tonight, and I don’t know what we’re going to have to sell tomorrow.
Warehouse supervisor Joel walked down to Toys R Us this morning and brought back three wiffleballs and a wiffleball bat. We turned the empty warehouse into a whiffleball field.
Were we afraid of getting caught by store manager Tim? Not at all. As it turns out, Tim’s a left handed batter who’s a sucker for an inside pitch. We spent the better part of four hours playing wiffleball… and getting paid for it.
It’s a little strange too. Back in 1977, I actually had a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds. It was right after that tryout that I hung up my glove and spikes forever. Out of the fifteen employees who played in part of today’s wiffleball game, only one of them was alive when I threw my last pitch competitively.
And after about two hours of pitching today, I may have to have surgery. It’ll be brain surgery to remove that part of my brain that makes me think I’m still 20.
My wife and daughter came in late in the day. I hated for them to see the store in the shape that it’s in, especially Caroline. I’ve worked there since before she was born, and all she remembers is a Circuit City that was full of product and full of fun and wonder. She loved running around, watching all the big TVs, especially the ones that were in their own rooms with a giant sound system. She loved heading over to the kids’ section of DVDs to remind us that she didn’t have the latest Dora the Explorer or Dragon Tales DVD. She entertained the Firedog techs by telling them how her name is spelled and they amazed her with screen savers that looked like a virtual aquarium.
She walked in today for the first time in about a month, and was shocked. “Daddy! What happened to your store? Where is everything?”
She doesn’t understand about the store closing yet. To tell the truth, I’m not sure any of us do.
Installation Manager Joe is in charge of selling the fixtures in the store. He and I were discussing the weirdest thing anyone has attempted to buy. What brought this about was that one of our associates was vacuuming where some shelves had been and a customer walked up and offered to buy the vacuum right out of his hands. I guess the customer was impressed with how well it was cleaning.
Joe said that the strangest thing anyone had attempted to buy were all the ceiling tiles and light bulbs. The same customer wanted both. There was no mention of why he wanted so many ceiling tiles and light bulbs so we’re left to wonder.
I left the store at 7:00 and drove home in the rain. We’re supposed to have more rain tomorrow. We used to call rain “Retail Sunshine,” because it assured us the store would be busy. I’m not sure what to look for tomorrow because there’s really nothing left in the store.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
When I pulled in the parking lot, there were only two other cars, both belonging to employees. I figured that not only had customers forgotten to set their clocks ahead, employees had too. Assistant Manager Zach’s car was there and CSA Diane was there as well.
As it turns out, no one forgot their clocks. Nine of us were scheduled to open the store, and all nine of us were there before the store opened. There were about thirty customers waiting outside, all who arrived inside the half hour before the store opened.
I tried to perk up the others in the store by telling jokes or making fun of corporate people one last time. Still, the mood stayed somber. We had some severe storms last night and heavy rain still was threatening the area. The sky was gray, our moods were gray, and even the air inside the store looked gray.
When the doors opened, customers rushed in to compete for 287 USB printer cables, seven CDs, six PC games, a ton of mp3/Ipod cases and armbands, one digital SLR camera, and a boatload of faceplates, wiring harnesses and assorted junk to go with car stereos. The DSLR was the first thing to go, followed closely by…. Well by disappointed shoppers.
“Ain’t you got no TVs left?” bellowed one miscreant.
“Where are your laptops?” asked a woman in a jogging suit.
“Point me towards your movies,” commanded a teenage kid.
“How much this?” The guy whose job it was to come in every day and find our un-priced items hadn’t missed his final day of work.
I hung close to the front counter and talked with quite a few of the customers. I kept asking what had brought them in today and how not having a Circuit City was going to affect their lives.
“Now I gotta deal with Best Buy, and I hate them!” lamented one woman. “I came in just for one last look. I really liked you guys.”
“Lookin’ for deals, man, but you haven’t got any,” said another guy who didn’t spend a lot of time in the store.
“I came to see if you come down any more on that computer,” another told me, pointing at an empty spot on the shelf. “Guess you sold it already.”
And so it went. There didn’t seem to be anger amongst any of the customers, but neither was there any kind of real joy at getting a good deal. Most of that comes from the fact that we just don’t have a lot to offer. Any anger that I saw this morning was directed by customers at themselves for not getting in any earlier in the sale.
Chip Pratt, who you’ve known to this point as the Liquidator, began the day in our Bloomington store and would be back to Peoria late in the afternoon. Over the past couple weeks I’ve noticed Tim, Zach, and most noticeably Sara, come away from meetings with him with exasperated looks on their faces. Today, I found out why.
