Friday, June 13, 2008

How I Got Fired From Express -- a True Story

This one is for Sam,who commented asking how I managed to get fired from a retail clothing store:

It was spring of my Senior year of high school. I'd just quit the softball team, having realized at last that I had neither softball talent nor the patience to spend the season sitting on the bench so as not to bring down my team's chances at a state championship (they did, by the way, win that year. I like to think my absence helped a little). I knew I wanted a summer job, so when I saw that a new Express store was opening at our local mall, I applied.

For those unfamiliar, Express is a women's clothing store that, in the early '90s, sold trendy-ish clothes in French-themed stores. At the time, I thought their stuff was the height of coolness, despite the fact that that summer, one of their featured items was bikini/bra-style tops meant to be worn as actual shirts.

So anyway, I got an interview, in which I burbled on and on about how much I loved their clothes and how I was really responsible and how I was really looking forward to to working my first 40-hour-a-week job before I went to college (yes, I was a geek. I know). Inexplicably, I was hired and told to show up to help get the store ready for opening.

I showed up on the designated afternoon, got admitted to the still-under-construction store, and looked around in awe at the piles upon piles of brand-new, still-in-bags clothes. And at the scores of girls who had also been hired to man the store. Lots and lots of girls. Tons of us.

For the first week, or so, things were great. We were getting the store set up, and I had a blast. Moving boxes, tagging clothes and arranging them according to color and size, meeting the other girls, etc. In the meantime, I'd go home at night and describe the clothes to my mom, who was impatiently awaiting access to my employee discount.

The week that the store finally opened, I was so excited! I carefully picked out an outfit at "shopping night," and got all ready to start. The only fly in the ointment was that I was only scheduled to work 10 hours that week, but my manager assured me that hours were allocated according to who sold the most clothes, and that my hours would pick up once we opened.

I showed up to work on opening day, dressed in my brand-new dress and eager to get going. Instead of being assigned to the floor, though, I was asked to keep unpacking clothes back in the stockroom. Fine with me! I did that for eight of my 10 hours that first week. The next week, I was dismayed to be scheduled for only 10 hours again. Again, I quizzed the manager, who said "Well, hours are allocated according to who has the most sales, and your sales were really low last week." Wait, what? I didn't mind working in the back room, but I really, really didn't like being penalized for it.

Things would be ok, though. I finally got out of the stockroom and onto the floor. I'd do great! I just knew it! And besides, I couldn't work 40 hours a week right away, as school was still in session.

The thing is, I'm not much of a saleswoman. I had the obsequious part down -- I could offer people help and shuttle their things to the dressing room like nobody's business. But I hated "bothering" the customers, so I usually just let them into the dressing room and backed off, assuming they'd come to me if they needed something. In the meantime, they'd run across one of my more skilled colleagues and remember her name when they were asked at the register who'd helped them. My sales numbers were, accordingly, unspectacular. I was meeting my quotas, but only just barely. And I was sunk the next week when they upped the quotas.

In the meantime, there was the aforementioned employee discount. We were told in the beginning that it was strictly for our own personal use -- we weren't supposed to be using it for family and friends. I bought a few things, but didn't go crazy. Not so my greedy mom, who couldn't have cared less about the rules if there was a chance she'd get a deal. She'd go into the store, browse, then make out a list of things she wanted me to buy for her with my discount. I'd end up going into the store and picking up armfuls and armfuls of clothes for her (and no, it never occurred to me to refuse. Back then, one did not disobey my mother, ever, about anything. Not if one wanted to keep living in her house). The manager, who always checked out employees, would eye the huge pile of size-14 clothes and my (then) size-7 body, and ask if I was sure I didn't want to try them on? I'd just mumble something about liking my clothes big and hightail it out of there.

So this went on for about three weeks, me working 1 or 2 days a week, barely squeaking by on my quotas and buying my mom an entire new wardrobe of clothes, them assigning me ever fewer hours. All was calm, if not well, until prom weekend. I was scheduled to work the morning after prom, and I didn't want to rock the boat by asking to have that morning off, especially since it was the only day that week I was on the schedule.

Now, one thing you should know at this point -- although I was almost 18 at the time, I was not allowed to drive alone, and especially not to the mall. My parents always gave me a ride to work. That day, my dad drove me and then went to Sears to get some things.

Anyway, I arrived at the store that morning and reported to the manager. She glanced over at me in surprise and said "oh, someone was supposed to call you. We don't need you to work today. " Luckily, my dad was still at the mall, so I hightailed it over to Sears and managed to catch him before he left.

