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The Epic Of The Impossible Store

, , , , , , | Working | November 12, 2019

I once had a worst-case scenario in my line of work, complete with nearly an entire forty-person staff who quit or had to be fired. Here is the story.

I was hired on as an acting store manager. Basically, for an entire six-state region, I’d fill in whenever a manager was out of the store for longer than 48 hours for vacation, sickness, maternity, etc. We were basically substitute teachers of the retail world. This was only temporary, and when a store manager position opened up, I could step in with zero probation period. There were three of us in this role.

I was the first hire of a rather ambitious new district manager. I interviewed her third or fourth day in the job and she was psyched about everything in the company, and talked at length about her plans. Of course, all this ambition meant she bit off more than she could chew, and within six weeks she was burning out.

The district manager had originally planned to visit every store in her district over her first three months. But according to rumor, the previous DM, knowing he was retiring, had sort of slacked off so all the stores had issues one way or another. She ended up spending far more time at each location than she wanted.

That is why she hadn’t made it to this one store at all.

The district manager sent an email that she was heading down to check up on them just before she left, a semi-surprise visit. We got an email not long after, saying that she needed an acting store manager there ASAP, asking for one of the two of us who were free: [Acting Store Manager #2] and me. Not five minutes later, there was a revision. She needed both [Acting Store Manager #2] and me.

So, knowing we were heading into disaster, we each drove four hours to the store. The place was a mess — not just normal retail mess, but actual dirty windows, literal dirt caked in the corners of the floor, burnt-out bulbs, etc.

The district manager was just sitting at the manager’s desk looking like someone had hit her with a brick. She told us that she walked in, and [Previous Store Manager] handed over her resignation and walked out. The only full-time employee was gone, too. And there was a lot wrong with the store.

So, [Acting Store Manager #2] and I took over registers and finished out the day, and then a part-timer handed in her name tag and said she quit. This was, sadly, just the start of it.

That night, we literally spent the entire night at the store. I can’t tell you in what order we found out the mess there, but over the next few days, it all unfolded.

The old system in place wasn’t really integrated between cash registers and accounting, and there was a step in there where managers would transcribe numbers. It seemed that [Previous Store Manager] had been faking the numbers for cash.

Oh, and the last four deposits? Disappeared. Never taken to the bank, and nowhere in the safe.

Plus, there were these mysterious bins in the front with heavily-discounted “manager sale” items, marked as “Cash Sale Only.”

We puzzled over this for a while before finding that occasionally [Previous Store Manager] would mark shipments as coming in damaged and unsaleable — items which mysteriously were the same as those in the bins.

So, cash fraud. Great.

Then the next morning, none of the morning staff showed up. [Acting Store Manager #2] and I were running the store solo for a while, while the district manager sat in the manager’s office shifting through paperwork, trying to figure out all that was wrong with the store. An employee showed up but just to hand in their badge and tell us to stick it up our a**es.

One of the weird things we noticed was that there were far more people staffed for this store than made sense. [Previous Store Manager] had one full-time employee, and a ton of part-timers, mostly each only working four hours a week.

This didn’t seem the weirdest thing about the store, but we later suspected she wouldn’t have anyone there long enough to figure out things were shady. Almost all of those employees were high school kids, or people who were there to earn spending cash rather than a living. None of them were really invested in the job.

When we finally had an employee show up, she told us that the full-time employee had called her and fed her this line about how [Previous Store Manager] — who apparently was very well-liked by the staff — was cruelly fired, corporate was swindling everyone, and they needed to make a stand. If all of them quit, the store would go under and they’d benefit… somehow.

Apparently, a really good number of them decided the statement was worth more than the job and had decided to quit.

The district manager ended up telling me to call the entire staff one by one and ask if they planned to continue employment. I spent an hour with everything from slammed phones to cursing to lame excuses. Most talked about how they hated our corporate, who was mean. A few mentioned how corporate wouldn’t even give them their bonuses.


At the end of the year around Christmas time, all employees who have worked more than six months get a Visa gift card, value dependent on the number of hours worked. I hadn’t heard of any problems. Neither had the district manager, who forwarded it on to accounting.