It seems that when he first came to our store, he was excited about the prospect of winding down business on a large electronics store. Chip likes his electronic toys and this gave him the chance to purchase some for his own personal use.
When he purchased not one, but TWO flat panel TVs, I thought it was a little strange, especially when he purchased them early in the sale. He got a 32 inch Samsung and he got a 46 inch Sony, two very nice sets. He also purchased an Onkyo receiver, a Sony Blue Ray player, a Synergy surround sound system, and several smaller items as well. He purchased all of this early in the sale, so I was questioning his intelligence given the fact that he was getting just a small discount off of MSRP.
This past week, he let it slip, or he bragged (I’m not sure which) to one of the managers that his company would reimburse the difference to him between what he paid and the final liquidation discount. That means he had the selection of when the sale first began at the price things ended up at today.
This is the same guy who threatened to can us if he caught us putting back a game or two in hopes of shaving an extra five or ten bucks off the price. He did the same damn thing… and then he bragged about it. We’re the ones without jobs tomorrow. And he’s the one who just shaved a few thousand dollars off his purchase price. That’s garbage. I asked him point blank how much he saved, and he wouldn’t answer the question. He just said his deal was “pretty sweet.”
So what does a soon-to-be unemployed technology supervisor do with his time on a day like this when there’s few customers and a ton of employees? He starts asking questions that he can use to make this journal more interesting.
I asked twenty of the 33 employees if they would reapply to Circuit City if for some reason they announced they were starting back up. Five of the 20 didn’t hesitate to say “NO.” One qualified their “Yes” answer with “if I was assured this wouldn’t happen again.” Three employees, independent of each other, said, “Yes, but only if I could work with the same people that’s here now.” Eleven gave affirmative answers that ranged from “Why not?” to “Sure,” to “Without hesitation.”
Out of the 33 employees there today, only nine have found other employment. Two plan to look into starting their own business, and the rest of us will apply for unemployment, starting as early as Monday morning.
Not everyone answered every question I put to them. Some of the younger employees didn’t want to take the questions seriously, so I’ve excluded their answers from what follows. I asked everyone what the most surprising part of the liquidation process had been.
Diane: I was surprised that it happened so quickly, from the time we started till today.
Zach: Everything is down to a calculated science. They were able to predict down to the day how much stuff we would have left and what would happen. I was also surprised that they’re going to throw away anything that’s not sold.
Jessica: The change in customers. We used to have high class customers but I haven’t seen them since this thing began.
Chris K: The most surprising? Either the stupidity of the customers or the inconsistency of the liquidators.
Chris Y: I can’t really say anything surprised me. I know how people are.
Randy: The stuff sellin’ as quick as it did.
Joe: How cheap people are.
Mike: How all our customers have changed so much.
Tim: During the first ten days, when people bought things for dramatically higher prices than when they were on sale, this really shocked me. People wanted the perception of a huge savings rather than a sale. They went for the perception instead of real savings.
Skyler: Wow. Well, things really sold fast even when the prices weren’t that good.
Sara: I was surprised at how good all employees have followed direction and had a good work ethic. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. They really remained loyal, not to Circuit City, but to me and to Tim and Zach. This was a special group of people.
Nicole: Surprised me? How incredibly rude people are.
Joel: I was surprised at who shops at WalMart because for the past six weeks, they’ve been coming here.
Myself: I was surprised at how little it took to bring out the very worst in people.
There’s been a lot of anger, both among employees and customers. I asked our employees what they though the underlying reasons were behind that anger. The consensus was that employees were upset about losing their jobs and it didn’t really seem the customers cared. Nicole pointed out that some customers would never treat people out on the street with the same rudeness with which we were treated. As for the customers, almost everyone agreed that the people entering our store were upset because there were not bigger bargains to be had. Since we were the faces of the company, they took it out on us.
Another thing that employees seemed to agree on was better planning on their part. Most said that this whole experience has taught them to have a better back up plan should something go amiss with their next job. Zach said that he never considered that the US’ second largest electronics chain would ever fold. “Next time, I make sure I have a Plan B,” he said with a smile. Most of those I talked with gave a variation of that answer. Only Joel, our warehouse supervisor was more blunt. “I will never work in retail again,” he vowed.
Our liquidator Chip is from somewhere in Ohio. Since January 16, he’s called central Illinois home. He’s been away from his own home for almost two months. Given that along with how he’s dealt with 45 people who were losing their jobs, I asked if anyone would be interested in having a job like that. It wasn’t surprising when only six of the 33 people I asked said they’d work as a liquidator. Tim said that it would be “too much like being an undertaker. You’d be surrounded by sadness all the time,” while most others expressed a problem with being away from home for long stints at a time. Maybe more would have been interested if they’d known about his “sweet deal.”
