One image that we all have of the ‘Old Country Store’ is one where a Clerk is sweeping with a broom. Oh, there were other things that are images in our minds, but that one is ‘pretty universally’ used to denote ‘The Old Days’.
There may be a reason for that.
In 1930, The ‘Hyde and Vredenburg Supply Stores’ were just beginning their operations in those small and very primitive stores of about 1200 square feet in size. They were engulfed in the early parts of ‘The Dust Bowl’ of the 1930’s, just like the entire ‘center section’ of our Country was. It’s a fact that during those 10 years, America nearly ‘dried up and blew away’ with the hot winds that never seemed to stop. It was necessary to ‘keep sweeping’ to make sure The Supply Stores were presentable to the Customers coming in to do their grocery shopping.
So, it’s really fitting this story deals with ‘A Broom’. It is one of my personal favorites in the entire group of stories in this book.
Here’s the scoop…Or ‘dust pan’ if you prefer…
It was in the late Summer of 1967. I had hired on the year before at Hy-Vee by being a ‘Substitute’ Part-timer in June for $1.26 per hour and I was starting to feel comfortable in my job. My ‘official’ employment training had included all of the basic functions of the ‘Bagger/Carryout’ job. Several of us new employees had gone through the simple training on ‘bagging’ and we had learned a little about stocking shelves too…Just in case we had to go and get something.
Mostly, however, we had received a very rigorous ‘browbeating’ about ‘being friendly’ and also ‘talking to the Customers’. Both were important because in those days, we carried the groceries out to the Customer’s car and the trip out to the car was to be “As pleasant for the Customer as possible” as we were told. That meant lots of conversation and hopefully, the display of ‘personality’ so the Customers would leave us with ‘good thoughts’ on their minds…
The ‘last impression’ so to speak.
We’d all been told the idea that ‘The Customer is always right’ and it was to be our ‘#1 Rule’ with which we based our conversations on. If they weren’t right…We were to ‘remember our #1 Rule’. It worked and we never lost our focus on that.
Well…we never lost it, but it got borderline a few times. Yes, ‘borderline’…and that’s what this story is all about…
Now, with ‘The Customer is always right’ driven into us that this would be Rule #1, we went about our jobs as ‘Carryouts’ trying to live up to that ‘cornerstone’ of Hy-Vee’s Philosophy and also remembering to “Always talk to the Customers.” Just like we’d been told to do.
As the weeks rolled along that Summer, I found myself working away at my ‘Carryout’ job and I was trying hard to ‘talk to everyone’ when we were at the Checkout Lanes and on the way out to the cars. I knew lots of people in town and it was easy for me to find things to say to them. Things like “So, did you take a vacation this Summer?” and “It’s a really nice day.” And “How do the crops look out your way?”. These were all topics that were ‘pretty safe’ and I knew they’d keep me out of trouble.
I had become pretty proud of my skills at the conversation part of my job and I thought I was now at a point of adding a little humor here and there as I talked to people. It was on that late Summer day in 1967 that I got a little ‘over-confident’ and my ‘Creativity and Humor’ were about to catch up to me. Little did I know that I would nearly take ‘the beating of my life’ because of my new ability to talk to the Customers.
Late on that Summer afternoon, I was bagging some groceries for a Customer I did not know. This lady had a rather small order and it was a pretty sure guess that no ‘Carryout’ would be needed and that she’d just carry it all out herself. The largest item she had purchased was a broom…Just a plain old wooden handled broom. Yes, her order consisted of just one small paper bag of items and a broom.
The only thing I needed to add to her order was some ‘conversation’ and the transaction would be complete and she’d be headed home.
So, being the ‘quick thinker’ I thought I was, I waited until she had paid the Cashier for her things and then I handed her the small paper bag and the broom. As she took hold of the broom, I looked at her and said “Would you like to ride this or carry it?” and then, I sort of smiled.
By the ‘immediate’ change in the look on her face, I could tell that my ‘Creativity and Humor’ had placed me squarely in ‘Harm’s Way’. As she took the broom, she very boldly said “Young man, I don’t think that’s one bit funny and I might just knock that smirk off your face.”
Now, I could quickly tell that she was serious as she kind of stepped toward me. I took a step backwards and I said “Gee, I’m sorry. I was just trying to make conversation and be funny. I’m really sorry.”
At this point, she realized I was just trying to be funny and she said “I’d joke a little differently if I were you. You may not be so lucky next time.” And then she was off to her car and she drove away. I was left standing there to face the laughter of my fellow-workers who had witnessed it all.
From that day forward, I measured my comments a little more and I tried to stay with the more traditional ‘Startup Lines’. I had learned my lesson and a valuable lesson it was.
It was the day a Customer just about
‘Swept’ The Smile
Right Off My Face ! …