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The 10 Crucial Ways To Succeed in Retail... Or The Circus!

Updated on June 22, 2016

The 10 Most Important Things To Know To Succeed In Retail… Or The Circus.


And here we are. Ten years since I found myself a high school graduate in need of some income and experience as I applied myself at one of the best universities the city of Chicago had to offer. I have since acquired my 4-Year degree but find myself still locked into the hearty grasp of the capitalist circus. And indeed, just like working at an actual circus you’ll find clowns, animals, and a sea of people flocking in just to find some cheap entertainment in their otherwise dull existences. But also like a circus, you often find yourself as a performer going above and beyond everyone’s expectations and leaving a lasting impression even when you’re dead tired and feel as if there’s no way you’re going to finish this shift still standing upright. And on that note, sit back and rest those weary knees. Come one and come all! It’s The Ten Most Important Things To Know To Succeed In Retail… Or The Circus. On with the show!

  1. It’s Okay To Be a Little Late.

While being late to work never looks particularly great to the boss, if you sparse it out right and only be late by a few minutes when giving yourself that extra time in the morning to do something else, it really doesn’t look that bad assuming you’re an above average employee otherwise.

"Man that lion tamer sure is punctual! Too bad he can’t seem to ever get the audience’s attention long enough for them to care."

2. Speaking of Attention, Gain Positive Attention of Your Fellow Co-Workers by Greeting them Every Time You Start the Day.

Everytime I walk into my retail job I make sure I do one thing. And that’s say ”Hi” to everybody right off the bat. Why? Because it just makes later issues go down so much smoother if you just make the effort to address people like you actually care about making it a priority to acknowledge them. It sounds really simple but doing this will leave you on people’s good sides whenever problems do come up which is invaluable when working with the same staff of employees for many years and trying to just get stuff done and minimize conflict at the same time.

"That new cotton candy dude sure is one cocky son of a gun, thinking he can out sell us here at the Super Pretzel trailer. Although, he always asks how I’m doing when he walks past doesn’t he? You know what? I’m going to be less salty about his selling style and more salty with these pretzels! For the circus!"

3. Never Let The Little Jabs Get You Down For Too Long

You’re gonna get made fun of, I mean it’s unavoidable. Some of it’s going to be more malicious than others, some of it’s just to pass the time, and some of it’s going to be just downright stupid. My speaking voice is too loud for you? I talk too much for your taste in-which your response is “Shut Up…” in a mocking tone that’s supposed to be funny, even at this, probably the 17th time you’ve belched it from your inner self-hatred? Don’t let these subtle insults get you down. It’s just not worth your time or stress level. Process them for a few moments and then let them go, knowing you are so much better off for it. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even flip the script on them with witty comebacks! Beware though, this can quickly escalate to a full out war of attrition.

Gary The Juggler: You know Bill, everytime I see you cut that woman in half I think to myself, “That’s probably the only way a woman that hot would ever let a guy like that touch her at all!”

Bill The Magician: “Oh… coming from a man that handles balls all day… you’ve got me there brother!”

4. You’re Always Selling Something, But It Doesn’t Have to Be Your Soul.

A lot people get into retail jobs hoping to one day leave those same retail jobs for something they’re really passionate about. And while they’re under the shadow of the corporate umbrella they feel as if they are nothing more than a frivolous drone that acts only in tow with the company’s benefit. While there’s some truth to that (I mean they are paying you for a reason right?) you are still… you. And working retail doesn’t have to necessarily have to compromise that. In fact, unless you are a closet serial killer, being yourself is probably the best way to sell stuff to people that likely just want to get their stuff and get the hell out of there. If what you are saying to customers sounds genuine enough (assuming it’s not overly condescending), you might just be able to keep your soul after all.


"You know I didn’t really think I needed that giant stuffed wombat so much but the way that cheery fellow kept hyping it up at the bottle toss game… I just couldn’t help myself!"

