Work Rant – one of the few

I generally love my job.  I get paid well, not what I’m worth but good enough.  I have a lot of freedom to create my own projects.  I get to help create and implement policy.

But no job can be without problems or pet peeves.  I need a place to rant, and that’s what the internet is for.

Here’s my background:  I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin where I majored in Psychology.  I have a very analytical mind and like to approach problems from a scientific standpoint.  I also love data and using Microsoft Excel.

After college I got a job working for a small family owned company.  I’ve been with them for 11 years now.  I worked my way up from behind the counter.  I’ve worked every shift, I’ve been a stock person, helped out in the accounting office, was the area manager for our 3 Austin stores, helped them open 4 stores.  I am now their Product Buyer (I buy merchandise for all our stores).  I also do visual merchandising, create planograms, do marketing, run their website, and manage the email lists.  Oh, I also create in store events and work booths when we go do other company’s events.

I didn’t study in college to do anything like this, so I had to teach myself.  With permission from the boss I created a library of business books.  I’ve read books on management, business, marketing, social media marketing, customer service, and visual merchandising.  I have 2 actual textbooks on visual merchandising and retail management so that I’d have the foundational (most basic) ideas on what I’m doing.

I also start my day by reading ReadWriteWeb, PaidContent, Fast Company, and Inc.I also listen to a podcast on management and subscribed to two magazines on visual merchandising.

I’m serious about being the best at what I do and I’ve been fairly successful.  My department went from 20% of total sales when I started to 50% now (65% at our two largest stores) During the worst of the recession, when people were talking like the whole worldwide economic system could collapse, my department posted a 20% increase over the previous year.

I say all this not to brag, but to show what I’ve done to get where I am.

The owner, realizing that the future of our company lies with my department, has started to get more involved in what I do.  It’s his company and his money that I’m spending so I don’t have a problem with that.  What I have a problem with is the implication that we should start from scratch and build systems from the ground up as if everything I’ve done up to this point has been a fluke.

I’ve implemented systems all on my own.  They work.  They can definitely get better.  One of my guiding principles is that there is always a better way to do anything, you just have to find it.  I’m always seeking to improve and evolve.  But why don’t we assume that all the success of the past 5-6 years wasn’t a fluke and that the systems I set in place are working and just need improving.

Let me try to give a concrete example.

All retail stores need to markdown items to make room for new inventory.

[Another aside: The owner several years ago wrote down what he calls the 3 principles of retail: 1) buy new product, 2) restock and reorder what sells, and 3) blowout and markdown what isn’t selling to make room for and pay for new product.  Those are a great foundation for anyone thinking of getting into retail.  I follow them as the example will show.]

I came up with a system to determine what would get marked down without leaving our shelves empty.  Items get selected for markdown based on the following criteria:

  • Been in the store for over 1 year
  • No sales at any store in the last 3-6 months
  • To narrow down the list further I use a first in/first out (oldest items are priority for markdown)

I also remove from this markdown list any items that are high dollar and add to our selection even though they may only sell 1-2 times a year.

It’s not a perfect system, but up through 2010 I used that system and my profit margins were great.  Markdowns were done quarterly and sales remained steady.  Last year, when my boss started paying attention to my department, he didn’t like the way I was doing markdowns.  He wanted them more on a per store basis, and some of our slower stores should perhaps have longer times before a markdown, say, 1 year of no sales.

These are all fine ideas, but how do I implement them.  My department consists of me and one other person. I asked for some help (because the other department has been losing revenue at a rate of 20% a year and has 4-6 people working for them) and was told no.

I can’t implement the markdowns as requested by my boss due to time constraints.  The markdowns as I did them went out to all 7 stores and took me a total of 3-4 hours to go from “report” to “list sent to stores”.  The way my boss would like them done would require a min of 2-3 hours per store (run report, format, collate, remove any order points, etc.) That’s 21 hours of my 40 hour week.

I could stagger them, but that’s not even the problem (’cause I’d be fine doing this).  The problem is we never implemented it, because every time we talked about doing a markdown, he found another problem or question and we could never move forward.  Consequence: No official markdowns in 2011 and my profit margin decreased by 10%. (did I say that right?  I basically went from .70 of every dollar being profit to .60)

I say no “official” markdwon, because I did 2 secret markdowns and every quarter I continued to remove order points so as not to accidentally reorder something that we shouldn’t be spending money on.  What I discovered was that every quarter when I ran my reports I would discover that the items I previously removed order points for kept showing up as not having sold, which to me validates that we could have marked it down (it’s still sitting on the shelf at full price not doing anything).

I bring this up and I’m told I’m still not thinking about it properly.

Here’s a phrase I learned from all my management literature in different forms: it’s better to be effective than to be right.  It’s better to get the results you want, than to win an argument.  I may have been wrong in my thinking, but my methods achieved the desired result.  Why stop me?  Maybe I am wrong about how I’m thinking about it, but why stop something that’s going successfully just to change my thinking.

Let me put it this way.  If you think praying and resting will help you get over an illness, and I think you just need to rest and we both get better at the same time, is anything really accomplished by my trying to convince you you’re wrong?

What’s further annoying is that in other situations where my systems have been questioned, we eventually implemented my systems (officially) but with the owner thinking it was his idea.  I’ve now decided that I’m just going to have to continue to do that.  Keep playing dumb and letting him think all my ideas are his, just so they get implemented officially.  It’s my way of being effective instead of right.

I’ll admit a lot of this is my ego.  I built something despite a lot of people in this company thinking we didn’t even need my department and now my department is making up for the other department’s lost revenue.  It’s insulting to, say, build a house and have someone tell you you built it wrong, then rebuild it exactly the same way with maybe a different coat of paint.

The GM (the boss’s son – who is also co-owner) tends to let us do our thing with little interference and it’s a comfort.  If I was getting it from both of them I’d be gone by now.  And he has taken up a couple arguments on our behalf.  So that’s a bright spot that keeps me a little sane.

Anyway that ends my rant, I’ll get back to work now.


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