Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Independents and Big National Chains

Back before the big drug store chains became the norm, I had a job after school in a small town pharmacy.  The old man, in addition to being very highly reputed in the pharmacy profession, was also a shrewd business entrepreneur.  Shrewd enough to exploit a loophole in the mimimum wage laws, enabling him to pay full-time students such as myself and a few of my classmates less than the nominal minimum wage.

Years later, at a high school class reunion, I got into a conversation with a classmate.  We sized up those of us who were there, and those who weren't.  Though there were exceptions both ways, we came to the conclusion that those of us who had gainful employment in high school fared far better in life than those of us who did not, notwithstanding the impecuniousness of the emolument which some of us received.  And a third classmate put us in our place when we started pissing and moaning about our low wages from our respective after-school jobs; his "gainful employment" was helping out his parents with the family business, and, doing the arithmetic, his take-home pay on a per-hour basis was less than ours (though he did subsequently attain an ownership interest in the family business).

The proprietor of the drugstore where I worked after school may have been a miserly tightwad sonofabitch, but he was a good boss.  He knew how he wanted to run his business, he made the rules, he communicated the rules to his employees, and he basically left his employees alone to do what they were tasked to do when he wasn't chewing us out.  And he had a sign posted in the back room:  "Customers Pay Your Salaries!" On one occasion when he was dressing me down, two customers simultaneously walked up to two separate cash registers.  He cut off his tirade and said to me, "Go help that gentleman at the register, and I'll yell at you later."  (He did).

The old man's Rule Number One was that The Customer is Always Right.  He insisted that we never get into an argument with a customer, and any dissatisfied customers were to be referred to him (or to the pharmacist on duty if he was not available). 

My son's first remunerative job was gotten through the good offices of his maternal parent.  My wife arranged for him to volunteer during a summer at the hospital where she works, which gave him a preference for a remunerative position the next summer.  My wife told the chair of the department where he was working that she was to hold my son to the same standard as any other employee.  The next year, his senior year of high school, my son lined up his own after school job (or, rather, jobs, because he had two), which paid him more than the hospital could.

So I certainly can identify with working in a low paying job after school, and I certainly can respect those who do it.  Accordingly, I give benefit of the doubt to the young lady whom I encountered in the Big National Chain drugstore this evening.  It is entirely plausible that she did not have the benefit of proper training and direction.

I walked into the store and immediately noticed (could not help but notice) that the "background" music was not so background.  I would estimate it to exceed 70 dB (normal conversation is about 60 dB).  This young lady came up to me and asked me if she could be of help.  I told her that, first of all, the background music was too loud.  She told me that she has no control over it.  I said to her "Don't you have a manager here?"  She told me that her manager would tell me the same thing.  At that point, I was really, really uncomfortable, so I put down the item I had intended to take to checkout and walked out of the store.

A while later, I passed a Big National Chain drugstore at another location.  I went into there.  The same background music was playing, but it wasn't as loud.  I did my shopping there, and continued with my agenda this evening.

The independent pharmacies (or hardware stores or stationery stores or any other kind of store) were good because they were managed by people who had skin in the game.  At the Big National Chain drugstores I visit, they end up with a new manager every few months.  The small town independent pharmacy where I worked was one and the same as the financial security of its proprietor.  And so, the old man did his utmost to keep the customers satisfied; and while he couldn't always give them the lowest prices, he insisted that customers be given the most courteous, expeditious and competent service.  He knew that the most important person in the store was the customer.

Almost two years ago, I had occasion to walk by what had been the small town drugstore where I had been employed.  It is now a high-end bistro restaurant.  Two blocks away is a Big National Chain drugstore.  I went into there to get something for my Mom.  I cannot say that the personnel in that store gave me poor service, or had poor attitudes.  But somehow, I don't believe that the establishment would pass muster with the old man if he were still around.  And, given how this ObamaCare is perverting the healthcare system, I cannot imagine the Big National Chain drugstores emerging unscathed by it.

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