Just from my dealings with the folk who stayed, the word was that corporate “maliciously yanked their bonuses at the last minute and [Previous Store Manager] is valiantly fighting to get them back.”

Meanwhile, knowing that we had basically no one to work the store, we sent out an email to the closest stores. If they could spare a few employees, we would pay for their transportation and meals while working, if travel was more than an hour we’d pay for a hotel room, and they would have a 50-hour week at double normal pay. This was during summer when there were a lot of college kids, so people jumped at it. By close, we had locked in about twelve people from six or seven different stores to work starting the next day, and staying for at least two weeks, in addition to the four or five part-timers who hadn’t quit on us.

Meanwhile, all day calls came in from corporate, from the corporate lawyers, etc., to the district manager, who looked like she was ready to cry. We got word that corporate was sending two representatives into town.

Again, my timeline isn’t entirely straight here, but in the next few days the district manager found out that all the bonuses were given out, sent to the store with signature required. All appeared to be redeemed. Then, later, I heard that all of them were redeemed at the same store nearby.

Oh, yeah. [Previous Store Manager] stole from her adoring employees.

We later heard from the sub place next door that just before the district manager showed up, [Previous Store Manager] and the full-time employee had been loading boxes into their car out of the store. Wait, “their” car? Oh, yes. The two were dating! And who knows what they had just stolen?

We also found over the next few days that inventory was just a nonexistent thing. According to the system, we had more negative quantities than positives, and none of our stock was made from anti-matter.

We tasked a few employees to re-inventory the store headed by [Acting Store Manager #2], while I handled store operations and hired a new staff. She found out that there were just boxes of stuff everywhere, tucked in nonsensical places, still in packing boxes, mixed in illogically.

Inventory was nearly impossible as they kept finding stuff. A box in the bathroom. Shipping boxes stacked in the back room, used as a table. A box stuck up in the freaking ceiling tiles, found by the electrician.

I was trying to retrain the old part-timers, meanwhile. Some realized they needed to basically erase how the store was run and start over. Others insisted that “this is how it’s always been done!”

Like layaway. Our company doesn’t do layaway. We’ve never done layaway. Apparently, [Previous Store Manager] did layaway, but that’s wrong, and I have no way of verifying what those customers spent. Lots of confusion arose and issues were forwarded to corporate.

At one point, I had this conversation:

Part-Timer: “How do we make a payment on layaway now?”

Me: “What?”

Part-Timer: “A customer wants to make a payment on layaway, but the book is gone.”

Me: “We… We don’t do layaway.”

Part-Timer: “Well, [Previous Store Manager] always did! But I can’t find the book.”

Me: “There is no book; we don’t do layaway. We never did layaway.”

Part-Timer: “Well, I don’t know how to do this layaway without the book, but this lady wants to make her last payment, so can you handle it?”

Imagine facing a woman who claims she’s given the store over $200, with a twenty in her hand, thinking she is taking home merchandise, and I didn’t even know where this merchandise is!

Actually, it was a best-case scenario for it. I literally had a corporate higherup in the office for them to scream at, someone who could actually make high-ticket judgment calls without issue. It was also great to watch because I don’t think he’d ever dealt face to face with the public.

One or two employees just had to be let go because they insisted on doing things “[Previous Store Manager]’s way.”

The employees who insisted on doing things [Previous Store Manager]’s way were the biggest pain, frankly. I don’t know if it was some sort of pushback over everything changing, or if it was thinking that they were now super valuable because of everyone quitting. But these two just whined over how “your new way is sooooo hard.”

I wanted to tell them, “It’s not a new way; it’s the way and you have been doing it wrong.” Some of this was really simple stuff, like the rule that all transactions have to go through the register. Apparently, [Previous Store Manager] would have them do paper transactions for some sales. I kept being pulled to cash to explain that there were no more paper receipt books, and getting a fight.

Then, there was the idea that when you aren’t on cash, you should be tidying or cleaning. Apparently, [Previous Store Manager] would let them grab a cigarette outside the front door when there wasn’t a line. I chased them back into the store far too many times. Finally, I had to just pull the old employees off of cash register and start retraining them and supervising them individually.

