Part 17: The Learning Curve

2006 was a year of change for me. Merely two years before that, I was skipping and failing all my first year classes. (Read Part 8: When Ignorance Is Bliss & Part 9: Would the Voice In My Head Please Shut Up) By May 2006, I had raised my grades to A’s and B’s, and I was starting a new job.

In the first four months of that year, I had a course called Retail Operations. Our class had to physically open and run a fashion boutique in the school, and everyone in the class had to assume a position in the store. We had a buying team, an advertising team, and I was part of the management team as an assistant manager. Even though we were running the store for our course and we didn’t get paid to work in it, I felt it was a great learning experience for me, and I dedicated a lot of my effort into it.

I recall walking into the store for the first time. It was nothing more than just an empty open space with two fitting rooms and a small back office. I spent my first day there alone, cleaning out the back office and getting rid of everything that the previous class had left behind. I wanted to start fresh, for both my class and myself.

As an assistant manager, I was responsible for accounts payable, housekeeping, and loss prevention. I implemented policies and procedures, and created layouts for all sorts of forms we would use. I re-typed up the mission statement and had it re-printed onto a foam board to hang in the store. I even borrowed the knowledge I had gained from working at Chapters and Guess, and applied it where I could at The Boutique. I found that a lot of my skills were interchangeable, and I would be able to take what I learned from The Boutique back to my work at Chapters.

Our time with The Boutique didn’t come without obstacles though. The classmate who held the position of store manager didn’t do her part. Things we relied on her to get done were never done, and that affected the work of everyone else. On a personal level, it was understandable; she lived almost two hours away and had three jobs outside of school. This was just another course to her. To the rest of the management team, this was unacceptable. After weeks of picking up slack, multiple meetings that involved arguments and tears, and eventually communicating with her and the professor, we finally managed to get everyone working professionally.

In March that year, we encountered a rare Ontario college faculty strike. The school was open, but no classes were to be conducted. That meant the operations of our store had to be suspended as well. Since The Boutique was a real store with real money involved and actual exchanges with suppliers, my accounts payable team came to me inquiring about how they would deal with the bills that came in from the suppliers. With the store being closed, we weren’t making any money to pay off our suppliers. We had no idea how long the strike would last, and if our deliveries from suppliers got lost in the school’s receiving, it would lead to a whole other set of problems that would affect our class’ overall performance. After communicating with a couple of my classmates, and getting approval from the store manager, I decided we would try to keep the store open while the strike was going on.

I secretly contacted my professor, who was on strike at the time, to see if we could get approval. She was also concerned about the fate of the store. She spoke with our program coordinator while picketing and secretly emailed me back, asking me to contact another faculty member who was not on strike and could potentially oversee us. After another week of emailing people back and forth, explaining our situation, we finally got approval to run the store during the strike, which ended shortly afterward.

Due to the way I handled that situation, I gained the attention of many of the professors in my program. I remember running into my Customer Service professor in the hallway one day and she stopped me to ask how The Boutique was doing. She even said I could hand in my assignment late if I had to. Just a few semesters ago, I was skipping all her classes and she barely knew my name. Now she was offering to let me hand in my assignment late? That seemed so bizarre to me.

Life is funny sometimes though. When you’re stuck in a rut and you do things that are damaging to yourself, life will refuse to lend you a helping hand. But when you begin to realize things about yourself and you start to put yourself on the right path, life will find a way to encourage you and enlighten you.

A couple weeks after the strike, my program coordinator contacted me about a job that she thought I would be perfect for. High-end menswear. I wasn’t looking for a job at the time; I was already working at Chapters and was trying to finish my full-time program at school. Since my program coordinator highly recommended me, I didn’t want to let her down so I went for an interview. I never would have expected to get hired on the spot and end up working at a menswear store. I also never would have expected to meet some very interesting people with very interesting stories while working there. Those stories would later inspire me and help me deal with my addiction.

The Boutique was extremely successfully that semester, despite the upset with the college strike and being closed for two weeks. We made a fairly good profit in comparison to the previous classes who had run the store, and our 0.2% loss from theft and paperwork error was at an all-time low. After we fully closed up the store, all the managers had to give performance reviews to the people they were responsible for. And then the professor gave each of the managers a performance review as well.

I remember walking into Sue’s office that day. She told me to sit down, and then she smiled and said, “If I owned a store, I would hire you in a heartbeat. No questions asked.” It was that moment when, for the first time in a really long time, I felt like I actually did something right for once.

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