What working in a shoe shop teaches you about the world

You’d be surprised how many people wear Uggs without socks


Working at a shoe shop has its ups and downs. Both of these depend on the customers. You also learn some valuable lessons that set you up for life, and lots of trivia about shoes that you didn’t realise you needed to know.

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The customer is never, ever right

You are trained to fit shoes at expert level, and therefore have an excellent knowledge of feet and shoe fittings. Customers, on the other hand, lack any knowledge on shoes. And this comes out especially in the kids’ department.

They will always think they know more than you. “I don’t think she’s got enough growing room in those”; “she’s quite narrow, are you sure they’re not too wide?”; “do her orthotics fit in them ok?”

For the hundredth time, they’re fine.

Customers will do anything for a bargain

When the summer sale starts, things get crazy. Many customers are crazy on a regular day; they are far crazier on sale day, hunting around the sale racks for shoes they’ve been eyeing for ages. It’s manic.

And some will do anything for a bargain. “Can you hold this shoe for us until the end of the day?” Just buy them now, ffs. “There’s a dot on the left shoe, could I get it for cheaper?” Just clean it with your spit, ffs. “What’s your return policy on sale shoes?” Just keep them, FFS.

The stockroom is your sanctuary

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Out on the shop floor there is no breathing space, except in those rare moments when it’s nearly empty. So the only retreat is the safe space of the stockroom.

In the stockroom you’ll find your best work mates gossiping about their awkward encounter with their ex on the weekend, or pretending to need the toilet because it’s the only part of the store which has 4G signal. So when there is an opportunity to ‘sort out the delivery’, savour it and sit calmly in the haven that is the stockroom before you have to head out the door again to the manic shop floor.

The stockroom is also where the food is at, which is extremely important for keeping up your energy throughout the day. There will always be a communal bag of sweets, provided by the most generous person rota-ed on that day. Or on a summer’s day when the supervisors are in a rewarding mood, the stockroom desk is where the McFlurrys are lined up for everyone to eat hastily between serving customers.

It’s also a good place to play hide a seek

All the fixtures of shelves mean the stockroom is like a maze, perfect for playing hide and seek. Usually that means the staff hiding from the supervisors to avoid having to serve customers. It works best when you’re doing it with someone else, because that way there’s a chance of them getting caught before you. If you do get caught, pretend you’re looking for a shoe in the shelf.

How cute kids can be

Working in the kids’ section means having to fit shoes onto the feet of 10-month-old babies who are learning to walk. And that means measuring their tiny little feet and finding them cute little booties to crawl around and walk in.

When the babies are all happy and smiling and drooling, you wish you could turn shoe-selling task into playtime, and you will melt a little when the TV in the shop is playing Despicable Me and a two-year-old is watching it and experiencing a fit of uncontrollable baby giggles.

Anyone who can fit into these can't be that bad right?

Anyone who can fit into these can’t be that bad right?

How annoying kids can be

Of course, kids aren’t always smiles and giggles. Most of the time they’re screaming and crying and shouting.

At least when they’re babies and crying you can forgive them because they’re still mildly cute. But when they’re 10-year olds, shouting because they wanted those light up Geox trainers which are out of stock it can get pretty annoying.

And then there are the spoiled 14-year-olds who just won’t accept having the Birkenstock sandals because they wanted the silver Ugg ones. Or those who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing Startrite school shoes when everyone else is wearing Kickers.

The shop windows are your enemy

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They may look all nice and pretty for the shoppers walking by, but for us they’re a bitch. Why, you ask? Imagine bringing out a shoe box for your customer only to open it and find it only has one shoe in it. First you pray hoping the other foot is on the shop floor display shelf. And then when you realise it’s not, it can only mean one thing: it’s in the window.

You have to unlock the bloody window, then climb in and look for the shoe. Like we don’t sweat enough already. The space is so tiny that the slightest mis-manoeuvre will knock everything over. Meanwhile, everyone is – mystifyingly – fascinated by the fact there’s someone in the shop window. Oh get over it.

You are constantly hungry

Walking in and out of the stockroom with heavy boxes of boots and shoes, kneeling down to measure kids’ feet and getting back up 100 times a day, and climbing up and down ladders, works up quite the appetite. You need those 15-minute tea breaks and the one-hour lunch break in order to really stuff yourself.

You swap a mid-morning banana for an M&S New York cheesecake; you buy an additional sandwich on top of the pathetic wrap you brought from home. At least there’s always food in the stockroom to scrounge on. Shotgun the sherbet lemons.

But you’ll also have a great ass

The constant aforementioned kneeling and getting back up is like doing squats all day, so in terms of getting a good workout, it really helps tighten up those gluteus maximus muscles nicely. Instead of having rock hard abs, you’ll end up getting a rock hard ass.

As long as you don’t compromise it too much from overeating in your lunch break.

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You can look but you can’t touch

How to pretend to be nice

You will finesse the fake smile and pretend laugh, especially if you’re in the kids’ department. Impressing the customer means having to impress both the parents and the children – and that isn’t always easy.

Top tips to achieve this are calling the child “darling” or “sweetheart”, or better yet asking for their name. Also, make sure your facial expression is reflective of the situation. If the customers are complaining, look apologetic. If their child is being uncontrollable, look concerned and like you’re really trying. The goal is to pretend like you care.

Don’t wear Uggs without socks

Though you’d think the opposite, Ugg recommends that you do not wear socks with its boots. You will rue this rule when a customer comes into the store to try on a few pairs of shoes, takes off their Uggs and reveals clammy, sweaty, cheesy bare feet.

Unfortunately the fur lining is not a substitute for socks, and touching the feet in order to fit their shoes is just horrendous. Uggs are so 2008 anyway.

Uggs aren’t the only culprits either – it also happens when kids wear trainers. Has no-one heard of trainer socks? I know parenting isn’t easy, but at least make sure your child wears socks when you go shopping for their new school shoes. FYI the only thing that shouldn’t be worn with socks are sandals.

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Sandals with socks socks, though, are encouraged

Commission is your motivation

Getting commission on every pair of shoes you sell is the main motivation for actually trying. The stockroom chart of how much everyone has sold so far that day also pushes you to do this, because no-one wants to look incompetent by being last.

At the end of the month when you get your paycheck, there’s a certain satisfaction of seeing how much more money you earned the past month from commission alone. It’s the best way to earn the dolla and it means the job is actually a lot better paid than other part-time retail jobs.

It means learning a new language

I call it shoe language, and it’s kind of like being in the police because there are all these weird codes and abbreviations you have to get used to.

If you helped someone and they didn’t buy anything, it’s called a SWAP (service without a purchase). If you advised the customer on the shoe fitting, it’s CA (customer advised). And if you sold a kid’s shoe without the child being present, it’s a CNP (child not present).

Obviously this is the best one, because it means you didn’t have to touch their Uggs-with-no-socks feet. And then of course the most important one is remembering your payroll number and writing it in every box of shoes you sell to make sure you get your well-deserved commission.

There’s no such thing as too many shoes

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The danger of working in a shoe shop is spending all your commission on shoes. When the store sells Converse, Vans, knee-high leather boots, Timberlands and Nike trainers, you can’t help but take advantage of your 25% store discount.

A pair of classic Chuck Taylors for £7.50? Shut up and take my money.