Guest Column: Retail Stores = Reality Show

Enjoy the amusement happening in your own workplace or at a c-store in Anytown USA

Diane McCarty, Retail Princess

Diane McCarty

SHERMAN, Texas -- The words "retail" and "reality" are awfully similar. Recently, my retail management job has seemed more like I'm directing a bad reality show. The store where I've spent way too much time lately has all of the ingredients for a successful series: quirky characters, conflict-laden scenarios and interpersonal drama that can bring out the worst in people.

I was playing store manager again when the phone rang. "Miss Diane, can you bring me a can of gas? I nearly made it to Jiffy Stop, where I was gonna get fuel, but I'm still a mile away from there."

Mark had left our store, paycheck in hand, and neglected to buy gas from the store that employs him. This learning experience (let's hope) cost him $17.90—which he clearly doesn't have to spare. I know this because as he was refueling his hoopty on the side of the highway, I asked why he left our place on empty. Mark was headed to the pawnshop 30 miles away to retrieve his big-screen TV when he remembered. I couldn't resist--I had to know why he'd pawned his prized possession. "I needed 100 bucks to take my kids fishing," he said.

Now, I'm no authority on anything related to kids, but I understand enough about children under the age of seven to know that fishing on the bank is a quick way to lose your good mood and, evidently, $100. In case you're not a fisherperson, the "sport" (note the quotes) is not chock-full of excitement and the activity level barely registers above napping for most adults.

Keeping young kids engaged in this hobby is even more challenging than keeping our managers awake during the monthly three-hour P&L meeting.

Elvis Loves Mimi

Later that week, our new opener, Desiree, had to miss a few workdays while she sat out her traffic tickets--in jail. When her dad, Jimmy, came in to tell us this bad news, I learned that he and our middle-aged part-timer, Martha, were romantically involved. It's a small town, so the geographically desirable dating pool is about the size of an inflatable one from Target.

After trying to get the nauseating thought of those two lovebirds out of my head, a more ridiculous one took its place. Jimmy mentioned that he does Elvis impersonating on the side, when he's not too busy with his "discount boat detailing" business.

I'm sure the most comical part of his gig would be watching him wrangle his giant beer belly into a white polyester jumpsuit and carefully place the black mutton-chop sideburns onto his salt-and-pepper jowls. If you can imagine a disheveled, morbidly obese Elvis who's lost several teeth in a bar fight, you'll get close to Jimmy's look.

And if that image wasn't unpleasant enough, I found out that Martha had been seeing a customer I've known for years before hooking up with Jimmy.

You must be careful when you ask how people are doing--they just might tell you. After asking Tom how he'd been, he enlightened me with the reason he and Martha are no longer together. I'm now saddled with the knowledge that he couldn't keep up with her needs in the bedroom. I knew Martha had enough energy to work two jobs, but I hadn't imagined that this sandwich artist, who looks like Mimi from The Drew Carey Show after gastric-bypass surgery, turned sex kitten at closing time.

Granted, my idea needs some work, but c-stores possess the basics of a successful reality show. We could doll up the uniforms to create the sex appeal needed for hit programs these days. Female associates would wear low-cut, logoed shirts with the fuel brand spelled out on their Daisy Dukes, while the guys would sport tight-fitting knits that showed off their six-pack abs. Monthly contests among employees are already being held, so we could just make the competitions more dramatic and losses especially traumatic.

If TLC thinks extreme couponing is worthy of a TV show, imagine how riveting viewers would find the zany behavior of retail customers and employees. While I keep my day job and pitch my proposal to a few fledgling networks, I invite you to enjoy the amusement happening in your own workplace or at a c-store in Anytown USA.

Diane McCarty is Retail Princess of Douglass Distributing Retail Co., Sherman, Texas. Reach her at [email protected]. This column is reprinted from the September 2011 issue of CSP magazine.