Thursday, December 18, 2008

The beginning of the end? [Updated]

While I realize the following comment that we received could all be rumor, speculation, and hearsay, someone yesterday wrote:

"In all the mid to low volume studios, they are eliminating the assistant manager and key associate positions. All assistant managers in those studios have the option to stay on as regular associates on associate pay."

True? False? Perhaps we will learn at CPI Corp's (CPY) Third Quarter meeting. Webcast is Thursday at 10:00pm central time on the CPI Corp website. Listen in yourself and keep me posted, as I'll be at work during this time. Marketwatch has information about rebroadcast and downloadable audio.

Update: Earnings report released:
"CPI Corp. (NYSE: CPY) today reported that net sales for the third quarter of 2008 decreased $19.6 million, or 14%, to $115.8 million from the $135.4 million reported in the third quarter of 2007. The Company also reported a net loss of $13.3 million, or ($2.06) per diluted share, for the 16-week third quarter ended November 8, 2008, compared to a net loss of $10.1 million, or ($1.57) per diluted share, reported in the comparable quarter of fiscal 2007."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Let's talk the busy season

First off, I know everyone's really busy this time of year but please submit your best, most ridiculous busy season stories. You'll find my email address at right.

Secondly, I got an email from a reader that asks "I'd really like to know what the company is doing on PRS, Sales, and Sits. My old studio is down nearly 70k so far, and the sits are WAY down. I was terminated because my studio was down for the first time in 13 years. (I nearly killed myself trying to "fix it")."

It's something that I, too, am interested in. I know I was catching a lot of flak when I was at SPS because I had a slump where I was at $100/month. Now I hear they're running a 70% custom conversation rate and a PRS of 90 to 95 dollars. How are things looking in your studio. Are people worried that the end is near?

And remember to submit those stories!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What it's like being at Tech Support

A much appreciated submission follows. Number 5 is especially interesting to me:

Out of all the employees that work for CPI, the folks who work for tech support are probably the most misunderstood. Long wait times, an inexperienced tech, and equipment that doesn't want to cooperate wears on everyone's nerves. I just wanted to drop a line letting some of you guys know what it's really like to work on the other side of the phone, potentially dispel some myths that are out there about us, and give some advice as to how to make your wait times shorter.

1. We know your job is hard. Nearly all of us have been in at least one studio. Most of us have been to install studios, from top to bottom with the digital roll out. We have seen the uncooperative kids, the parents who yell, scream, and hit them, and what you have to go through on a daily basis. If we haven't seen it, we have at least heard it on the phone. And, most of us thing you deserve a medal for what you do. Working here is hard, and you go through a lot, and we know that.

2. We really are here to help you. I know this seems unbelievable. But, if we didn't like talking to people on the phone, we'd be repair technicians, where we wouldn't have to talk to anyone.

3. Our jobs are really very hard. I never knew some members of the field didn't think so, until I saw an area manager in the home office smoking lounge loudly declare that we could all be replaced my monkeys. It takes 6 months to get a new tech up to speed that has previous technical experience (college degree or former tech support) and over a year for someone with no experience to become a good tech. There is a lot to learn, not just for Sears, but for Picture Me, Buy Buy Baby, and all of the other concepts we have. Canada and Puerto Rico SPS? Oh, their systems are different too. We have to know all of that stuff before we can even pick up the phone and talk to you.

4. Most of us are not idiots. A lot of us have been with the company for a long time. A lot of us have been around in the field, flying from place to place, helping out real, live studios. Of course, these trips weren't mandatory, but we went anyway. A lot of us give up holidays (like Thanksgiving) to assist SPS and Canadian studios (who don't celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day as the US). A lot of us have had detailed technical training in the form of either a 2 or a 4 year degree, both of which CPI did not pay for. And some of us, due to the economy, have serious qualifications and certifications that in normal conditions, would net us double the salary that we are making at CPI.

5. We are held to the same difficult standards that you are. PRS for you guys equals call volume for us. We don't take enough volume, we are going to be in trouble. 3 tardies (even 1 minute late) or absences in 30 days? That's a write-up. Another one? That's another write up. Another one? You're fired. Too many complaints from a studio even if it's over nonsense? You're fired. And every January, we have layoffs, every year like clockwork. This year we are having November and January layoffs. You're probably thinking: Layoffs? I'm the 80th caller on hold, what the hell? That's right people. You see, the big wigs over this department have told us that we are a "liability"; that the field goes out and makes the money, and that our salaries are liabilities, since we make "no money". When you see the stock plummet, don't get a wage increase, or see other indicators that CPI isn't doing well, odds are we are having layoffs here at the home office.

And now for the good part, how to make the queue volume better:

Nothing says "another day in paradise" like taking 50 calls in a 4 hour period, and having the 51st studio chew you out over the queue volume *sigh*. Please don't chew us out. If you have been reading this so far, you have seen that call volume is largely beyond our control.

1. Don't put the most inexperienced person in the studio on the phone to talk to us. Please, for crying out loud. If I ask the person the studio number and they're stumped and have to ask you, they are going to ask you everything else too. You might as well take the call in the first place. "But, but, I'm busy like hell, you say". Didn't you just hear that we had 80 calls in queue??? Now I have to train your noobie how to troubleshoot. That makes the queue worse, because a call I could resolve in 10 minutes with an experienced person now takes 45.

2. Try to help yourself before calling. No power to your computer? Verify the power connections. Plug it in somewhere else. Try to turn it on. No DSL connection? Unplug the power to your DSL and VPN. Light not flashing? Power off your pack, press test, and replace the bulb. Don't know how to load media into the Shinko? There's a document with pictures on the browser. If it still doesn't work, THEN call us.

