Mar 10, 2017

Under the counter - a sideways look at the world of independent retailing

Perk your business up by having fun and become a tooth-fairy

My assistant Norman is convinced that things are slow at Premier Sports at the moment because of Brexit.

Coming from someone who voted Remain hoping that it would keep Jamie Vardy at Leicester City, I’m hardly likely to take much notice of that.

We all know that Vardy stayed put because he’d ordered a new stair-carpet for his place in Melton Mowbray.

I can’t deny that business is pretty awful - only yesterday I agreed to sell a one-legged man a right-footed trainer at half price just to hear money dropping into the till.

We haven’t heard that very often just lately. But we’re putting a brave face on it and Norman has even brought in a slogan his uncle Cecil made in pokerwork which reads: Cheer up – things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough they got worse.

Sadly, it hasn’t made a lot of difference, which is probably not surprising when you haven’t had a customer since lunchtime, kids have been picking the putty out of the front window and something seems to have died a slow death under the stockroom floor.

But we felt we should persevere, particularly as the Institute of Personnel Development, no less, has declared that having fun in the workplace is one of the best ways of perking a business up.

The theory seems to be that once we’re all smiles, morale will magically improve and we’ll find a way of making everything ok again. It’s obviously worth a try,  but just how do you make yourself fall about with laughter when they’re coming next week to turn the gas off?

Maybe attacking yourself with a water-pistol might temporarily take your mind off your problems but it seems to lack that element of surprise essential in a good joke. Spinning round in the office chair until you’re dizzy can be quite funny if you’re prepared to make the effort. So is having two paper-weights labelled “Big Deal and “Little Deal”.

A friend with a sports shop in the next town also read the Institute of Personnel and Development findings, and is now doing his bit for the economy with solitary line-dancing in the stockroom and setting all his swinging executive toys going at once. His assistant also contributed to the national merriment by listening to the lunchtime edition of The Archers and shouting at the radio through a rolled-up newspaper.

Norman, bless him, has done his best to cheer us up with jokes like “I picked up the phone and said: ‘Who’s speaking, please?’ and a voice said: ‘You are’” and “I’ve bought some HP sauce and it’s costing me 6p a month for the next three years.”

But we knew in our hearts none of this was really the answer to the deadly gloom which has settled among the last season’s cricket boots and the bargain price Portsmouth Premiership shirts that Norman, ever the optimist, got in a fire-damage sale.

Then this morning Norman announced that he could have found the answer to our problems in a book called “Managing to Have Fun” which he got in the library. It was by an American dentist called Dr Jeff Alexander of the Youthful Tooth dental practice (find it on Google if you don’t believe me) who apparently makes his staff ecstatic with joy by lobbing out money for them to buy themselves presents.

As Norman told it, Dr Alexander had become a real-life tooth-fairy by taking all his staff to a nearby shopping mall, giving them $200 each and saying: “Anything you buy for yourself with this money in the next hour is yours to keep. You have to buy at least five items and any money you haven’t spent in an hour comes back to me.”

According to Dr Alexander, “They had a wonderful time dashing from one store to another. It was a real treat for them and it gave me a great feeling watching them have so much fun.”

Norman said that according to the book, the surprise shopping trip gave the doctor’s people the chance to interact in a positive social situation and they all worked much harder when they got back, presumably pulling out teeth and sending groggy patients tottering out in droves.

Inevitably, I could see what was coming.

“They’ve got an endof the season bargain sale of gas barbecues at B&Q and if someone bought me one as a surprise, I might volunteer to come in next Saturday when I’m supposed to be off,” Norman said.

To be fair, I could see he might have a point. People really do appreciate it when a boss recognises their worth and does something which is both thoughtful and unexpected.

That’s why I’ve agreed that Norman can have half an hour off to go to the chiropodist next Thursday afternoon, so long as he’s back in time to lock up.


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