Sunday, November 9, 2014

All Aboard The Train(ing Seminar)!

Quick note before the real meat of this week's blog starts. One of the things that really excites me as an occasional blog poster is the chance to give life to stories that weren't good enough to be jokes. Sometimes for whatever reason a story just isn't good enough to live as a joke. Usually that reason is it's not funny enough or has too many words. Luckily those aren't problems in the medium of blogging. So here's #1 in this series. I hope you enjoy it more than anyone who ever saw me tell a version of it on stage did.

I’ve mentioned it numerous times, but I worked at Best Buy for a number of years. Three and change to be inexact. It wasn’t my first choice in jobs, but it was the only job that wanted me to work for them so I did it. I spent most of my time at Best Buy selling TVs. And most of that time I spent doing that poorly. I don’t really have that salesman personality. I have nothing against salespeople. I’ve worked with and for many. Some are great people some are real sacks of shit. Just like any other profession. I myself just don’t have that salesperson thing in me. I don’t have it in me to fight tooth and nail to make a sale. Some people are just built with that. I would have trouble doing it to begin with, but at a place like Best Buy I found it damn near impossible. Retail sales is a tricky business, because unlike a normal sales job there’s no motivation to try harder. Some guys would go crazy to make sales then spend the day bragging about how much better they were at selling the warranty plan. That always just seemed nuts to me. I would always offer the people the horse shit stuff like the warranties and the hundred dollar HDMI cables because if we didn’t we’d get hassled. I don’t like being hassled. Whether or not they’d buy the jacked up cables or the warranty didn’t really bother me one way or the other.

I bought a Best Buy shirt at a thrift store  when I was fifteen. I knew I was destined for greatness. Also those headphones aren't plugged in. I just thought they looked cool.

The fact that me, and a bunch of people like me, worked there ended up being a problem. Best Buy’s business models involved selling a lot of things, and we weren’t selling enough things. If you’re a company and need to motivate people to do something you have a few options. You can pay people the amount necessary to get that effort. This is tricky because it’s hard to know what that amount is. It could take years of trial and error to come to the right amount and that was time Best Buy just didn’t have. So they did not go this route. Another motivational tool is trying some non monetary compensation. You can try to make the work experience so great that people will forgo a higher wage to keep working their. Best Buy also did not go this route. Or at least if they thought they were they were failing. The third option is by tricking people. This is what they decided to go with.

The sales training attendees from my store and our "professor." This is what the future of a Fortune 500 looks like. 

They sent us to a sales training program where we were told that what was acceptable behavior in the past just wasn’t gonna cut it anymore. They needed to whip us into shape and make us put out the kind of effort that a professional sales staff would. But they didn’t want to put out the kind of money that would take. So at this training where it was explained that we’d have to put out some big money effort without big effort money, BUT this was a good thing for us! You see in the process we would be getting skills. Skills we could use to get better jobs once we got sick of working at Best Buy. We needed to sell a 32” Panasonic like our lives depended on it, because one day we’d have jobs where we’d have to try that hard. So we better start practicing now. Seriously.

I wasn’t happy about doing the sales training. I wasn’t too crazy about working there as of about two weeks in, and this was three years after that. So I was pretty fucking sick of it at that point. I didn’t much want to be there, but now I had to get trained to be there for the long haul. It’s like going to counseling for your marriage that you only agreed to so you get a green card. So when I was told I needed to attend this training seminar I wasn’t thrilled, but at least got to spend the week away from customers. Also if I bitched about it I might get hassled, and as I said earlier I’m not a fan of being hassled.
One of the customers I was happy to be getting away from. Some asshole wearing a flak helmet. Not pictured is his stupid razor scooter. Go to hell buddy. 

