I work retail, and this is how I REALLY feel about opening on Thanksgiving Day.

So let’s get all of what you have likely read/seen in social media out of the way first and foremost.  In today’s culture (yes I’m guilty of it too), we far too often look online to find out what our opinion is before we stop and figure it out for ourselves.  This is, in part, the reason I have waited until mere hours before the day to post my thoughts.  Both the far right and the far left have come out to condemn retailers this year for their opening hours this year, taking away from that precious time we spend with family.  I’m talking from MSN to Fox, George Takei to the NRA.  Everyone and their dog have come out against retail for ruining the fabric of American family values. 

Allow me give you a little n=1 data on what retail has done, specifically for American families.  I have worked retail for the last 12 years.  In fact, it’s the only “real” job I’ve ever had.  It paid for my room and board when I went to school, paid for part of my school in tuition reimbursement, paid off the loans that covered the other part of my tuition, put me in a position to meet my future wife, moved me multiple times as new opportunities presented themselves, taught me how to lead and inspire people, how to truly serve people and the community, and…. well – I have to stop somewhere, although I could continue endlessly.

Beyond all of this, though, my job has taught me this:  Retail is a noble profession.  People need things.  And they need knowledge about those things so they can make informed decisions about what they purchase and how they can get the best out of those things.  People also live busy lives, and while many work 9 to 5’s and Monday through Friday’s – we in retail don’t.  This is part of serving our customers.  When our customers are on spring break, we staff up our stores, put our best folks on the floor, and get ready to serve.  When our customers enjoy a long weekend for labor day, we blow up balloons for appliances.  When our customers snap pictures of their graduates throwing caps in the air, we smile knowing that every click of a shutter is something in which we had a small part.

Now we turn to this, the starting line of the holiday season – Black Friday.  Now through December 24th we will serve more customers than at any other time of the year.  As we strategize around how to provide the best possible service for our customers – putting enthusiastic employees in front of them is high on the list.  The first step, of course, is finding out who wants to work on the day (double-time-and-a-half is a compelling financial benefit).  Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, more want to work than what we have need for.  That’s right – in general we are having more conversations disappointing employees that they CAN’T work on that precious day of turkey and family than we are having conversations disappointing employees that they HAVE TO work.  No social commentary, just statements of fact.

As I turn to our customers, and the conversations I have had with many of them, it has been very interesting.  Of course they have no context to what I have written up to this point in my post.  The average conversations goes something along the lines of:

Customer: “I’m so sorry that you have to work on Thanksgiving, it’s so terrible!”

Me: “It’s ok!  We are here when people want to shop, that’s what we do…”

Customer: “Yeah, I’ll be here.  What time should I get here to make sure I get X product?”

My personal opinion is that for every 100 people who are outraged in the opening time of major national retailers, 95 of them weren’t shopping Black Friday when we opened Friday morning at 8am.  Also, for every 1 that is outraged, 100 are lining up at your local big box store to score the hottest deals.  This is the real reason that Black Friday has crept back year after year until it is on Thursday for nearly every chain.  Retail is a noble profession, one that serves customers, and that includes allowing customers to shop when and where they want.  The fact is that you(the consumer) are the problem, and you aren’t going anywhere – except out and about, drunk on turkey and sides, into the line of a retailer.  But you know what?  I’m ok with that, and I hope you make your way into my line so I can serve you.  That’s what I do.

Now before you either start thinking that we all have giant red crosses on our front doors (no, this isn’t not-for-profit), or that I am just living in some utopia where we all hug and sing kumbayah all day, let me clarify.  We open our doors early to make money.  Lots of money.  As I said earlier, this is the starting line to the marathon of the holiday shopping season.  The term Black Friday, in fact, comes from the idea that retailers run in the red all year until the holiday season begins and we move into the “black” and become profitable for the year.  Let me make a short comment about this:

How has the recession been for you?  Listen to the news lately about the “painfully slow” recovery?  Have any idea about Fed tapering(or not), and why?  I find it near hilarious that so many Americans complain about the economy, yet expect that it is simply time combined with magic that is going to fix it.  No, my friend, it isn’t that at all.  You need to spend money!  Yes, you!  This is an historically short holiday shopping season, with Thanksgiving Day being closer to Christmas than it has been in many many years.  The results from America’s retailers this year is a key indicator of economic recovery.  This influences your 401k balance, your home value, the interest rate on your bank account, and more.  We need to win… you need us to win.

In closing, here is how I look at it:  Scheduling employees to work on Thanksgiving is an easy lightning rod for anyone to latch on to and seem like they are “fighting the good fight”.  The problem is that people want to WORK and people want to SHOP.  Retail is a noble profession that has provided me personally with more than I could have ever asked, and in return I am ready, willing, and able to serve customers on the day. 

I will put in over 40 hours from Turkey day through the weekend – I hope to see you there!

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