5. Be Unforgettable.

Now being yourself is nice, but what if that only takes you so far into the hearts and minds of the customers around you? That’s when you know it’s time. Time for what you ask? Well, it may just be time to drop down into that Southern accent you’ve always had a knack for or maybe it’s time to wear those funky pins on your apron to give people a reason to notice you that otherwise wouldn’t have or maybe just go beyond the simple talking points that a retailer would give you and delve deeper into a customer’s life and connect with them on much richer level. Be the lantern that attracts all the little fireflies and make yourself noticed. One of the worst feelings working in retail is being ignored. Whether it be by customers, co-workers or even the mail dude that drops off the paychecks, make everyone remember you in some way. You’ll foster not only growth between you and those around you, but also growth within yourself as well.


"Haha, that security guard at the entrance gates always has some different kind of clown makeup on, and he’s not even part of any of the acts! Ho boy, I always look for him whenever I come back to this place…."

6. Sales Goals Can Be Frustrating, So Don’t Let Them Be.

Ready that tally sheet because you’re gonna have to mark down how many (x) you’ve sold during a given shift… how exciting right? Yeah, shilling items you don’t give a dead moose’s last crap about sure doesn’t inspire much in the heart of many a man but don’t fret! Sales goals shouldn’t change the way you interact with the customers you encounter because you still want to sound like your normal self and not some scripted robotizoid! The biggest mistake someone can make when trying to sell something is sounding like… they’re trying to sell something. Goals are always going to be there whether you sell zero things or surpass your goals beyond all expectations, so don’t sweat them or think your job is in jeopardy if you don’t meet your goals. Tomorrow is another shift…

"Ringmaster Jim: If we don’t get fifty more people a day in this big top, we’re gonna be out on our butts, and into the front, of the unemployment line."

"Maury The Lion: ROOOOAAAAR!!!!"

"Ringmaster Jim: Quiet now! You’re gonna… get attention…. Wait that’s it! You’ll roar like you’ve never roared before to attract more of an audience to the show! Maury… thanks for just… being you."

7. Know The Product, Or At Least, Be Confident In Your Uncertainty.

If your place of business is like any of my places of business there is bound to be a slew of items people ask about on a semi-regular basis that you probably know almost nothing about because A) it’s not your department or B) it’s such a specific niche sort of item that it rarely gets any attention or C) it’s something new to the store and no one really knows it that well. What a lot of customers don’t realize is that most of their questions about a certain item can be answered by just reading what’s on it’s label and the employees generally have to look at that same label to get their information as well. Before that step though, you’ll definitely find yourself in moments where customers ask you about products you know very little about. This may feel like an awkward and uncomfortable experience being exposed as a non-expert on something but you see… this is where you can really play around with things and ply your wit and mental agility in still saving face and sounding like you actually know what you’re talking about. There have been countless times where a customer has asked me a question about some random item and I have not known the right answer but before I passed it off to someone else I’ve tried to ACTUALLY figure it out myself! And about 90% of the time, the both of us (customer and employee) are able to figure it out by just investigating and thinking out loud. You don’t have to be an expert on a product to know exactly how to use it, you only have to be willing to figure it out yourself and a lot of times… it works.


"Excuse me sir, I’m looking for the circus game with the best odds of winning so that I look good for my new girlfriend, have any idea which one that would be?"

"Ummmm...."

*Thinks to himself* "Man, I don’t know if any of these games really would give this dude an edge, I just started working here!"

"Well, tell you what, maybe I can give one of those game dudes a break for the next fifteen minutes and let you do your thing for your lady, how does that sound?"

"Splendid! I appreciate your expertise on the subject!"

*Thinks to himself* "Riiiiiight…."

