A Look at Corporate Retail Mentality

This is probably one of the more unusual calls I’ve gotten this month and to me illustrates something wrong with the American system. I got a call from a supervisor. His manager called up and the manager was the only employee at the convenience store. The manager was told by a customer that there was something burning in the back of the store, because this customer saw smoke. The customer didn’t see any flames, but there was a lot of smoke. The supervisor who called made a point to tell me that the manager was the only person at the store and a bus with over twenty people had just come into the store. The supervisor was calling to place a maintenance work order in for the store because of the smoke.

OK, hold up for a moment. Let’s take a step back, as I did when thinking about this call. A customer tells a manager there is smoke in the store and a possible fire. Did the manager check to see if there was a fire? Instead of calling the fire department or making a quick investigation of the issue, they called the supervisor.

Did the supervisor call the fire department? No. His first call was to us, because his worker was alone (which brings up some other issues I can think of). The supervisor didn’t tell me he was going to call the fire department, nor was he heading to the store to look in on his lone manager.

What about the customers? A customer went up to the manager and reported there was smoke and a possible fire. There were at least twenty people in the store, more concerned about purchasing cigarette, snacks and soda rather than leaving a smoke-filled room. I’m sure other people complained about the smoke, judging by experiences I’ve had with past calls, but no one did anything.

What bothers me the most about the call is that a lot of people down the chain, including the customers in the store, seemed to be oblivious to the danger at hand and wanted to continue business as usual. I’ve taken many calls with emergency situations happening at stores, such as flooding or sewage backups, and in those situations it seems funny to me that, for the most part, the store is more concerned about staying open and making sales rather than the safety of the employees or customers. In this case, there was a possible fire and visible smoke, but it didn’t occur to the manager or supervisor to call the fire department, or to evacuate the customers out of the building.

The concern seems about continuing to make sales and profit. It would be easy to blame the corporate culture on this, giving it an us against them portrait, but as the supervisor told me, there were twenty people in the store, with smoke in the room, who were more than willing to buy stuff in the store. Even if the manager were to say, hey, there’s nothing to see here with the smoke around, I would figure common sense would make people go out of the store with the smoke.

They stayed and continued to shop.

I’ve heard a lot of crazy things since I’ve been on this job, which is why the call about a fire in the store had me pause of a bit, but it didn’t freak me out. I’ve heard similar stories. There have been floods in stores, busted pipes, drains backing up and crap in the aisles, yet stores were still operating. You know what causes the most panic at the stores, more than running out of gas? Have the soda machine or coffee machine go down. For those types of calls, I will hear at least 1 to 3 times every hour a caller will tell me, “The machine is down and I’m losing sales.”

It just crazy that a possible fire in the store and business can go on, but the Coke or Pepsi is not dispensing or the ice maker goes down, then heaven and earth must be moved to appease the customer base. I get it from a business standpoint, but wouldn’t contacting the proper authorities, such as the fire department, make more sense to call first rather than the supervisor and then us being called to send a technician?

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