People there fit into one of a few different groups. There were the people who didn’t take it seriously because they thought they were better than this shit. That group included myself and a couple other folks. There were also the people taking it very seriously to better their Best Buy career. There was only a few of them, but they were annoying well beyond their numbers. A big part of the sales training was learning how to read off a “sales experience worksheet.” The worksheet was really just a script we were to read so we didn’t accidentally say anything too dumb. Learning how to read these things involved a lot of role playing with each other. Getting paired up with the people taking it seriously was always a pain in the ass because the company had spent money to send them here and goddamnit they were gonna get that money’s worth! Not only did they want to get better, they wanted to make sure I was getting better too. So during these role playing sessions they would not just pretend to be customers, but they would pretend to be really shitty customers. They would really be a tough sell and give me trouble over every single product I was supposed to be selling them. Keep in mind that these are all just pretend products. I’m not actually selling them anything and they’re not actually buying anything. No money is changing hands. This is all just make believe. And that being the case they would talk about how money’s tight lately (probably because they work at Best Buy) so they don’t think they can afford a new TV these days, unless of course I could spend more time convincing them. This was an everyday thing. Luckily there weren’t that many of these assholes.

The largest group were the idiots. These were the people who had no business being employed anywhere. Some of the standouts included a couple who spent most the week snuggling. They found a nice desk in the middle of all the action and decided they were going to take this opportunity to get some spooning done. Nobody seemed to think this was odd except me. There was the gentleman who wore his Best Buy blue shirt which he made his own by rolling up his sleeves all the way to reveal a giant pot leaf over flames tattoo. My personal favorite though was a grown man who went by the name “The Wolf.” He would answer to Wolf, but preferred it when you included the “the” before Wolf. They were easier to work with. They certainly didn’t make you work your ass off in the role playing but looking at them seriously depressed the shit out of me. Because we were all in the same place. As superior as I thought I was, I wasn’t. We were at the same company working the same jobs blowing off the same the sales training seminar. I realized that I had to make a change and quick. I either had to start taking this job seriously or else just leave.

Professional salesperson.

To help us do our job the way they wanted us to we were told we needed to live by our new company values. Company value number one was “have fun while being the best.” The fun having part was a challenge, but of course we were the best. Our team included The Wolf. Ain’t no Wolf rocking second best that’s for damn sure. Company value two was “learn from challenge and change.” When he told us that I couldn’t help but think of the manager who, upon my hiring, urged me to opt out of the 401k program so I could invest all my money in Best Buy stock. I’m pretty sure she will be changing after that challenge. Company value three was “unleash the power of the people.” If it was good enough for ending the Vietnam war then goddamnit it’s good enough to sell reasonably priced electronics. Company value number four was supposed to be the least insulting, but sounded the worst. The final company value was to “show integrity, respect, and humility.” On the surface that’s not all that shitty. I mean respect and integrity are both good things to be showing I guess. Do they really need to remind people who work at Best Buy to go in everyday and be humble? There’s nothing more humbling than working a job where everything is designed to make you know how replaceable you are.  The whole retail experience is designed from the top down to let you know that if you’re gone nobody will notice. That being said, you are not allowed to call out. Everyday you will show up dressed like a hundred some odd other people, you will all say the same things that we’ve read off identical scripts. That seems like a shitty thing to drive home. “Hey, you in the blue don’t you dare be thinking too highly of yourself, we can’t function in a place where people recognize their self worth!”

I understand there are certain professions where being humble is a necessity. If you’re a priest you have to remember who you’re there for or you’ll go mad with people throwing all those Hail Marys your way. You may start thinking you’re God. Same with the being the president. You probably have to work to keep yourself grounded so you don’t start developing a king complex. When you work at Best Buy you are never once at risk of letting that power go to your head. The second you put that blue shirt on every ounce of pride in who you are as an individual will evaporate. Also in working retail you’re not serving some greater purpose the integrity of which that is in need of protecting. It’s just some stupid big box store. The second you start thinking that this is an institution that you need to be humbled at the foot of that’s the moment you’ve lost all sense of perspective. From then on I knew I had a choice. Either get the hell out of there or keep working to the point where I'd humbled myself into thinking I belonged there. At that point I would claim my place alongside The Wolf, pot leaf guy, and the seminar snugglers.

I quit shortly thereafter. I got a job walking dogs. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.


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