3. Please don't bitch us out. It drags the morale and productivity down on this end of the line. Most of us are doing the best we can. Yes, we know that little Suzie's mother just chewed you out, probably over something beyond YOUR control. But, we are here to resolve your technical issue, not to take your abuse or be your whipping boy(s). ALL calls are recorded. People have been fired over what they have said to technicians on the phone. And, we can hear pretty much everything that is going on in the background, really well, thanks to the neat headsets we have. All of the background stuff is recorded too. We complain and the call is pulled. My manager sends it to your DM, and things go from there, depending on severity.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The promise of advancement

We already know how there's opportunity for advancement over at SPS because everyone leaves. But at the same time, what's sometimes worse is the promise of advancement that never comes. From the time I started at SPS, my studio manager was always told that she was soon going to be an area manager. It was always just around the corner and always something that we had to prepare for. Yet, a year later, nothing changed and she was still stuck in the same studio. Similarly, I was told that I was being looked at for a position where I would go around setting up studios and getting everyone prepped and ready. Either that or I could take the position of my studio manager when she moved up.

I'm not the only one out their either. The following comment from yesterday reminded me of this:
"I make $8 an hour and have been with the company almost a year now. I'm a five star photographer and my average sale has never dropped below 115. I've been falsley promised the Assistant manager as well as an M.I.T position many times and my DM refuses to give me a number on what I will be making if I do get those positions.

The only reason I havent quit is because I can't find any other place that starts off higher than minimum wage - or that is hiring, for that matter."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Completely utterly disregard scheduled appointments

One great submitter forwarded me an excerpt from a district manager's email.

"1. We take walk-ins AHEAD of Scheduled appointments. Often the scheduled appointment does not show up on time. It only takes you 15 minutes to take pictures. That is perfect if the walkin comes in 10 minutes before the appointment.
If the walkin arrives at the same time as the appointment, you still need to take them first. Theoretically, the walkin will wait 5 minutes before giving up and going somewhere else. That is losing potential sales!"

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Management by Captial Letters Continued

Continuing from the previous entry one submitter sent us a copy of an actual email from a DM. It hurts my eyes just to read it. Submitter, you have our sympathies.

"HEY EVERYONE JUST A LITTLE NOTE TO ALL OF YOU. SO FAR THIS WEEK WE ARE LAST IN THE TERRITORY. AS ALL OF YOU KNOW I HAVE SENT OUT A LIST OF GOALS. THEY ARE VERY REALISTIC AND REACHABLE. I DO EXPECT YOU TO GIVE IT 100%. WE HAVE TO GET THESE SITS UP AND THE CURRENT PRS IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE. I WANT THE COLLECTIONS PRINTED AND USED AND OUT ON SALES TABLES. DO NOT EMAIL ME EXCUSES, OR YOUR OWN IDEAS, BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT WORKING! ITS TIME WE GET CONTROL OF PAYROLL AND OUR STUDIOS WHERE THEY SHOULD BE. ITS A TEAM EFFORT. I DO HAVE A COUPLE OF STUDIOS THAT GIVE ME 100% THAT RUN THE PRS, THAT GET THOSE SITS IN. PULL UP THE DAILY SALES REPORT AND COMPARE. WE HAVE 4 DAYS TO PULL US UP, AND I EXPECT GREAT THINGS. PRINT OUT THE GOALS I SENT EACH OF YOU, SHARE THEM, AND ACCOMPLISH THEM. AT THE CLOSE OF EVERY DAY I WANT AN E-MAIL OF WHERE YOU ARE WITH ALL THESE GOALS. DON'T MAKE ME HUNT YOU DOWN FOR THESE STATS. ITS YOUR JOB! NOW LETS ROCK THE REST OF THIS WEEK. DON'T GO OVER HRS I GAVE YOU, UNLESS YOU DO MORE SITS THAN I GAVE YOU...... THANK YOU"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Get it together and be on call all the time

A submission that came in today with the subject line "Almost Quit..."

"I was scheduled to work today, but my manager told me yesterday not to come in, because they wouldn't need me. Awesome! except I made my 1st mistake when I actually thought they wouldn't need me. She tried contacting me this morning to tell me they do in fact need me, but she didn't get a hold of me until afternoon, and by that time they wanted me to come in for night shift, which she knows I cannot work because my husband is in school and i have 3 kids that I have to look after. She told me I needed to "Get my Sh*t together, and find a babysitter." WOW, and then she continues to tell me she can't depend on me lately and that's why shes being so 'crappy'. I am the Asst. Manager...I work my hours I am scheduled. Plus some. But since my husband started school 3 months ago, I have a limit to not working nights on the days I'm supposed to be off. I made the mistake of making myself too available in the past. Shed call me and I'd drop everything, including my kids, to cover her. And that was before my time as a manager. Apparently all those times have been forgotten and now that I need just two evenings off a week..I'm not dependable and need my Sh*T to get taken care of."

You know the really awful thing about this, Submitter? Manager can go to your file, pull out your availability sheet from your application and say that in asking for not working those two evenings that you're changing your availability and fire you on the spot. Even though I'm sure Manager's availability changes week to week as her plans necessitate.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wages

Let's continue the dicussion from yesterday's entry.
Commenter1 Writes:
"Studio managers do the best they can...their jobs are threatend almost daily, they work single coverage, don't get days off as scheduled, and they often work 12-14 hour days this time of year. As much as it sucks, this is one of the few jobs where you can make a decent hourly wage without a college degree."
Commenter2:
"Im asst. Manager and dont make enough money to put up with the crap that goes on. Its not a decent wage at all. Especially since we do go thru all the things u listed.... plus LOADS more."
Commenter3:
"$18.00 per hour in my neck of the woods is a decent wage."
Ok, all caught up? Good. This is actually the first I found out that studio managers make this much money. Any job seeker can tell you that this is, in fact, darn good money. One thing to consider though, however, is the fact that, at least in my neck of the woods, studio managers aren't working 40 hours a week. Mine worked 32 (not counting hours worked off the clock), which nets you the same money that working 40 hours at $14.40 would.