One thing that went on today was massive picture taking. Most employees brought cameras to work with them and it seemed that every ten minutes, someone was either posing employees together or random flashes were just going off, all over the store. I don’t think I’ve seen that many pictures taken since my daughter graduated from high school.
About mid afternoon, Ashley, one of my technology salespersons, came up to me with the weird story of the day. She’s been helping Joe with the sale of fixtures and one of the people who had bought several hundred dollars worth of shelving from us came to pick it up today. While talking with Ashley, he asked about a circular carpet that was in our TV department. Some corporate moron had priced it at $200, which might not have been bad for a 12 foot circular carpet had it not had Circuit City logos all over it. He asked, since he’d bought so much other stuff, if she’d take less for it. Ashley radioed Joe who said he’d lower the price to $50 since we’d made our fixture budget.
The guy told Ashley he’d be back to pay for it. When he came back and was standing at the cash register, Ashley took a couple of associates to roll the carpet up for him. The only problem was, the carpet had disappeared. Gone. Vanished. The guy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be.”
About that time, someone radioed Ashley to follow the guy outside to his vehicle. The guy had an SUV with an open trailer hitched behind. Laying on the trailer beside the shelving he’d just removed from the store was the rolled up carpet. When the guy realized he’d been busted, he agreed to go back in and pay for it.
Since we made our fixture budget, that meant the rest of the fixtures were going to go cheap. I asked about a couple cases of copy paper that were in the warehouse. Joe told me I could have them for a buck each.
TWENTY REAMS OF PAPER FOR TWO BUCKS?!?!
Heck, at that price, I could almost publish and print my own novels!
I also picked up seven three-ring binders, all at least three inches deep, plus a heavy duty three hole punch and a heavy duty stapler for a buck. It wasn’t quite the sweet deal Chip got, but we were getting close.
The two cases of tampons mentioned in an earlier entry (or what was left of them) was sold to another employee for a buck. Another employee bought three cases of Circuit City bags (to be used as trash can liners) for another buck. Several boxes of ink pens also sold for a measly dollar.
Tim and Zach sprang for pizza for everyone. Zach and Kelsey ran down the street to pick up several Little Caesar’s pizzas and brought them back for everyone. The pizzas were snarfed up within twenty minutes which may be a new record, even for our store.
Chip returned from the Bloomington store around 3:00PM. It was obvious that he was having a rough day. When he came in, some employees were still recovering from their bout with the pizza and others were just plain goofing off (there wasn’t a lot to do at the moment). In an uncharacteristic moment, Chip called out Tim in front of the employees and bawled him out for allowing them to goof off. This would not get Chip any Brownie points from the assembled.
All of those employees who had been accused of goofing off assembled in the middle of the store where Tim had sent them until he could make assignments. This means that at 3:10PM, about 25 associates gathered where all the Playstation games used to be, and in unison, sat on the floor. Chip came up and asked what was going on. One of our more mouthy employees (and I swear it wasn’t me) said, “We just got put in time out.” Chip started to suggest that they do some work, but the same mouthy employee informed him that he wasn’t our boss and that when Tim informed us to do stuff, we’d respond. She went on to remind him that we didn’t have jobs in just a few hours, so either he could apologize to Tim or put up with us. Chip chose to apologize to Tim, but he was seething.
We had been told that as the day wore on, we’d have announcements, giving extra percents off the already dramatically reduced prices. This wasn’t done. At 3:20, Chip went to the gondola where all the USB printer cables were located and put up a new sign. ALL CABLES $2.00. They had originally been priced at $33.99 (this was out and out price gouging). Entering today, they’d been reduced 90% to $3.40, and now, they were two bucks. One lady grabbed about ten of them and told me she was going to sell them on Ebay.
At 3:45, we were ordered to take down all signage everywhere in the store. This included all the signs that announced our going out of business sale which had been plastered on the windows of our front door and vestibule. We were told to remove all tape as well.
Ten minutes later, Tim told us that the store had between five and thirty five minutes remaining to be open.
At 4:00 Chip took Tim on a walk through of the store, pointing out other things that needed to be done. This was something the managers always complained about: Chip was telling them the obvious and telling them how to do their jobs. Tim began handing out assignments of vacuuming and whatnot as people became available from taking down signs.
At 4:20, we had a sudden influx of customers. I’m not sure where they came from or why, but most of them left without purchasing anything.