8. Talk Things Out, Even If It’s With Yourself.

Common wisdom would tell you that talking to yourself is pretty darn crazy. Not true! As a matter of fact, talking things out with yourself out loud can be a great way to work out kinks in your vocal delivery, practice your sales pitch or even just to keep things lively by singing a little song or reciting your favorite lines from TV shows that you really like to watch. Keep a good rhythm throughout your day and it will serve you well in downtimes between customers. It’s nice to be able to decompress and just let your mind wander sometimes during your workday and not get too stressed out about what the last customer said or what your co-worker or boss may have just said to you about the not-so-bang-up job you’re doing. Those little things can get stuck in your head and can cause you to lose your focus and make careless mistakes due to your preoccupations. Don’t fret, we’ve all been there. It’s just a matter of talking yourself out of it. I mean, who better to counsel you through times of uncertainty than the person that knows you best? You!


Clown: "Those kids just don’t appreciate my comedy shtick, I think I may have to change things up, eh? *Out loud, to himself, in a sing songy voice* Ohhhhh, being fuuunnnyy can be haaaaaaaard, but not as haaaaard as the unemployment liiiiiiiine! Do do, do do duh do! Laugh and I’ll get paaaaaaaid eveeeeen moooooooore! Work with meeeeee kiiiiiids! C’mooooon! I reaaaaaallly neeeeeeed thiiiiiis for reeeee-eeeent!"

9. Ride a Bike to Work. Or Even Just Walk.

I ride a bike to work. All the time. Summer, spring, fall, winter. It’s how I get around. It’s cheaper than a car, better for the environment and makes me feel accomplished every time I walk in the door. I did it, I made the effort to bike to work and not everybody could say that. In fact most of the time, I was the only one who could say that. But also, getting your heart rate up and finding a second gear in your own personal energy expenditure for the day… that’s a free boost that comes naturally! What’s better than that? Sure biking and walking can take longer to get around but I find that that extra time to yourself can be quite beneficial and can really clear things up in your mind before you find yourself focusing on the task at hand. It makes you feel good and saves you a bunch of money on gas and insurance that, if you’re working in retail, will likely be a much needed boost to your bank account. Ride on you somuvagun!

*While riding a bike down a busy street* "Hmmm, maybe I should have taken off this ringmaster get up before riding to the circus today. Ah, well. It’s not too far and it makes me feel great doing it so what’s a little extra sweat?" *Pedals on, turns up the music*

10. Always Leave The Place Better Than You Found It.

So you’ve gotten through an entire day of work, hours and hours have gone by and you look around you and ask yourself, “Did what I did today actually matter? Have I made a difference today or was I just there? These questions can be tough to answer at times as not everyday is an amazing display of your talents and just eeking out some kind of impact upon your surroundings can feel like a tremendously difficult task. We all have our bad days and sometimes those bad days can spiral into bad weeks which can get into even worse scenarios if not halted. Take hold of what’s in front of you and do your best to improve yourself and your workplace everyday. If you really want to succeed in retail you won’t just go through the motions and you WILL make it a priority to improve everything around you. The product, the relationship with the customers and your fellow employees… you’ll make it happen because you won’t be satisfied otherwise. Be proud of what you’ve done and what you’re doing. Others will notice your positive attitude and resolve and invariably this will allow you to get where you want to be in the realm of retail and maybe even further. What you put into your job will almost always be what you get out of it. Always be thinking, “How can I improve this?” or “What would really make this shine?” And when you’ve done this, that’s when real differences can be made not just in retail, but in your own full blown existence on this earth. Even a big top elephant tamer can see that logic…

"Well, Cyndie. Looks like we’ve reached the end of the night, a fine performance by you and the girls, the way you all balanced those beach balls on your heads tonight was truly a moving and touching experience for not only that outstandingly energetic audience but also, me, your maestro extraordinaire! We’ve put on a show for the ages and it’s all because we saw the improvements that needed to be made, and we made them! We made this show the best this circus has ever seen! A true gem in a sea of pearls I tell you! We made this place better than it’s ever been! And no one can that away from us! And to think, I was going to work in retail… not anymore ladies! The circus is my true home! Now good night!

Cyndie and the other Elephants: Euhrrrrrrroooooooooooooooh!"

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