I made $11.00 as assistant manager and, like Commenter2, I had to put up with a lot of stuff to get that $11. Like all people that work 40/hr a week jobs, I worked 5 days a week (actually, more like 7. See any post from the your time is not your own series). Yet I was only getting 30 hours a week. Even if I got called in on Sunday to do an open to close, they'd counteract that my making my other shifts worthless 4 hour shifts to keep me around 30 hours. So it was pretty consistent. I think unless you're an unfortunate person that is going it alone, you're only getting 30/hrs a week.

And now let's talk take home money. If I make $11/hr for 30 hours a week, I make the same money as someone who makes $8.25 an hour working 40 hours. That's just not a lot to live on. I'm currenly working a job where I make $10 an hour and not only work regular 9-6 hours, but am able keep work out of my non-work times. I love being appreciated, having job security day to day, and being respected. If you ask me, that's the best wage of all.

What do/did you make at Sears Portrait Studio or Picture Me? How many hours to you get? Is it worth it? See you in the comments. And keep those submissions coming.

edit:
Commenter4:
"i Make $9.50 an hour.... Where do u live that Asst. Managers make $18an hour?! I have a $175 PRS.... very consistantly for MONTHS, and i still make $9.50 an hour"
.
That's the last comment I'll post in the actual entry. Check the comments for further discussion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Management by capital letters

I don't know about you, but nothing motivates me more than capital letters. You know, like, "TEAM it is VERY IMPORTANT that you make your days today! Anything below that will be UNACCEPTABLE! NO EXCUSES!"

That's the kind of encouragement I love. I'm glad it seems to be in the managment training manual.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Cat in the Bag

Once again a commenter reminded of a story.

One afternoon I had an appointment pop up for later that afternoon. A woman came in for it about thirty minutes early. Her daughter, age 4, was coming with grandma at their scheduled appointment time. So I figured I would use this opportunity to get an idea of what photos were important to them. The key photo they wanted was with a cat.

Cats and other pets, I should explain, are not allowed. I looked up the policy and it has to do with health codes. They're allowed only if your studio is separate from the Sears itself (or if it is an assist animal. Did you know, by the way, that there is something called a helping hands monkey?). I explained the reasoning and even printed out the policy sheet, but of course she wasn't having it and we had to continue to discuss this for the full thirty minutes while we waited for the girl to show up.

At one point, she relay the policy information to grandma. Grandma's response, rather than leaving the cat at home, was to smuggle in the cat. So in walks this woman coming down the corridor with a bag slung over her sholder. The bag is shifting back and forth and meowing the entire way.

Grandma tried to bribe me with $50, which I declined, wanting to have a job more than I wanted $50, explaining that every photo we take is reviewed by corporate, so that it would be impossible to do without anyone knowing. Eventually I just "had to go help a customer" while they pulled out their own camera "without me knowing", and we called that good: I didn't take a bribe, they got their photo, and I'll take the lesser of two evils on that one. Plus they bought a collection, so I wasn't complaining.

When it was time to go they plopped the cat in the bag, zipped it shut, and I watched the wriggling bag head out the store.

edit: see comments for another great story.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

1-800-OVR-SEAS

Reading your comments jogged my memory about the 1-800 number. I'm not sure when it began, but sometime shortly before I started, all calls to set up the appointments across the country got routed to the 1-800 number. Even if you called the Sears Direct number, it had a prompt asking if you were calling to make an appointment; say yes and your call was heading over the Pacific.

Because of this, people sometimes assumed that they were talking to the Sears Portrait Studio in their city, and start asking them questions. The people at the call center then, for a reason unknown to me, would tell people that they can do all sorts of things from using multiple 9.99 packages to bringing in 5 outfits when we're booked full of appointments. I once had someone come in with their own wheeled rack of clothing changes.

First of all, if the goal is to deliver excellent customer service (hint: it is), it seems that you would want to have your friendly associates talking to the customers, not the people in the call center. And secondly, the customer is not going to feel like they got excellent customer service if the call center tells them something to appease them and then they show up to find out it's impossible to do what they were told they could do in their allotted time.

Try to explain this to the customer however, and you will have an angry customer that swears the person they talked to was someone in the studio even though they said they called 2 hours ago and you've been the only person there all day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Joy of 4.99


Submission: So today, being my 2nd open to close day of the week, I was worn out and tired just wanting to go home. I had been in the studio since 9:30am and it was now 4pm when the rudest customer of the day walked in the door.

She walked in and slammed her $4.99 coupon down on my counter, looked at me and said "If there is a sitting fee I will NOT do this!" Really lady?! I have NO idea who she is or why--as soon as she walked in--she was being hostile. I looked at the coupon and told her that it did not state on the coupon that there would be no session fee, so she would have to pay it because we have to do what the coupons say. She began telling me how 10 months ago she had a horrible experience with us and this is exactly why she does not come to our studio and goes to Portrait Avenue (who charges $25 a sheet) and would never come back. She stormed out. Five minutes later our phone rings and she is calling for corporate's number (which we do NOT have....... ANYWHERE! because corp never thought we would need it I guess) so I gave her some random number I found on a paper, while she was telling me that she works in retail and I should have done what it took to keep her as a customer and blah blah blah. I don't make enough money to put up with this and its just going to get worse with Christmas since they recently sent out a whole new batch of $4.99 coupons

So now, for me doing what I am told to do by corporate: get rid of the $4.99 by "overcoming" it, I have an irate customer who is going to call them and get loads of free sheets [True: she'll probably get 3 free sheets, miniumum]all because she was too cheap to spend more than 5 bucks.