But the biggest fights were over the discount bins. 

We basically told them, “Look, the pink-stickered stuff was actually [Previous Store Manager] stealing merchandise, selling it at a discount, and pocketing the money.” 

But they whined that the pink-sticker stuff is the reason people shop here! They love it!

Now, we were already dealing with confused customers looking for the discount bins, but we just put it that we weren’t doing that anymore, and we guided them to the very real clearance area. But as soon as they had an employee whining about how we took away the bins and changed everything and yadda yadda, suddenly those employees were back.

It’s a weird feeling, pulling someone in the room and saying that although 90% of staff quit, we’re now firing you.

The backroom was a mess, and I spared man hours just to clean. Cleaning up back there, they found a door that had been covered with empty boxes. It was locked and [Acting Store Manager #2] and I were debating whether it was “ours” or lead to the adjoining store somehow. 

Then, one of the part-timers chimed in something along the lines of, “That’s the trash room; they locked it up when it got full.”

Now, that employee was high-school-aged and I think this was her first job, and she said it like this was a sane and logical comment, as though every business has a full trash room.

She had to know it was weird, as I was staring at her as she was describing this to me. But she was just really matter of fact, nearly flippant about it. Nothing in her tone suggested she thought it was unusual. If anything, it was like she was sort of teaching me some necessary information.

Part-Timer: “Oh? You don’t know the wonders of a trash room? Let me explain it to you. Then I’ll describe the nature of a filing cabinet.”

This also happened right when we thought we were getting things under control, about a week in. We had a temporary fix for staffing, corporate was there, we were making a dent in cleaning, major problems had been discovered and passed on to the right parties and… Oh. A trash room. Because, of course, a trash room.

So, not really wanting to know the answer, I asked what a trash room consists of. Apparently, if it was raining, or they didn’t want to go out to the dumpster, they’d just throw their trash in there.

The district manager had just sat down with the corporate guy when I walked up to the office and informed them of this. They both just stared at me like they couldn’t even process what I’d said.

A locksmith was called in to open the door, and we found a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot room chest-high full of boxes and trash bags and stuff. The only saving grace was that it had been closed up long enough to not be a “fresh garbage” smell, but a “musty old garbage” smell, instead. At any given point over the next few days, we had an employee wearing gloves and digging through it. They found a bag of receipts, kept for evidence. A bag of trash from the bathroom. A box of unopened merchandise, covered in fluids leaked from a questionable bag that may have contained food at some point. Inexplicably, a busted-up bicycle. The employees came up shell-shocked on break describing the weird horrors they’d found.

I took the staff that I had and divided them. Half were trying to clean the backroom, and once discovered, the trash room. The other half were working the registers and were charged with cleaning up front. There was a lot of junk around the registers. Then, they moved to washing windows and literally scrubbing floors on their hands and knees.

The area gets icy in the winter, and the salt off of people’s feet had mixed with dirt and crystallized into these little slopes of dirt along the baseboards. On the corners, it was just literally drifts of filth. But because it was solid, we had to wet it, let it get soft, break it up with a broom, clean it with a cloth, and then clean the salt haze off with a mop. After the first day, all of our hands were cracked and burning from the salt, and we got the heavy, dishwashing type of gloves for everyone.

Considering this was summer, it meant that the floor hadn’t been cleaned in at least six months, but I really felt like I was looking at a longer period of accumulation. Strata of filth, if you will.

All this time, I was hiring a whole new staff. Normally, we do background checks and a lengthy interview. This was shortened to my fifteen-minute judgment calls on someone and “Can you start training tomorrow?”

As far as the thefts, etc., I can’t tell you the end conclusion. The district manager and the corporate guy kept that bottled up, but there were lots of calls to the lawyer. 

The end result was that the store needed a new manager! They needed someone who could finish training the random new hires, handle the pissed-off customers who were suddenly seeing their store turned upside down, handle inventory, and of course, deal with the angry ex-employees.

Thankfully, they picked [Acting Store Manager #2], and I got to move on to my next, less stressful assignment.

This story is part of our celebration of Not Always Right publishing over 100,000 stories!

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