Thursday, April 26, 2007

What a minimum wage paying job taught me.

My first job was a model /slash sales girl in a Canadian store called “Units”. It was the kind of store where you couldn't figure out what was sold. The clothes were easy knits, colourful, with no tight elastic band. They were stacked in cubicle and wrapped in plastic with cardboard backing so they could keep their form. The only time the customers knew the nature of the product was from a ramp stationed in the middle of the store on which - more frequently at the mall's busy hours- a bunch of sales associates would walk . If was a lot of fun! I was 19, it was a minimum wage paying job. I got no more than CDN $5.25 per hour. Still, we had some serious sales targets to meet. What follows are the three key lessons I learnt from the time I worked for minimum wages.

1. A Good Boss Will Notice Your Worth.
I was a West Indian in a foreign culture. You can bet that I didn't want to mess up. I was always the first to arrive and the last to fold the clothes back into their plastic wrappings. I treated customers, my boss and my colleagues respectfully but with a lot of Caribbean warmth. I took out trash even though it was not in my job description and was told that my personality caused the team to bond in ways they did not before.
After a few months, my boss called me into his office for my first performance review. He said that I had done well and that $.10 was the average raise for his employees. He asked what I thought I deserved. I replied that since I had done no more or less than what others did, I deserved the standard.
"Why" my boss pressed.
"Because what I am doing is not hard, you can easily find someone to replace me."

My boss increased my salary by $1.00 raise per hour. I was astounded. "I need to make sure you stay with us a few years more” he said, “so that the store across the street never has the opportunity to grab you.”

Lesson: Even when you think no one notices, someone always does

2. Sometimes a Few Good People Is All It Takes.

During the mall's busiest hours we had to make sure we were on the ramp constantly. The busyness of that activity generated the interest and sales peaked according to the activity on the ramp. But the effort required coordination between the girls showing the clothes and the sales assistants on the ground. Each model was assigned an assistant to help seal the deal. One day I was on the ramp and noticed that my sales assistant was overwhelmed with a surprising influx of customers So I picked up some of the slack. During my sets, I walked off the ramp, greeted customers, showed them the clothes, heightened their interest, sealed the deal before passing the sale on to the assistant. She was grateful and did the same for me several times over. We made an unbeatable team.

Lesson: By seeking solutions for the team and going the distance you win a tremendous amount of support and respect.

3. Connect With What You Are Doing and Do What You Love
I enjoy working hard doing things that I love. I was nineteen, I was around fashion, design, and working in another country. Who was I to complain about the wage. I know some people are prone to think: ‘I am not going to work hard given the pay I get’, instead they prefer to wait until they 'higher' position before taking on more. I never did, money never was my motivator, learning was.

Looking back, that minimum wage job taught me a lot. Now that I have my own communications firm, I practice what I learnt straight from the lessons of my youth, earning a minimum wage in Canada.

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