Monday, April 2, 2012

Job Journal: Sales associate at Dillard's department store

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.

Job: Sales associate in the home department of Dillard's

Duration: 11 months

Year: 2003-4

I've put off writing about this one for a long time. I suppose of all my jobs, this was my 'Nam—in that I never really knew why I was there, I couldn't figure out how to leave, and somehow I ended up with an ear necklace.

I'd been at UT's Alumni Association for quite some time, and while the job wasn't bad and the people were great, I felt like I needed to move on and grow up. That "growing up" at the time meant getting a job at a department store fills me with such a sweet nostalgia for my simple youth that it hurts.

Anyway, my friend Mark had been shopping in the home department of Dillard's for someone's registry, and the sales associate tried to get him to apply for a job on the spot. He knew I was looking for something else, and friend that he is, he mentioned it to me. I still appreciate him looking out for me and absolve him of any guilt for the following 11 months. Come to think of it, we both started working at that horrible call center at the same time. Maybe he's not such a great friend...

I went in a few days later to fill out an application, and the department manager, Chris, interviewed me. To say it was fast is an understatement. This was one of a few jobs where the manager saw I was a mentally competent human with four working limbs and decided immediately to hire me. What can I say? It was a boom economy. In truth, the department was filled with women, all of whom were either old or pregnant. The home department was one of the few areas of the store that actually needed someone who could carry a little weight, because they received shipments of pots & pans and appliances that needed to be hauled around the department, and that's not something at which pregnant or old women are known to excel.

In addition to cargo duty, I was expected to sell. Like, for real, talk people into buying things. This was new to me. Dillard's is known for being one of the highest-paying mall retailers around, and here's their secret: you're hired at a rate of pay that's pretty tough to maintain. It's not commission exactly, more like a quota. To maintain your introductory hourly pay, you're expected to sell a certain amount of goods every month. If you don't, you take a pay cut. If you sell more, you get a raise. There were women making more there ten years ago than my wife makes right now, working in the corporate Manhattan offices of a major clothing company. Those women would cut you to make a sale.

Like any job in a place you previously only frequented as a consumer, there was a very slight initial thrill of peeling back the curtain and seeing the guts of the machine. But soon you realize the lighting's awful, the floors are dirty and everything you're selling is garbage.

Why was this job so bad? It's too much to detail in one post, but I'll bullet-point it:

  • I knew absolutely nothing about the stuff I was required to talk people into buying. Coffee makers? Toasters? Skillets? Why are any of these better than the others? Could the manufacturer even answer that?

  • The job was by-the-numbers in the worst way. Clock-in was computerized. Ten seconds late was the same as fifteen minutes late, and after nine tardies you were fired, no questions asked. Many was the morning I sprinted to the clock to swipe my card, while the store manager stood by and watched. Luckily I only lived five minutes away.

  • The break room. It was conveniently located right by our department, upstairs. For someone at the makeup counters downstairs, half your break would be consumed by walking to the break room. Unfortunately, it was the saddest room I've ever been in in my life, and I've been to a few funerals. The fluorescent lighting was at its vibrating yellowest in here. There was a dirty coffee maker that was never on. There was a 13" TV with rabbit ears at the front of the room, tuned in to poorly received daytime television. No snack machines, no magazines, no joy. How many people made the decision to end their own lives in that yellow room with bad TV? I almost immediately started taking my lunch breaks in the food court of the mall.

  • The store manager was the worst kind of used-car salesman glad-handing lizard you could imagine. He looked down on all of us with poorly hidden contempt. It was widely known he was cheating on his wife. He was paid far too well, yet still wore ill-fitting suits. He had yellow teeth and a voice that made you want to break them. He did the morning announcements.

Some of the people I worked with weren't bad. Chris, my manager for most of the time there, was an absolutely great guy. I'll give him his own post. Some of the people were awful. They'll probably get a post too. I'll also tell you about some of the worst things we had to sell (balsa wood parrots, anyone?), how I learned to wrap a present like a boss, my ever-expanding lunch break, and what it's like to sell discounted Christmas ornaments for four straight hours.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.


  1. I have heard from multiple people that Dillard's is the worst place to work. One guy I know even worked in the ad department creating weekly sales ads, and that even sucked. They seem to specialize in crushing souls.

  2. Yeah! Everyone I've ever talked to who worked at a Dillard's hated it. Poison like that has to trickle down from the top. The Dillard family must have done something bad during The War.