[Sidenote: there are studios only open until four? My open-to-close was always 9-8.]
As the busy season ramps up, I need your submissions so email them to me!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CPI Corp (CPY) in trouble on the NYSE

As a commenter helpfully pointed out, it has recently come to pass that CPICorp (owner of both Sears Portrait Studio and PictureMe Portrait Studios in Walmart) is in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. It's price currently sits at about 3.00/share at the time of this post.
"CPI’s stock plummeted 64 percent in the past year as consumers cut back on discretionary purchases, including pictures, as the price of gas and groceries soared. The company is also in the midst of closing 51 of its studios in U.S.-based Wal-Mart stores."
Full story here

Thanks for nothing

As you know, I put in my two weeks notice right before the Studio Manager did the next weeks' scheduling. When the schedule was made, instead of my usual 30 hours, I was scheduled for 8 hours definite hours and two, 4 hour flex shifts.

Manager had me come in for the flex shift on the last day of the week even though it was obvious I wasn't needed. In the back of my head, I was hoping that maybe it was because she wanted to say goodbye or thanks for all the times I took her shift when one of her kids got sick or all the times I had worked open to close or worked all the hours that she hated to work. Maybe everyone had gotten me a card and signed it.

Wrong. It was a normal day at work and she didn't say anything about me leaving other than that I should call if I wanted any seasonal Christmas hours. No one really said much of anything.

On a sidenote, a commenter asked what Manager usually did on average sales, and it was usually great: $130 or so. However, I was at least given the satisfaction of her doing around $80-90 for the last two weeks I was there.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Figures

Once I put in my two week's notice, the following two weeks I had sales averages of $129 and $121. Had they not reamed me so much on sales in general during my slump (and even when I was doing well), I would have stuck around, but instead: gone and proud of it.

I was at the grocery store the other day getting rung out for a $7 purchase when I realized that working at Sears Portrait Studio was like being a grocery store cashier. Except a $7 purchase would get the cashier in trouble for not selling enough per transaction no matter how happy I was with her service and no matter how efficiently she did her job.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

We're done with you

I came in the day after I put in my 2 week's notice to find the schedule for what would be my last week just posted.

I typically worked 30 hours a week, and instead my manager had scheduled me for just 8 on my last week. To my knowledge this is illegal.

I think corporate knew that too, because they paid me all of my unused vacation hours when I called to inquire about that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What caused me to quit [3/3]

So it's Thursday in our story. I actually had a Friday off coming up (not because they were being nice, but because it fit into a new associate's training schedule), so it was my last chance to get my sales numbers up. I had two appointments on the books.

I did the math and even if a previous sit came back and added on $400 in additional product, I wouldn't make my goal.

I took my first appointment back and they did about $65 of sheets thanks to their 2.99 sheet coupon. After the sit, I talked to my manager.

Me: I hate to say it, but I'm not going to make my sales numbers for this week.
Manager (says something like "that's too bad," pauses for a moment and then asks,) Do you have any plans for tomorrow?
Me: Not currently, but I'm sure I'll plan something, why?
Manager: I just wanted to know in case we needed to touch base and I needed to get a hold of you.

Clearly "touch base" means "tell you why you're in trouble" and at this point could very well mean "fire you"
Me: Ok.
Manager: Also, District Manager called and we have a conference call tomorrow that you need to be on. [reminder: Friday had been my day off] So actually, come into the studio and we'll touch base then before the call.

So despite my best, most well-meaning efforts, I had not met their expectations and on top of this, I was losing part of my day off (from 2-3, the middle of the day) to a conference call that I had to take in studio.

Rather than come in and get my Corrective Action form, I came in and put in my 2 weeks notice.

More on what happened after I quit in the days to follow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What caused me to quit [2/3]

Another day, another chance to bring my sales numbers back up.

I had few appointments on the books for the next day, but suddenly near the end of my shift I had three walk ins.

The first set was a couple. They were late and showed up right after close, but I shot them quick (adults are easy) and sold them $129.99 worth of products: a good step toward good sales numbers.

Then at 8:15 (after close) as I was still helping the couple, a guy comes in for business shots. I'm not allowed to turn an appointment away, so I took him back while the first couple was looking at their photos and choosing favorites. He only needed an 8x10, but I sold him a single image CD with image rights for $49.99.

The final guy came in around 8:45 (this well after close) but he was looking for quick headshots (and as is typical, needed them that day and could do no other time). He needed a CD so I sold him a 49.99 CD that he added two more images onto for 7.99 each.

Because I was so willing to take appointments and help out customers in need, I brought in an additional $246 dollars in sales that night. Yet my average sale for the day was about $82.00, and therefore I was getting further and further from my sales goal. I had one day left to fix things for the week, and I knew that if I didn't, it could be over for me.

Conclusion Friday.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What caused me to quit. [1/3]

Everything.

But more specifically, this is what pushed me over the edge:

I had a streak of weeks were my average sale numbers weren't up to par. I was trying my hardest to rectify this situation, but just when I started to get them back up, a $9.99 package would com in to ruin all the progress I had made. I had been put on evenings at a time when senior photos weren't popular and therefore I didn't have the $200 sales to bump things up. Compared to my first quarter average sales numbers of about $139 per sale, I was at around $100 (20 below the goal). I knew I was in trouble.

One Monday, the studio manager sat me down to look at my sales numbers. I knew they weren't good, but I took her through all the things I was doing to try and bring the numbers up. She told me she needed to see an at least $10 improvment over the previous week on this week's numbers.

This was a problem given that we were already on the 3rd day of the week and I already had two 9.99 packages (that I upsold to buy extra stuff but that still hurt my average), putting my average at that time at about $88.

I did the math and figured out that I would need some spectacular sales in order to bring myself up to a $110 average sale. But rather than admit defeat, I decided that if I just tried to make each day end up at $120, it would help my week total.

