A day in the life of a school uniform shop…

I was very kindly given the chance to work in Swots of Reigate, a school uniform shop, at the height of this year’s Back to School period. I have worked on and off in schoolwear at Back to School since I was 7 (my Dad was very supportive of child labour if it washis own kids…!) but I have never worked at the front end, at the coal face or what you might call, where it all happens! And it was quite an eye-opener. I was met by the lovely team at Swots first thing in the morning before the doors opened. I was full of anxiety –I did not want to get out of my depth and make a fool of myself but also couldn’t have a customer thinking I was work shy and not putting in the effort they have to. So I started on ticketing, got promoted to bag packing and then had the delights of dealing with the GENERAL PUBLIC!!! There was a never-ending stream of customers entering the shop to be looked after. Finding the very specific items needed for the child being seen to required the mental concentration I might normally save for Sudoku. Extreme multi-tasking became a norm, while I tried to find a size of blazer that everyone seemed to want, help at the till with bag packing as the queue grew and also make sure I did not lose all those barcodes for the socks that I was meant to be attaching… (sorry Tracy, I hope you’ve found them all!)
Finding the very specific items needed for the child being seen to required the mental concentration I might normally save for Sudoku.

What working in retail has taught me

What struck me more than anything was the relentless nature of what retailers have to deal with at Back to School. Those of us who work behind the scenes are very sheltered from what is needed in order to deliver an excellent retail experience for consumers. But even for retailers in other markets, I think they would find it a shock to the system to manage during this peak. I feel quite permanently altered for having gone through the experience. My respect for our customers and what the intensity of Back to School actually means has grown enormously – and I only did it for one day! What it has also shown me, is that the hard-work and dedication that goes on in retail to deliver the best service possible to parents and schools cannot be easily replicated. Servicing parents remotely, without the benefit of being able to talk to them about what they need is not ideal. I do not believe that large organisations can continue to grow the number of schools they sell to from afar. The resource and infrastructure needed to service them well cannot benefit from economies of scale and nothing can replace the local dedication and service that parents and schools receive from a retail presence within a realistic catchment. I would like to say a very big thank you to Jan and Fran at Swots for having me for the day, and to Tracy and the rest of the team who were so welcoming and helpful to me as I did my first day as a Back to School apprentice. I will commit to carrying on my apprenticeship next year at another location but for now, I’m off for a glass of wine to recover and I wish you all the very best for your rest and relaxation after the end of this year’s season.