‘Hi, how are you?’
‘Do you have a loyalty card?’
‘That’ll be $9.50.’
Robotic exchange of money.
‘Thanks, have a good day.’ Another plastic smile.
This dry exchange was repeated at least three-hundred times every shift I worked in the express checkout at a massive chain supermarket in Australia.
There would often be a break in the monotony where I would serve one of my hungry colleagues buying a microwave meal for their lunch. This would follow with the predictable conversation of how busy it has been that day or bitching about a particularly rude customer. They would then trundle up to the tea room to heat and eat the soggy cardboard surprise and chat to colleagues about how busy it has been that day.
It amused me whenever the ‘big boss’ used to venture into the tea room from his big, dark office of demands and security cameras. Apparently he did this to show he was just ‘part of the team’ and to make him seem more approachable. It didn’t help when most of the team sat at the other end of the tea table. He tried to strike up conversation with how busy it had been that day and this generally got everybody talking.
One conversation that sticks in my mind is the merchandise placement strategy they were working on. The big boss had moved the entire milk fridge to the very back of the store, as well as all of the bakery items.
‘This is what people buy the most. Bread and milk. I want them to walk through the whole store through all the 2-4-1’s until they get to the staples at the back of the store. ‘
I thought about this obstacle course of temptation and it didn’t sit right with me.
I partook in this ritual during my first week to bond with my new ‘supermarket team’. Until one lunch time, a lady from the deli came into the tea room with a beautiful poppy-seed roll bursting with vibrant, fresh ingredients.
‘Where did you get that roll?’ I asked, salivating.
‘At the local sandwich shop, next to the newsagents up there. They’re the best!’
I ditched my heat-n-eat meal and marched straight to the sandwich shop. It was busy in there, but I was greeted with a real smile and the customers didn’t seem to be generally bothered. A bain Marie lay before me with hot pasta, couscous, vegetables and stir frys. Everything was in front of me, not hidden at the back of the shop between red special flags and offensive promotions.
I ordered some colourful vegetables and couscous and sat in their small café munching away, listening to the genuine conversation between the shop owner and Margaret about her sick Budgie Harry. I took my first deep breath of the day and my shoulders dropped. This is somewhere I’d like to work.
Why had I not walked those extra few steps and looked in my local independent shops? Did the huge chain monster blind me with its florescent lights and 2-for1 quick and easy meals? Working with the competitor has opened my eyes to quality food, and quality service and this is the only thing I can thank them for (apart from my pay check!).
Written by Lauren Ottaway