The House of Happiness, Le Mart du K, the Bungalow Brandishing the Blinking Blue Beacon of Better Bargains, call it what you will, IT is KMART, the place that gave me my start in the world of retail.

I have fond memories of the place. But first, let me give you a preview of what exactly I did over there.

I started out as a laser scanning technician (my words, not theirs) on September 14, 1992. And look at me now: CEO. Yes, this is the tale of a plucky young boy and his equally plucky dog...


Who just kicked me? You did? Why? Oh, was I off the track a little? What did I say? Oh, my. Well, folks that may have been a slight exaggeration. Let me continue.

I did start out as a laser scanning technician. I worked that job for about 9 months, and looking back on it now, I have no idea how I survived. It almost seems to me that pregnancy might be easier, and they last the same amount of time. Okay, I'm pushing it (pun intended). Being a cashier (for that's what I actually was) is one of the most boring jobs on Earth. The only way to bear it is to keep begging your supervisor if you can shut your light off and do something interesting. Like straightening, getting carts, chopping down trees (yes, we actually got to do this; trust me- I never asked twice) clean the garbage out of the parking lots (did this, too. This was one of my manager's favorite jobs (to assign (emphasis on the word assign)) early Saturday mornings), and to collect all of the hangers from the clothes that were sold (Kmart wouldn't give those hangers out)and merchandise that customers didn't want. This task was known as 'hanger-merch', and I must admit that the only reason I liked doing this was because I got to use the word 'merch'. Go ahead. Say it Merch. Just kind of rolls off the tongue, don't it? Can I get hanger-merch? Pardon me, Lisa, but I need to get your merch (nudge-nudge, wink-wink). Where the hell did you get all of this merch?


Sorry. It's good thing you did that, I was on a roll.

Towards the end of my time up there, I was allowed to be a supervisor: I covered the regular sup's breaks, and such. Not that I ever got paid the same wage that a regular supervisor would. One particularly slow Saturday, one of the sup's decided that since it was so slow, she would go out and work the floor (a person can make up to $200/hour working the floor!), leaving me up front in charge. Things went rather well, until towards the end of my shift, Helga, a fine woman with a legitimate German accent asked if she could shut off her light in order to use the Kmart facilities. I looked at the time sheet and told her that she only had 10 minutes left on her shift, and couldn't she hold it until then. She looked at me over the top of her glasses with a look that said you stupid little boy, you don't understand anything do you? Over the next several months, I was told (mostly by female employees) that this was the wrong decision. But geez, she only had 10 minutes left! The folks in charge are always much maligned.

We laso had these magnets up there (at the checkouts) advertising the Oakdale Kmart Pharmacy. It had a picture of a beaker or something, and the pharmacy's phone number. Then, below that phone numer, there was the phone number for the local poison control center. I guess whoever designed this magnet figured that you might need the poison control center after visiting the Kmart pharmacy.

Eventually, I was no longer being scheduled up front at checkout: I was now a floor guy. I worked in an area known as "area 1", which was basically the entire store. This might be a slight exaggeration, but not too big of one. When I was scheduled, I had to cover hardware, toys, housewares, health and beauty aids, furniture, seasonal merchandise, Sporting Goods' break, Electronics break, Footwear after 9:00, and be ready to go on checkouts if things ever got busy up there. But it was loads of fun. It was great knowing that you were in charge of half the store. But that's an awful lot of responsibility (ha!) to heap on the shoulders of a slender (ha!) 18 year old. Actually, quite often I would be working with someone else, so things weren't that bad.

It was at this job that I first learned about The Back. Quite often, a customer would come up to me, drag me over to an empty shelf, and start complaining that we were out of this item. Would I please go and see if there was any more in The Back. It was always pronounced just the way I wrote it. It's like the speaker was using reverent tones because The Back was not actually a place where Kmart stored all of its overstock merchandise, but was instead this big room, painted all in white and empty save for a very large black cauldron. The employees would go back there, strip naked, cover themselves with blue paint, and dance around this cauldron with the hope that if we pleased the Great Gods of Crappy Merchandise, the item that the customer was looking for would appear in the pot. What the customers never realized is that the Gods also usually asked for a human sacrifice, and we were only to happy to supply the nearest customer we found.

