Strange Re-Tales: Fraud and Big Shorts

bike shopI haven’t done one of these in a bit: reminiscing about my often surreal experiences working in retail. So here are two unrelated anecdotes I thought about recently for the first time in a long while.

At one point, I worked for The Bay. For you Americans, The Bay is Canada’s version of Sears. Except that, much to everyone’s surprise, they’re still in business.

One of the things that big box stores depend upon is customers signing up for their store credit card and/or any loyalty programs. So naturally, that’s one of the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that we were evaluated on, and growing those numbers was a drum that management beat all the time.

At the time they also incentivized us to get customers to open a credit card by offering a $5 spiff for each new sign-up. Every morning meeting, this one cashier at our store was lionized by management for being #1 for credit card sign-ups in the entire region and for some quarters in the entire company.

To make a very long story short, the reason why he was #1 was because he was committing fraud. It was so long ago that I no longer remember whether he slipped up and got caught, or someone ratted him out.

I do remember I was working the day the police came. He was arrested, charged and left the store in handcuffs. The good news was that store management felt sheepish and stopped talking to us about sign-ups for a few weeks.

Swerving hard from the previous topic, years and years ago, before my time in consumer electronics, I worked in sporting goods.

My thing at that time was ski shops in the winter, and bike shops in the summer. And of course the staff discount at both. In hindsight, what I should have done was invest every dollar I earned in my 20s in real estate, and not spend it all on ski and bike gear, and traveling to ski and bike in my time off. I should have done that, but then I wouldn’t have so many stories to tell.

Anyway, I worked a couple of summers for a bike shop that was a local institution for three generations. Bill, the son of the owner, was in his mid-30s at the time. He was a nice enough guy, but it was pretty clear that he didn’t really want to be there. If it was up to him, he would have spent his time smoking weed and playing golf. I’m not even sure he rode a bike. But he didn’t want to let his dad down, so he showed up, at least most days.

These details will become important in a moment.

For reasons I won’t get into, I ended up getting a sort-of promotion and running the accessory department: the second floor of the building where most of my bike gear and clothes were merchandised.

One day, I received a big box from FedEx. I opened it before looking at the packing slip, and the contents surprised me. It was four dozen pairs of satin Everlast-brand boxers trunks. You know, the ones boxers wear in the ring. Like Rocky and Apollo Creed wore in the movies.

“Bill!” I called out to him, “What are these?”

“Boxer shorts,” replied, looking at me like I’m an idiot.

“What am I supposed to do with them?” I asked.

“Put them out and sell them” he replied, somewhat sarcastically.

When I asked “But why?” he responded, “A buddy of mine tells me boxer shorts are going to be really hot this year.”

Then the pieces clicked. His buddy meant men’s underwear, and he misunderstood.