My first appointment was corporate headshots. This meant he had a set package he needed. I offered him additional sheets, but he just stuck with his company's package. This was a $60 sale. So my next sale had to be 180 dollars to make up for it.

My second appointment was different corporate headshots. His $75 package meant that the next sale had to be $225 now to make up for the previous two.

The next sitting was not corporate headshots. It was a four year old and I took great pictures, got great smiles, and we took photos in two different outfits. The mom pulled out her 9.99 coupon which I added a proof sheet onto for a total sale of $24.99.

Average sale for my shift that day? About $53.33.

Story continues Wednesday.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On training employees

I once had to watch an new employee (who had kids, mind you) ask a 12 year old girl if

1) She knew where she wanted to go to college
2) If she was excited to drive soon
3) If she had heard of Knight Rider

Yes, really.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Perhaps with Robot Babies?

Submission:

I don't know what everyone else's experience has been, but training new employees seems to become harder and harder. It's not bad enough that there are about a MILLION things a new employee needs to know, without the customers making the poor trainee feel even worse. I'll give you an example:
About a month ago I was training a new employee. We had practiced in the camera room posing bears, taking pictures of other employees and such, but she needed a real live baby to test what she'd learned.

I stayed in the camera room with her the whole time, only making suggestions and stepping in when she was obviously unsure. The kid turned out to be a NIGHTMARE and we did the best we could, given the circumstances. Once the cropping and enhancing were done, we had some cute poses, despite the little girl's screaming, yelling and running around like a banshee.

The customer looked through the pictures and said, "honestly I don't like any of these. Last time's were much better." (Well of course last time's pictures were better, lady, your kid was immobile at that point!)

Through much use of my persuasive skills, she wound up ordering some pictures. Her CSAT (customer satisfaction survey) comments came in a week later:

"New employees should not be allowed to take pictures of kids."

How the hell am I supposed to train them, then?

Friday, November 7, 2008

On the bright side

i hate working for sears portrait studioThere are good days, yes, but hubris will always get you. Every time I had a good day I would be thankful yet leery because I knew that bad days were soon to follow.

So really, the fortunate thing is that it's really hard to keep working for Sears Portrait Studio. Your job keeps reminding you just how badly you need to keep looking for new work.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Are you pretty enough?

At one point we were trying to decide between two potential job candidates. Each had their pros and cons, but due to availability, one applicant looked like she was going to get the job.

The district manager was in the studio one day and going over impressions of the applicants with the studio manager.

DM lowered her voice and asked the studio manager, "is she attractive?"
Seeing my reaction, SM looked at me and said "No, it's true! Babies respond more to attractive faces!"

So if you want a job, hope you've got what it takes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hope you don't like adult conversation

Multiple times a week, I would strike up a conversation with a parent that went something like this.
Me: Aw, she's just so adorable; how old is she?
Mom: (jiggling her baby's limbs and looking down at her daughter) Say "I'm just six months old"
Baby: (blank stare)
Me: Is she able to sit up on her own yet?
Mom: (talking like a baby)Say "not yet but I'm getting close! I'm only a little wobbly!
Me: Ok then we'll make sure she's well supported.
Mom: "I'm still twying every day now though aren't I? Still twying."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Instead, use common sense

Do not give me a bad cusomter service review for "not making art" (which will result in me getting written up) when you bring your 3 year old as a walk in appointment at a time well past her bed time as the last appointment of the night. Especially when she's already crying as you carry her through the door.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Smile Search

Submission:

Pretty frequently, you are expected to go out and "Smile Search", which is go out into the store or mall, and try to bribe people to come in for pictures right then and there. You offer them some promotion along the lines of a free 8x10 and 50% off the rest of their order, but they absolutely have to come to your studio at that time. Sometimes this is done for good reason, such as training purposes. Other times, in an attempt to try and generate sales your manager and will decide you have nothing better to do and assign you a certain amount of Smile Searches you have to bring in.

People don't come to Sears with their children dressed up for pictures on a regular basis. On the rare occasion that you do find someone who is willing to come in, many will just order their free 8x10 and nothing else, which sort of defeats the purpose of trying to make money. [And destroys your sales average]And you better make sure you meet your quota of Smile Searches or you risk getting the accusation of just sitting in the studio all night doing nothing and being given a write-up to match.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Practically staff a studio alone

Submission:

"I manage a studio and have not had a day off in almost 4 months and work open to close everyday. I cannot keep employees in my studio, they all quit after a week or two due to the stress of the job or the lack of hours (I'm expected to fully staff my store on 60 labor hours, which includes my 40 hours as full time...so do the math: that is less than 20 hours to split between any employees because god forbid you have to stay late and go over 60 for the week!!!!) When I ask my DM for help, all I get is "Sorry, there is no one we can send you...hang in there". Hang in there?!?! I don't see him working these hours and giving up all of his days off!!!!

Plus most days I go without a break from open to close because god forbid we disappoint a customer who has come in to spend $4.99 with their coupon (and will undoubtedly run you ragged and be picky and demanding). Oh and forget about being sick...can't close the studio for one day for anything! Oh and about that $4.99 coupon....how do they expect us to sell anything to anyone when they can get almost everything for free? Seriously...a customer can come in with a coupon for a free 10x13, use the free 8x10 off of their super saver card (which we gave them for practically nothing) and buy a collage for $4.99 (or that stupid package for 4.99 or 9.99) and a ton of other coupons that are all combinable and never seem to expire. After all of that, most of them don't need to buy anything else because we have already given them all of their pictures! But that doesn't matter, if you mention this to anyone in upper management you get in trouble for not "overcoming" the coupon, and complaining.....are they serious?!