That of course, isn't true at all. Oh no, not the part about The Back. That's what actually happens. The part that isn't true is the beginning about how a customer would come up to us. Everyone knows that retail employees always try to make themselves as scarce as possible: there's no way a customer could find me. In fact, I was rewarded for my customer evasion skills with the November, 1993 employee of the month award.

As promised, here are some stories from folks around the world:

From Jeff Locke (

 I currently work at kmart.  The customers can be amazingly stupid.  I 
can't believe how many times a person has walked up to me and asked if I 
work there. I just once would like to say, "naw. I just like to put on 
this dorky red vest, and a nametag. then I walk around help people out 
for free. kinda like the guardian angel of retail !!"  I work in the 
electronics dept. The thing that really amuses me is how they seem to 
think that ordering, and refund decisions are handled by low level 
employees such as cashiers and stock people.  It is so common to have a 
disgruntled customer just rip into me over some kmart policy, or some 
kmart screw up.  I constantly have to assure customers that I am just a 
sales clerk (located somewhere between a dog and a human on the food 
chain) and BELIEVE IT OR NOT !!! I don't personally run the ads, or order 
the merchandise. It's so rare to see a customer yell at an actual 
manager. I am also impressed with the number of people who think a dept 
store is an Arab flea market.  Whe do people persist in trying to haggle 
with me on the price of things. I don't mean the old "I saw it a another 
store for less!" routine. I mean real haggling. They say, "What does that 
tv go for? $189.97. hmmmm....Ill give you $160.00!! what do you say?, 
have we got a deal??"
As though I actually own that dept.

From "Bob":
I have worked at Kmart for a year now and I, to put it in the nicest 
way possible, HATE IT!!!  I am a 17 year old cashier and my job happens 
to include running the sporting goods, electronics, checkouts, and 
garden shop registers, doing customer carryouts, answering the 
customers stupid questions, sweep, get shopping carts outside while 
avoiding cars,  water plants, clean vomit, clean ladies bathroom, clean 
mens bathroom, code S, answer phones, put out stock, feed the managers 
their prunes because they are so freaking old, and THEN go on my 15 
minute break just to be called back to do a customer carryout. After 
getting off my break the managers call me slow and lazy because I 
didn't want to clean the whole store with a tooth brush.  Why clean 
with a toothbrush, because we were having COMPANY!!! Oh no! 
Not...COMPANY!!! I think the last visit was from the vice head district 
managing supervisor of blue light specials.  We have been preparing for 
his visit for about 3 weeks.  The store closes at 10:00pm, but we were 
too busy cleaning the store to make it perfect for the district guy 
that we didn't get out until 1:00am.  The store was in perfect shape.  
All the  isles looked clean because all the items were thrown behind 
other items.  The guy finally comes, uses the phone, and leaves.  That 
means the store was good. Managers are happy because they worked so 
hard to make the store neat by telling us lazy associates what to do. 
Gee, I wish I worked as hard as they did. I would love the hard job of 
saying, "You didn't pull that item forward far enough", "Code S is in 
effect", "Your fired", or "I don't care if your hand was crushed by a 
palletful of freight, I want you to pull out all the rusty nails with 
your fingernails."

Bob has a point. This whole "company" (I didn't know that other stores had "company" just ours) thing is just really stupid. Supposably, I think these visits are supposed to be kept secret. But somebody always tells the managers of each store that company is coming to visit. If somebody made a phone call to any store and said to be ready because company was coming tomorrow, I think the poor evening folks (like Bob) would never get to go home.

Ooh. I've got to make a phone call.

I want to hear some of your retail related stories. With your permission, I'd like to post them on this site for all the world to see. So mail me now !
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The views and opinions were expressed on this page only after being coerced by the University of Minnesota. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Mike Wade.

(I'm lying)