24th Apr2012

Reflections At 30: My Life at H&M

by Will

 

Since I turned 30, I’ve become a lot more introspective. This came as a surprise, I didn’t know that I could devote any more time to thinking about myself. I mean, I’m fairly self aware. Not in the “I’m so awesome” narcissistic way (even if I do have a website named after myself) but in a “why are people friends with me?” kind of way. One thing that has occurred to me is that I’m a much more successful toy peddler than blogger. I mean, it’s nice to be good at something, but this isn’t necessarily where I wanted to be. Sure, 10 years ago, I swore I’d eventually work in the toy industry, but I didn’t think this would be how I did it. Honestly, I’ve done more with the toy industry in the 4 months of having Will’s World of Wonder than I did in 10 years at Toys R Us. Most of that time at TRU was spent hiding from customers, and engaging in debates as to who were the hottest female cartoon characters. Looking back, I also realize that I don’t much talk about my time at H&M anymore, which is odd since I have quite a few opinions about that time and that place.

H&M, in case you’re not a 17 year-old girl, is a retailer that basically exists to provide a “disposable wardrobe”. The clothes aren’t well-made, but you don’t care because you paid $7.90 for a shirt, and $29.90 for a blazer. It’s perfectly priced for college kids and recent grads who need to beef up their business casual work wardrobe. In recent years, they have been as plentiful as roaches in the ghetto, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, if you go back to the year 2000, there were only about 5 of them in North America. In college, we used to take road trips to Syracuse just to shop there, as one of those few stores was located in the Carousel Mall. As a Swedish company, it was basically The Gap abroad, but it was still a quaint treat here in the States. I loved all their clothes, and due to some freak weight loss junior year, I was actually able to fit into them. This was the beginning of my whole what they used to call “metrosexual” phase. I was shopping at H&M and watching Queer Eye. So, OF COURSE I’d want to work there, right?

If you go back in my archives, you’ll see posts I wrote during the time when I first came home from school. It was during a time when I wrote like no one was reading, so it reads like a goth kid’s Livejournal. That said, I don’t really talk about that era, as it was probably the worst time of my life. I was an aimless kid, working with a bunch of other aimless kids, thinking I was big shit. I guess I was a late bloomer, ’cause this was also the “You can’t tell me what to do!” phase that most people go through around 17. Anyway, how I started working for H&M …I saw an ad in the paper, explaining how they were opening a store in nearby White Flint (according to the property owner, it is NOT to be referred to as a “mall”). They were providing paid training, and they’d also handle any travel expenses, etc. I’d worked in retail before, but this seemed above normal. I mean, I’d never been a part of something on the ground floor, and I was also excited about the prospect of a nearby H&M.

I’d worked in retail at Toys “R” Us, but H&M is a different kind of animal. I can’t attest to how it is now, but it was a company that took itself way too seriously. It was something about that whole European thing, but I’ll get to that later. One unique part of it was that they really made you think you had a future with that company. That’s why you couldn’t tell me shit. I was convinced that in a year I’d have my own store in Brooklyn, and there’d be some kind of 30 Under 30 article about me. So many possibilities: you could be a Visual Merchandiser, which just meant you dressed mannequins, you could be an Admin and count the money, you could be a manager or even a store director. The fact that you could actually be promoted to manager from associate was foreign to me; at TRU, if they needed a new manager, you got some guy who just came from Foot Locker. At H&M, if you were feeling macho, you could join the Building Team to set up new stores. If you were really awesome, you could join the Support Team, which meant you constantly traveled to help out newly opened stores or understaffed store – kinda like a retail mercenary. I mean, this wasn’t just “retail” – we were changing how the world shopped! Oh, how young and stupid I was…

An interesting thing I noticed was that H&M wanted you to better yourself through them, and not elsewhere. I saw store directors try to convince people to drop out of college. I mean, who needs school when you could make $40,000 a year?! You could buy a fucking boat for that money! Wait, no, you can buy a lot of happy hours.  You see, that money sounds really good when you’re 22, but then you have to realize that it’s a bitter 42 year old divorcee trying to get you to take a bite of that apple -the one who’s wearing the same thing she wore the day before, and slightly smells of Hot Pockets and sadness. Still, I was certain I’d soon be working at H&M HQ in Europe, living in an apartment furnished by the good IKEA stuff (not the dreck that we get, but the stuff they put their hearts into making – ALSO, notice how I’ve already jumped from Brooklyn to another continent?).

The best thing about H&M was also the worst thing: customer service. In layman’s terms, their customer service policy was basically “Fuck the customer.” You see, in Europe, the shopping experience is a bit more…self-motivated. If you want something, you find it. When you’re ready, they’ll ring it up for you. When H&M came to America, they felt that American shoppers expect you to hold their hands, and that it was a pathetic way to go about the retail experience. Instead of adapting to America, they were determined to retrain the customer. So, there wasn’t a bunch of “Welcome to H&M. Can I help you with anything?” Nope. Instead, it was best not to make eye contact until someone specifically asked you something to your face. If they were in the fitting room and asked you to get them another size, the answer was, “I’m sorry but you’ll have to get it yourself. I can hold your room for you, though.” If Cornell had already given me a chip on my shoulder, this experience provided the entire Frito-Lay bag. Oh, to be young and smug! Those halcyon days, however, couldn’t last forever. Eventually, H&M got enough complaints that they realized they had to change to fit their customers.

I eventually made it to Admin, but realized I still had to do registers, but it also included counting money at the asscrack of dawn. Plus, the people were just kind sad. Such a transient bunch, and most of them not memorable. I’m sure they say the same about me. What an impetuous little shit I must’ve been! It’s like if Holden Caulfield actually had to read Catcher in the Rye and think to himself, “How did I not end up getting shot.” I hear a lot of people do dumb things in their twenties, but those things are usually fun. I can’t say that I had that experience. I had a few years of a grandiose sense of self worth, fueled by selling cheap blouses to trophy wives. Huh. Where was I going with this? Oh, who cares? I’ll write about some thrift store stuff next time for my regular readers. If you came here for my toy store, you’re on the wrong site, but you can still click that box up in the right hand corner of the home screen. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.

 

One Response to “Reflections At 30: My Life at H&M”

  • Nothing changes.

    I never sweated H&M back in the day, but only because I wasn’t as into clothing as I am now. I drive to Uniqlo in NY on the regular to bring back bags of shit, and Uniqlo is sort of the H&M of the 2010’s, it seems.

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