How many of the heads of CPI do you see working in the studios, they have probably never even set foot in one. They should have to come and try and sell $100 to someone who has all of these coupons. They also have the shadiest sales techniques. For example, I noticed this on the browser the other day. We are supposed to sell the Super Saver card to every customer, they want us to talk about all of the benefits and how amazing deal this card is. Then, when the customer returns and wishes to use the Super Saver benefit, the browser tells us that we need to talk about how "limiting" the card is, and how it isn't a good deal at all. How deceitful is that?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Try your best, get in trouble.

The 9.99 package. It kills your sales average and it's about impossible to escape.

Sometimes, however, one of your regular $9.99 customers--the ones that know your software well enough to say "Lab Package 104" when they come in--will be amazed with what a great job you did with the photos and decide to buy extras.

Other times, you will have someone come in convinced that they are only going to do the coupon, but they realize they can't leave without getting your great photos.

I would say a sale converted this way will be around 60 bucks. This, I'll remind you, is 6 times what the customer came expecting to spend.

Does this get you recognition? Does your boss say "good job?" No. Expect to be asked why you couldn't get them into a collection.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Be a telemarketer [part 3]

In addition to calling old customers that haven't recently come in, your responsibilities also include cold calling people.

When you sit an appointment down, you explain the "share the smiles" program where any of their friends that they have that might be interested in coming in will get a free sheet. If they put five friends down, the customer filling it out gets a free sheet as well.

So in case you missed it, the customer is basically selling five friends' phone numbers to us for $7.99.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The economy is your fault

People have less disposable income these days. We still expect you to beat last year's sales numbers even though the entire company is trending down about 20% in the number of sittings and sales they have.

It's your fault. You must not be telemarketing enough or selling hard enough. Work harder. Your job is in jeopardy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mistreated and disrespected (another favorite story)

You of course remember person #4 from my list of employees that left, don't you? Here's more of the story.

I was talking with my district manager about what a negative work environment our studio was and how that's the reason that everyone would quit without giving notice. I gave her a basic reason of everyone that quit. At the time I thought that Girl#4 quit without explanation.

Me: And I know that Girl#4 that we never called her with her schedule, but I personally called her on the same number that I used to schedule her interview and left voicemails on the same machine. We called.
DM: Oh, you don't know the story of what happened?
Me: What story?
DM: She quit after a week because she said that she could tell that you were being mistreated and didn't want to work in that kind of work enviroment. She even called up the CEO to try and talk to him.

Let me break this down for you a little better. The timeline works like this.

I call up this girl so we can schedule an interview. She comes in. I interview her and think she would be a great asset to the company. She's energetic, happy, good with customers, has great experience. I refer her to the studio manager for a second interview. This is the last contact I remember having with her. She was hired and started training with the studio manager on the opposite shifts I was on.

So this means that in the one week she was with us, she figured out that I was being mistreated. Me specifically. And it was so bad that she quit.

No one ever did anything about this by the way.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Things you need to improve on

There's a management style that SPS conforms to in which there's a list of things to go over when correcting someone's behavior with a conversation. These are the topics of conversation:
1) What did you do well
2) What could be improved
3) Set goals
4) Decide how to attain those goals
5) Follow up on the conversation later
Which, in theory, would work great if the management were more sincere.

The main problem was that the "talk about what you did well" was in there as a formality. It was there because it had to be. It was something to get through quickly. Congratulations that were given were hollow and empty. You got the sense they were waiting for this part to be over so they could get to the criticism part.

When you do something well, it is because you are supposed to. When you make a mistake, it is because you aren't doing your job correctly.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More ways to get in trouble

Let's say you've taken a 7:00 appointment back for the night. It is a high school senior. He has 4 outfits that he wants to do. You can:

1) Do the outfits and make him happy, forcing you to stay a little bit later after closing time.
2) Tell him he's out of luck, making him upset which makes him go off on a rant about how on the phone they told him he could do four outfits. This may lead to a poor online review for you.

If you're a nice person like most workers are, you will pick option 1. I chose this option and got written up for poor time management. And even if you avoid getting written up, expect a condescending note. Something like "We close at 8:00, not 8:30 in case you didn't know!"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Guilty until proven innocent.

The computer system for ringing customers out is old and often makes errors when combining certain coupons so sometimes you have to modify prices to give them the price they deserve. Other times people will not have their coupons and you will have to modify prices. Sometimes the computer adds on products that you didn't order that you have to modify away.

Everytime you modify something, the studio manager gets a report. Once every few weeks you will get a print out of this report that says something like "I need these all explained by Wednesday" and you have to see if you can remember why you gave someone 14.99 off a collage a month ago.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Be a telemarketer [part 2]

Every so often, there will be a reorder sale. You will have to place calls to people that have come in the past six months to bother them and ask if they need any more photos. You are expected to sell $40/day worth of product to people that have no need for Christmas photos in February.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Assault is understandable.

Remember a while ago when I posted my list of people I had quit at my studio? As you'll remember, one of them was fired for assaulting another co-worker. Let's review a few of the comments I got.
"Ya know, I actually am not surprised that someone attacked a coworker because of this job. I've felt like doing that once or twice, and SPS was the only job I've ever felt that way about. Which is saying something since I'm in training to be an ER nurse now..."
"Completely agree. I remember one time I was at the sales table, when I had two different parties I needed to sell to, the phone was ringing, the onsite printer was beeping that the toner needed to be changed, there were tons of people waiting and there were not enough staff on---I literally saw myself in my head just losing it right there when a woman was trying to get my attention to ask me something. I have never felt like that in any other job. I didn't really lose it, but I could see it all playing out in my head--me saying, "I WILL GET TO YOU WHEN I HAVE A SECOND!" And doing some kind of karate chop move on everyone. LOL"
And I too know just how angry this job can make you when you feel that no matter what you do, everything is out of your control yet you're going to be held accountable for everything.

It really says something about how employees are treated when something that people can agree on is the fact that the job makes you want to attack people.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The $0.00 sale

It's hard enough to maintain your sales average when you have that $9.99 package to fight against. Even worse though is the $0 sale.