BOY, was my dad furious! I told him what had happened and he stormed over to Express and proceeded to ream out my manager in front of the entire store. I don't remember exactly what he said (I was too busy hiding in the corner, pretending I had no idea who this guy was), but I remember it being pretty angry and loud.

The next weekend was Father's Day. I hadn't been scheduled at all that week, but they called me on Friday to see if I could come in on Father's Day and fill in for someone else. I already had plans, so I said no.

Three days later, I headed into the store, clutching my graduation-present money in my hot little hands and ready to buy some clothes in my own size for once. My manager met me at the door. I'm sorry, she said, we can no longer employ you here. I asked why, and she said I just wasn't a team player, mentioning how I'd asked for more hours but had refused to come in on Father's Day.

So, that's how I got fired from Express. I don't know the real reason for my dismissal -- was it my poor sales skills? My gross abuse of the employee discount? The public humiliation of my manager? The fact that they'd hired over 100 girls to open the store, but didn't need nearly that many actually to run it? A mix of all of those reasons? Who knows?

The upside is, within a few days, I'd found a job working at a bakery -- to date, one of the more fun (and definitely most delicious!) jobs I've ever had.


Sam said...

I'm honoured! A post just for little old me!! What a story too - all those little nuances that make up the fascinating whole!

And yes, a bakery sounds a whole lot better!!

Deb said...

Well all I have to say about that is they suck!!! That was IMHO an awful thing to do to someone.

But at least you did find something else ... quickly too.

Kim said...

I had no idea they were so strict at Express. Glad I passed by there in high school to work at the Gap! No sales quotas there, good thing or I wold have never made it! NCLM

Queenie. . . said...

I thought that store was the height of cool then, too. So funny! And imagining your dad yelling at them totally cracked me up.

Amanda said...

I can definitely see my dad doing something like that. It's funny what happens when people go mad with their moderate amount of power!

(Here via NCLM)

Katie said...

Via NaComLeavMo...
I'm so glad I've never had to work in a shop like that, never been fired from a job either. I think the 2 are linked, I wouldn't have lasted as long as you!

meh said...

once again you tell a great story - and I would've loved to see your dad reem the manager out. what a lousy way to "hire" someone, then stick them in the back, then offer them only the worst hours, then fire them for not saying, "Thanks for treating me like poop - I love you and it and this store." duh.

Nicole (SAHM Ramblings) said...

Thanks for a fun story... In my experience, if you quit then they don't have to pay unemployment. Whereas if they hired too many for store setup and needed to let some go to get to standard staff size then they would. They probably took two approaches - overwork the ones that they could and get them to quit that way. Under-work the people who wanted the hours but weren't necessarily ideal salespeople. (No offense, but you were the one who said it, not me.)

Unfortunately for them, you stuck it out. That says a lot about your character, you know. I'm curious how many of the other girls quit around the same time. Anyway, that's probably why you were scheduled for at least one day that an 18 year old isn't expected to make it (day after prom). So they would have a reason to get rid of you when you called in 'sick'. Father's Day was added to spite your dad for being vocal but gave them their out.

Just my opinion though.

Nicole Kidd said...

I currently work for Express and I know how you feel. They will fire new employees and just never put the old ones on the schedule and claim that it's because of the "economy." Personally, I think a manager should be willing and have enough courage to at least tell the employee why they are fired in stead of by lying.

I believe in leading by example but man, if I lead the way I AM LEAD at my express I would never get anywhere in life. Now I see why they still work for the company that requires no knowledge of anything really. I am very happy to have a full time job elsewhere. If it were not for the discount I would not be working there. I buy all of my clothes for the job that I LOVE not express.

Abraham Garcia said...

I don't understand why they fired you, they said you weren't a team player, but what about the girl that called out, she called out because she had plans, and you said no because you had plans, she was scheduled, you weren't...but then again, maybe it could've been for all the clothes you have bought day in and day out, but I'm happy you found a job where you are happy!! :)

Estee Alworth said...

I been working for Express since June, they just hired holiday help and haven't put me on the schedule for 3 weeks only a call in for this past Sunday and didn't need me when I called in, I'm furious right now and don't know if I am being fired and than just noticed my online employee discount isn't working anymore on the black Friday and cyber Monday sales... I'm wondering if they had terminated me but I find it weird they had me schedule as a call in on Sunday...