What I Have Learned (and am still learning) working at Barnes and Noble

Part One: How I got the job, and being an unlikely salesperson

Barnes-and-Noble

Barnes and Noble: It is a store many people love, if simply just for the experience of being around books and friends. You are surrounded by knowledge that is contained in bound pages across an entire building. In Spring 2016, it was a store that felt like the perfect fit for me: I am a Christian who thoroughly enjoys access to Christian books, and, in the past two years, Philosophy books as well.

When I was let go from my previous job in solar due to downsizing, I began filling out job applications shortly after. The job search is always agonizing, stressful, and a test of patience. The first place I applied was Lifeway Christian Stores; having applied once before, the option was not in the system to let me apply again. Since a call never came, I aimed in a similar direction and applied for B&N. Having had no prior retail experience, I was not sure anyone would be willing to hire me at the time except for a seasonal position.

The General Call

One week later, the prior store manager gave me a call and asked me to come in for an interview the following week. I really wanted this job and I prayed and asked for prayer that God would open the door to work there. The interview went really well, and I felt confident that I would get a call back. My interview was May 12th. Two weeks passed…nothing. One month passed…nothing. During this period, people from my church  (including a few pastors) were praying for me and my search for a job. The wait in between consisted of more searching, but I really wanted to work here and I remember praying and asking God to give me an opportunity to do well there. With summer nearly half-over, I wasn’t sure what to do next…and then…

The Effectual Call

Lo and behold, they did call back- just before the end of June, and to my utter surprise and excitement. When one of the managers gave me a call to formally accept a position in the music department, I was all in! My start date was July 6th, the same day as my sisters birthday. That week in and of itself had several moments of impact in my life, including the birth of my nephew and a new friendship that started, all for another blog post.

Finally I was able to go to work again, to glorify God in the workplace, and being able to make money again felt great. I am thankful that God had hired me that late into the summer, if not just for the opportunity to go to Hume and Yosemite nearly every weekend since the semester had ended. Spending that quality time with friends was a blessing I very much needed, and reading in nature is always awesome.

Orientation

While I was filling out the paperwork the first day, I remember being so thankful that this store would trust me with a job here, since my prior work experience was not in retail, and outside of work I had been involved more extensively in church ministry (youth and young adult) than in business. I knew more of covenant theology than I did of overhead costs, taxes, and issuing prepay orders. I can say that, having been there nearly nine months, Barnes and Noble is honestly the best retail store to work in- if you are going to work retail, working here is where you find professionalism across the board. The people I met on day one, and who are still there, never changed themselves for me just because I was new. They really are a cohesive unit and I am thankful to be a part of it. Now, there is one element to this story I was not expecting, and that is the area of selling.

Winding Up The Pitch

Let me be clear: I don’t come off like a salesperson to the average person. I’m not charismatic, I’m not forward and direct, I’m shy, and I overthink things easily.

Salespeople are often seen as liars-charismatic charmers who convince you to buy something you can’t use and don’t need, or naive young people who don’t know what they are getting people into when they sign up for something. Thankfully, Barnes and Noble sells things I actually use, and the people there know how it works and are not what I described above- I bought their membership in 2015 and have used it ever since.

That being said, it did not prepare me for the reality that in addition to learning a cash register, working PDT’s, sorting music and DVD’s in the music department, and doing my best to keep it together, I had to learn the art of introducing people to our membership program, and, for a curveball, our new (rebooted) MasterCard program. I’m not a salesperson in the typical sense…it’s still my resolve to never fake a smile, never manipulate a sale, never push someone into anything. I want to have a clear conscience before the Lord in these things. But, selling is a unique thing. And, it’s taken time for me, but I feel like I’m slowly starting to understand how to sell in a way that honors God and does people good. I still will never be perfect and confess I am constantly praying my way through this, and being honest before the Lord when I feel I mess up and need to change my mentality. Sometimes, I post scripture on my register to give me an anchor in truth when I feel like the shift is a struggle.

Once again, these are all things that took months for me to learn.

Now, if you can’t tell already, I’m pretty detail oriented. I want-no- I need, to learn how stuff works. If it doesn’t make sense to me, how can it make sense to a customer? This, however, takes time and learning to build a conversational style and approach that is welcoming and not manipulating. However, it is a little awkward at first getting it started.

My First Days

Starting off, I began working in the music department and shadowed my coworker for about two weeks. In retrospect, I think the prior manager thought I needed more time to work with customers rather than move quickly on the fast-paced main sales floor. Since music is the slowest part of the store, you don’t have to work as quickly and don’t have as many opportunities to sell. During this time, I was only hired on to work in music. It’s the slower part of the store, and you mainly work by yourself. However, there was also a lot to learn about reading inventory and categorizing it in a large space. My second day there was spent going step by step through dozens of pages of paperwork and protocol, and that was just for music!

My third day working at the store, however, they gave me a four hour shift working at cashwrap, which is the main sales floor. Things went from 0-60 very quickly, as this was the day I learned to work the cash register. The first two hours I spent reading the textbook for the registers, which was nearly 200 pages in length. After observing our head cashier for two hours, she had me log on and give it a try. After two hours of on and off ringing, I was ready to go home and process how it all worked. So much information was filling my head. But, it felt so good to make money again, to start fresh, and to know I could glorify God in this workplace by doing the best job I could do and treating people as being made in the image of God.

In Conclusion

There’s more to share for next time, but I want to close this post with six things I resolve to do every time I go to work. This helps me get through stressful days and ecstatic days. Perhaps this will encourage you at your work this week:

1) I should treat every person as being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27-28), and show them kindness and grace.

2) To not let the sun go down on my anger if I encounter it from stress, and should respond in ways that are reflective of God’s love to me. (Eph. 5)

3) To recognize I still wrestle with a whole variety of sins, and accept that I will sin even if it’s only seen in my heart. That I cannot be perfect at what I do, but aim my attitude and behavior in the direction of love to Christ and others. (Rom. 12:9-13)

4) To recognize that work is temporary and that God is the One I serve ultimately. He’s the One who sees all and I should do it for Him. (Ecclesiastes 12)

5) That I don’t work primarily to grow my finances, feed myself, to buy things, or to improve my appearance. Money flies away, but what I do here has ramifications for eternity. (1 Corinthians 3).

6) That a job is a job, and people won’t remember me years from now. I can leave. I can go home. I can love my family. I can repent, I can trust Christ, and I can move forward.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2, ESV)

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