People that are photographed in the evenings especially sometimes decide that they want to come back on another day to pick out the photos for their order. You have to put their sale into the register as a $0 sale and whoever rings them out (probably not you) gets the pure dollars to add to the total sales numbers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Guilt trip your way to sales!

A word for word quote of a Sears training script.

Customer: I don't need that many portraits.

Associate: Really, have you considered everyone in your family? The portrait sheets are a great value right now and it would be the perfect time to send portraits to those out of town relatives that we often forget about. Also, make sure that you have at least one extra size of each pose for the baby book. A lot of our Customers have a separate photo album for their children to take to their home when they grow up and move away. It is a great way for a parent to show that they care.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happens more than you would hope

I have see a 4 year old be breastfed.

In the chair directly next to me

Without any covering.

While I have to make eye contact with this woman as she picks out her photos.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

$9.99

One of my favorite photo sessions was with a little two month old baby where every shot I had was great. We even got an amazingly rare smiling photo and a great tummy shot. Sometimes you leave a session and you're really proud of the photos you were able to get, especially when mom was really demanding of the child and brought multiple outfits and had specific things in mind. It's nice to succeed like that.

Then someone pulls out the coupon for the single pose $9.99 package and orders only one picture.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Perhaps it involves magic

I once had a day where I had an appointment booked as the last appointment of the day. They had called earlier in the day and, as people often tell me, said it was the one single time that they could do it.

Their appointment time came around but they didn’t. So I waited until 20 minutes past their appointment time and then called the number on the schedule. I got a family member who told me that they had left the house about 10 minutes earlier.

How in the world can I stay on time and take everyone else back on time when I have people that leave their house 10 minutes after the time their appointment was supposed to begin?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Money.

Your manager is trying to give you as little money as possible.

Every year, upper management gets on a kick where labor is very important to them: how much is spent, what percentage of the sales it makes up, how they can spend less.

They will keep the studio understaffed and try to send you home the moment you aren't needed. If you're on flex, they really don't want to bring you in. If you're on coverage, they really don't want to have to give you the flex help and will want you to shoot sessions 30 minutes apart by yourself.

Part timers, expect to get 15 hours max no matter what your were promised.
Full timers, they are just dying for the opportunity to cut your hours if your sales numbers fall. It doesn't matter that being under 30 hours a week puts your health benefits in jeopardy. If you want health benefits, you better get your sales numbers up.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Your time will never be your own [part 6]

Submission from someone in the know:

"Since the huge labor suit took place (it's still pending), the company has cracked down on labor violations. But this doesn't mean that more people are scheduled so that you can take your ten, fifteen, or half-hour break. No, this means that you have to find a way to take a break, even when you're scheduled alone, without denying any walk-in appointments or making anyone wait. And if you work more than five hours without clocking out for a break, you get written up. Do this more than two times, and (according to the DM), you get fired."

"So the long and short of it is that employees are being coerced into fabricating breaks so that they don't get written up. Consequently, employees are being pushed to spend their "break" time working off the clock so that the company can maintain the appearance of following labor laws. And if you didn't get to take a break all day and dind't have time to clock yourself out while working, the manager might go in and "fix" your time card for you. Time card fraud, anyone?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Your time is not your own [part 5]

In preparation for tomorrow's entry, I would like to point out the following:

I had no idea that as employees, we were supposed to receive 15 minute, paid breaks for every certain number of hours we worked as is required by law. No one ever told me.

It was not until I was taking an employee through training and heard it on the new training videos that I realized "hey, no one has been getting those!"

Yet I felt that if I were to take the breaks owed to me, I would get in trouble and not be seen as a team player. Working at Sears Portrait Studio, you feel you have no job security and suspect they may be amassing those summary of conversations so that they can fire you [though if they really want to fire you, they can because you'll notice when you signed your application that CPI has the right to terminate employment at any time without reason]. I felt that by demanding my breaks I would just further be encouraging them to fire me so they could get someone that they didn't have to pay for breaks.

It was assumed that around Christmas time, no one would get breaks period, often not even lunches. In terms of lunches, you are supposed to get them "business permitting." This is used as an excuse to withhold them if there are a lot of appointments or if there are a lot of tasks around the studio to be done. Perish the thought they they would bring in another associate to help you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Testing your patience with test calls

Keep those submissions coming! Here's today's:

"I managed a super high volume studio for many years and was regularly scheduling 8 appointments per hour from open to close during our busiest times of the year. Talk about no room for error!

To kick off the holidays every year, my studio was "test-called" by both the corporate office and the district manager, to ensure no customer was turned away. The caller would usually start with "What's the latest appointment you have?" And you'd better say that would be 8:00 pm or whatever your closing time is, or you would be fired. Turning away a customer is cause for immediate dismissal according to CPI.

I put up with those test calls for years and reprimanded associates who were caught saying the wrong thing. Then I got test called myself one day. The caller twisted everything I said around and kept me on the phone for a good 5 minutes (while there are plenty of things that need to be coordinated in the studio), trying to get me to say something out of line.

With nowhere else to really go to attempt to appease the test caller, I offered to have an extra photographer stay late to accommodate her. As a result, when she reported back to DM, she wrote that I "seemed kind of mean to associates."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Your time is not your own [part 4]

Saturday is the one day you're pretty much guaranteed to work with another person. It is also the day that the schedule goes completely out the window.

Working 2-8pm? Well in addition to having to probably stay late, you may, after planning your morning and planning lunch with friends, get a call that you're needed earlier.

Working 9-1am? This means that you will likely be there until as late as 4pm

You will never know when you can expect to leave and you cannot plan your day around your work schedule. So, even though you're scheduled for five or six hours of paid work, expect to have to keep much of your day reserved for work. Something they don't tell you at the interview.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Death to trees

Closing used to take about 15 minutes. Then corporate extended it to a half hour by enacting a process that involved writing down the same information twice in two different locations and printing out uneccessary reports that could have always been looked up in the future if they were needed.

