Back in 2007, I received my permanent residency, and not long after, a little electronics company gave me my first full-time job in Australia, as an assistant manager. I had attempted to get jobs within an office or business space outside of retail, since I had finished a Diploma of Business and had already spent my entire career in hospitality (Cinemark & Dave & Busters, represent!), but they were the first to give me an interview.
It was an iconic Australian electronics retailer by the name of Dick Smith Electronics, and I remember the interview like it was yesterday, completed at their Buranda QLD Head Office with two fantastic recruiters that were warm and welcoming. I repeated on more than one occasion that I would “lead by example” between bouts of fidgeting and hand-examining. A week later, they offered me the job. To which point, my dad reminded me that I was totally going to be working for dick…
On my first day, I remember having a ton of kind people that were incredibly patient with me, as I tried to learn where everything was and one man who yelled at me when I called aluminium, “Alum-eh-num” instead of “Aloo-Mih-nee-um.”
I remember on that first day watching the store manager walk around the store, pointing out issues with merchandising and the lot and then shrinking away to the back office. When a staff member would decline a refund based on policy, the store manager would be called out, and he would always send the customer home with the money instead of the item.
It seemed a common theme that I started to see throughout the entire store. This notion of us and them, and “you’re wrong, I’m right.” To me, it didn’t work, and I saw it in the eyes of the employees. They hated it.
So on the days when I ran the store, I started to stand my ground on what I thought we should and shouldn’t do. I spent more time on the floor than in the back office. I supported my team by agreeing with them on a stance instead of contradicting their decisions.
For a while, I think I made them enjoy their jobs, but I could be wrong. Six months later, I was running the store. For better or worse.
I worked for Dick Smith for over 2 years. From August 2007 to February 2010. In that time, I ensured our health and safety ratings were always top and our audit scores were among the highest in the company. But also in that time, I did not make budget once.
I wasn’t a salesperson; I never was. But that’s what the company wanted out of its staff, and I could never quite get on-board with the concept.
When I started in 2007, we had, on average, six staff per shift. Two managers – one able to work solely on the administrative end, one able to work on performance. Targets were high, because less than a year before it had been the only store in the area. By the time I started, there were three stores, within 5-10min driving distance of each other. So business was slow. The company looked at this and decided the best thing would to be cut our wages. Over the course of a few months, the staffing lowered to four a shift including the managers.
When I left, I was lucky if I could afford to have two per shift.
And that’s what happens when a company starts to cut costs. The insanity of it is that they require the same targets to be made with two people as with six. Our stock pricing didn’t change either, despite the big boys in electronics continuously cutting prices by sometimes half.
I was two years into my time there when I started to worry about how the company could afford to keep going on its current trajectory. Too many stores were being opened, and then they had decided to rebrand the company to the tune of $5mil or $50mil, if I remember correctly. It was a courageous effort to try and improve sales and bring people back into stores, but it wouldn’t last.
I left when I realized time had made me exactly what I loathed. I told staff what to do, rather than lead by example. I sat in the office trying to maintain some level of operational superiority. And I contradicted what they said about refunding, etc.
Where had the time gone? How had I become this person?
The answer was simple. It was lost. I no longer had the staff to do the admin properly, so I was always playing catch-up in the office. I had received one too many phone calls from Head Office overriding a decision I had made that forced me to ring the customer to tell them we would be providing them that refund I refused based on company policy (trust me, swallowing pride is not fun, when you know you’re in the right). So to prevent that horrible taste of disgust, I became complicit.
It was then I decided it was time to move on.
Move on, I did.
Unfortunately, it seems that happened with most people. Less than two years later the company was sold, then floated another two years after that. And now all stores will be closed before mid-year. My heart breaks for all those that stayed after I left. Some worked for 10+ years. Careers, I used to call them.
I remember a family member telling me that leaving the company was the stupidest decision I had made, but I think it was the smartest. Not just because the writing really was on the wall for it, but because I valued my soul, and I could no longer see it being eaten away by complacency.