The Empty Suit

Andrew was sharing with us the secrets of his success. Devoid of scruples, unrepentant, and unaware of the impression he was creating, Andrew shared with us stories of strong-arming customers, breaking rules, and pushing out employees who wouldn’t play his games. He is invincible. He is the future of retail.

If ignorance truly is bliss, then I was sitting two seats away from the happiest guy in Beachwood.

My father was a retail jeweler. He served as a store manager and supervisor most of his adult life. I grew up in those stores. I witnessed his professionalism. He respected his customers and they loved him. They trusted “Mr. Jerry” to take care of their jewelry needs. I have carried the lessons I learned from watching him throughout my working life.

My father wouldn’t be hired in today’s retail environment. Neither would I.

Walking through the mall is like visiting a carnival. Unwilling to wait for customers to enter the store or express interest, the sales clerks are forced to stand on the lease-line, barker style, and intercept mall patrons. The guys at the cell phone kiosks beg to ask you a question. Dodge them and you may bump into the sample girls from the skin product stand. And the chain stores will have their people do anything for another credit application.

This unpleasantness is available at any mall. Even these deserts of rudeness have an oasis or two. Beachwood Place has a Nordstrom. It is possible to find a positive, motivated salesperson at Saks, Dillard’s, or even at one of the kiosks, but the shopping experience is consistently excellent on all three floors of my favorite store.

Andrew is not a future Nordstrom store manager, but that’s not his goal. He has no need to leave his current employer, yet. For now he is satisfied with being transferred from an irrelevant C level strip plaza to a B level mall. The big time, a major mall store, is in his sights. He is indistinguishable from a pack of twenty-five to thirty-five year old single males who manage the stores of his employer and main competitors. Equally forgettable. Equally replaceable. Sometimes you have to look twice to determine which is which.

Having an audience, especially one that didn’t punch in first, thrilled Andrew and he made the most of his opportunity. His embellishments became more apparent the longer he spoke. Though we felt badly for his customers, our real concern was reserved for his employees who desperately need their jobs.

And one day Andrew will be gone, replaced by another empty suit.