Working at The Mall

PLAZA - Working at the Mall

PLAZA – Working at the Mall

At PLAZA we’re fascinated with the glamour of the shopping mall. Glistening marble floors, gushing water features and soft soothing music. Do you ever wonder what it’s like for the people manning the tills whilst you treat yourself to a girly afternoon at Westfield? What is life like for the teams spending their days  toiling away at The Trafford Centre?

Malled - Caitlin Kelly

Malled – Caitlin Kelly

When we stumbled across ‘Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail’ by Caitlin Kelly, we had a great opportunity to find out. After losing her job as a journalist and the security of a good salary, Caitlin Kelly was hard up for cash. Suddenly she found herself, middle-aged and mid-career, thrown headfirst into the bizarre alternate reality of the American mall: a world of low-wage workers selling overpriced goods to well-to-do customers.

At first, Kelly found her part-time job fun and reaffirming, a way to maintain her sanity and sense of self-worth. But she describes how the unexpected physical pressures, the unreasonable dictates of a remote corporate bureaucracy, and the dead-end career path eventually took their toll. As she struggled through more than two years at the mall, despite surgeries, customer abuse, and corporate inanity, Kelly gained a deeper understanding of the plight of the retail worker.

PLAZA decided to interview Caitlin to find out more…

P:What was your most embarrassing mall moment?

CK:When my ex-husband’s new wife came into the store to shop. Ugh!

P:What are your tips for survival for life at The Mall?

CK:Hydrate! Moisturize! Bring little treats to eat and drink during your shift if you work there. It’s so soul-less you need to remember you have a life outside those walls. Bring healthy, nice food to eat on your break and be sure to sit down somewhere quiet and private to just re-charge. Retail work can be a lot of fun, but it’s physically and emotionally draining.

P:How did you relate to the other staff? Was there any rivalry?
CK:We got along surprisingly well, given our ages ranged from 18 to 50 (me.) There was one young woman I loathed and the feeling was mutual, but since we usually worked different days and both sold well our manager let us stay. We did not work on commission, so there was little rivalry in that respect.

P:Do you think working at the mall damaged your health?

CK:Yes. I worked with an arthritic hip and I quit my job, after 27 months part-time, in December 2009. I suffered excruciating pain in that hip for almost 2.5 years as I postponed major surgery. On Feb. 6, 2012, I got an artificial hip, a lot sooner than I might otherwise have needed one.

P:Would you ever go back to work at the mall?

CK:Highly doubtful. I hate the environment, and the mall I worked in has gone even more upscale in the three years since I quit. I can’t even afford much of what they sell, super-luxury goods like Gucci, Vuitton, etc.

P:How has working at the Mall changed your attitude to shop staff?

CK:It has, very much so. I am more sympathetic because I understand the ridiculous demands that corporate employers make on workers while paying them terrible wages — but I am also very impatient with lousy, lazy or incompetent service because we were well-trained in our store and I now want and expect it as a shopper myself.

P:What has been your best lesson learnt from working at the mall?

CK:That relating to, and helping, strangers isn’t nearly as difficult as I once thought. If you’re genuinely friendly and smart and listen well, you’ve got skills that are of value to many employers in many fields. Working on the sales floor really helped me see this  clearly and helped me develop my ability to sell more effectively. My own freelance work has very much benefited from this.

P:Describe your rudest customer?

CK:Tough choice! My book has a chapter called “Customers from Hell.” The rudest was someone who, I am fairly certain, was mentally ill, so she likely could not control herself. But she was nasty and insulting and I fled to the stockroom to get away from her before I totally lost my temper and started shouting back at her. My manager gave me the rest of the day off.

P:What would you change about the Mall work environment, how would you improve this for employees?

CK:It won’t ever happen, but it would be great if there were some way for retail associates from every shop to meet, trade notes, socialize, and find out about new and better jobs. This should, ideally, be a physical space or a meet-up, but with the crazy and shifting schedules everyone has, an app or Facebook page would work better.

You can buy Caitlin’s book ‘Malled’ at Amazon – definitely worth a read!