At 4:46, the next to the last cash register was closed. This left Brenda, the employee who had rung up Peoria’s very first transaction, standing behind the lone cash register, waiting to ring up Peoria’s very last transaction.
At 4:59, Sara went to a tripod easel at the back of the store which had a flip chart on it. She wrote out the note in large letters, “WE ARE NOW CLOSED. FIXTURES CAN BE PICKED UP MONDAY 3/8 FROM 8AM – 5PM” Employees who watched her, watched in silence. There were no jokes, no smart ass comments, no giggles. It was almost like a church service with a respectful silence.
At 5:05, with Sara’s note taped to the front door, Tim closed the collapsible gate across the front doors for a final time. The gates have needed some oil or grease or something to help them close for more than a year now, and closing them is always a chore. Tim snapped the lock shut, then turned and saw he had an audience. “Thank goodness we don’t have to do that again,” he said, but you could tell from the pitch of his voice, his heart just wasn’t in the attempted joke.
At 5:06 the first overhead announcement of the day was made. All employees were requested for a final meeting back in what used to be the TV department.
Brenda tendered the final transaction at 5:10. She sold a single USB printer cable for $2.16 including tax. Since it had the original price of $33.99 on it, this represented a 94% discount.
Someone who watches too much ER called out, “Call it. Time of death, Five Eleven PM.” I guess they didn’t bother to figure out military time.
We all gathered at the rear of the TV department. Chip thanked us for our efforts. There were 33 of us there. One one person didn’t come to work today and didn’t bother to call (it was the kid who lied to me and others constantly about whether he was on break or lunch). Two people had gone home early. Eleven employees who had been there when the liquidation was announced were no longer with us. Of those eleven, five have found other jobs while six just stopped showing up for work.
It was Tim’s turn. He thanked us for our loyalty, announced a get together this coming Wednesday night at Buffalo Wild Wings (didn’t they learn their lesson last time?), and wished us well. He was fighting back tears.
Entertainment Supervisor Chris asked if he could take a picture of all of us, so we gathered, and Chip, knowing that he wasn’t part of our family, offered to take the picture so that Chris could be in it too. As Chip held the camera, there was an eerie silence. No one spoke, mumbled, joked, or made any sounds. He clicked off two or three pictures before anyone spoke.
“If I’d have known that’s all it took to get you guys to be quiet at the all store meetings, I’d have taken your pictures back then!” It was Tim, referring to the fact that his all store meetings were a bit chaotic.
Any merchandise that had not sold now had to be destroyed as per the agreement with the bankruptcy court. One hundred ninety six USB printer cables went into the compactor. They were joined by a ton of assorted cell phone chargers, batteries, and eight feet of peghooks that contained car stereo installation equipment, and four feet of Ipod accessories. It’ll be a few days before someone will be able to give me a dollar amount for the stuff that was destroyed, but my best guess is that it was about $15,000 (at MSRP). The USB printer cables alone would be $6664.
At 6:10 Nicole, the supervisor of the cashiers, came over the PA to let management know that the final deposit was ready for counting. Those of us who had remained after the meeting were busying ourselves vacuuming or doing other menial chores. The end was now in sight.
Sara was wiping tears away. She’d promised herself that she wouldn’t cry, but Diane had given her a big hug before leaving, and that took care of that promise. I avoided as many as I could so I wouldn’t have to break the promise I’d made to myself about no crying.
Entertainment Supervisor Chris and I walked out together. We said goodbye to Tim, wished him luck at his new job at American TV and Appliances and with the approaching birth of his first child next Sunday. Joel was standing outside smoking as Chris and I left, so we stopped for a minute, shook hands with him, exchanged a couple of smart ass comments, then left.
I got in the car, took a deep breath, and started the car. I was no longer a Circuit City employee.
I hadn’t realized how hot it was till that moment.
It was so hot, my eyes were sweating.
It was almost like watching a relative slowly die from a disease. The once vibrant store which was the employer of more than 50 full and part time employees had withered and collapsed on itself, leaving literally a shell of a its former self. It was surprising that the end came so quickly, yet there were nights along the way that it seemed that the clock was painted on the wall.
Some funny thoughts popped into my brain in the days following the closing. I haven’t had a weekend off in a few years. I’ll have one coming up. In fact, if I don’t find a job, I’ll have several.
All the employees have promised to keep in touch. We started a blog so that everyone can check in and let everyone else know where we’ve landed in the world of employment. Somehow, I’ve got a feeling it will be like a graduating class of any high school. Promises to keep in touch will be made, then broken. A few months down the road, few, if any will know where anyone else is.
It’s hard to believe that 34,000 other people across the nation are experiencing the same thing I am in one form or another.