There are about 900 Sears Portrait Studios in the country. Let's say the person closing makes $9.00/hr, so this 15 minutes costs the company $2.25. Multiply that out to take in account all studios and it costs the company $14,175 a week or $737,100 a year. Not to mention the fact that the 8 extra sheets of paper per studio per day means this initiative uses 2,620,800 extra sheets of paper per year.

And if you ask me, the greatest price they pay is that they're saying to their employees "we don't trust you and so you must stay later to do this paperwork to prove you aren't stealing."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How are things at your old studio?

Those of you that have quit, have you checked in to see how things have progressed in your absense? We got a comment the other day in which the author wrote: "I left the company a year and a half ago and, since then, my old job (Studio Manager) has been consistently posted on the SPS website. They can't find anyone to hire and when they do, they stay less than 3 weeks. I can only imagine what is going on there at the studio."

The word on the street is that all the studios are really short staffed. People have less disposable income these days, so I know sales figures are down by about 10-20% from last year based on what people have told me. The company is holding the staff responsible and turning on the pressure, and as a result, people are quitting. Many studios are looking to hire 4+ part timers for the approaching busy season, and are resorting to calling people that used to work for them years ago in order to try and get some help.

And of course, we aren't interested.

Friday, October 10, 2008

6 poses and creativity

You will always get 6 poses [or in the case of some studios 9 poses] or be in trouble. You are to get six markedly different photos in your fifteen minutes. This job will be sold to you as a job where you can express your creativity, but in the end because of rules and constraints, you'll be doing the same poses every single time whenever possible for speed and efficiency. There are a number of required pose types that you must get each time no matter what. If you get a family that says they only want shots from the waist up from head on and you do that, you will be graded down on photo evaluations.

So once again you have to make the choice: do you make your customer happy or make your boss happy?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Be accused of lying! (one of my favorite stories)

One day my studio manager comes up to me following her vacation

Manager: Why did you put a rush on order number ###### without charging them?
Me(AsstMngr): I didn't put a rush on that order.
Manager: Well a rush requires manager approval and I didn't give it.
Me: I remember I took the photos for that order and put the order through, and I remember them talking about leaving the country soon, but I didn't put a rush on it.
Manager: (getting angry)Well I didn't approve it...
Me: I'm pretty sure I didn't, but I could always be mistaken. If I did, I'm sorry and it's definitely something I won't do in the future.
Manager: A rush order costs the company money and in order to be profitable we need to blah blah blah blah and we can't be giving away rush orders and blah blah blah blah.
Me: Again, I'll remember that in the future.

The more I thought about it, the more I was sure that I hadn't put a rush on that order. So the next day at work I got on company email and did some research to see who actually put the order through. Sure enough, it was one of our associates and the lab hadn't checked with us before doing the rush.
I printed out this email.

Me: (With a "whoops-isn't-this-a-funny-mistake" tone) Hey look Manager, I got on email to look it up and sure enough, it was Associate all along!

(This of course is the part where you would expect an apology. Instead...)

Manager: Why would you take the valuable time to look that up?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Ok but not great"

Keep these submissions coming and I'll keep posting them. Here's today's:

"You make an appointment over the phone for a woman who says she only wants to bring in her five-year old, who she claims happens to be an angel. You're already pretty busy and on single coverage, but since she is only bringing in one child, and you both know, without saying, that she'll probably just get her one-pose package, you're expecting this to be an easy, no-frills, "in-and-out" session.

She shows up late with not one, but FOUR kids dressed for pictures, because she decided that while she was at it, she might as well get all the kids pictures done. Never mind calling you to let you know, or even to see if extra time could be set aside. Just showing up with three extra kids in tow.

And she also wants individuals of each child, and an outfit change. Except the outfits she wants are still sitting on the clothing rack in the children's department, can she run out and purchase them really fast? And when she comes back she will need extra time to have an internal debate about which outfit she wants to use first, is that ok?

Finally, time for the session to begin! Can we start with the group shot, even though the youngest is extremely crabby?? Oh, and don't forget about an all-girls and all-boys shot, plus every combination of breakdowns possible among the kids. Hey, do you mind throwing her in a group shot and then one with each child separate? And while you're at it, she will now tell you that she changed her mind about the background that she absolutely had to have for the first half of the shots, can we re-shoot everything on another?

And when this is all said and done, she will probably just buy the package of one of the group shots that she deems "ok, but not great", and then make an appointment to bring them back and try for the individuals again."

I know exactly what our submitter is talking about. That's what always amazes me about talking to people about working at Sears Photo Studio: it's the same bad situation nationwide.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

People are selfish

I was once running behind so I told the following sit "I'm sorry, but I'm running a little bit behind. It's going to be closer to 10:05 than 10:00."

They audibly and theatrically sighed to have to wait an extra five minutes.

And during their session they wanted to do extra outfit changes, extra poses for each individual child, and had no problem trying to make the other appointment after them far more than five minutes late.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Breaking more rules of statistics

So what happens if your online customer satisfaction score is too low? You tell more people to take it and tell them what to write.

What is the point of conducting a survey if you stuff the box with people that you essentially select to answer the question? That's like going to the democratic convention and polling people to figure out if Obama will win the election.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Documentation

Everything is documented.

Let's say one day you forgot to take out the trash when you closed down the studio.

The next day you will have a Summary of Conversation waiting for you. It will say that it is for "failure to follow proper closing procedures" and if it happens again there will be "further documentation leading up to termination."

All because you forgot a single step of a many-step, half hour long closing procedure once.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Being pushy [Part 2]

Your job depends on selling $120 dollars per sale. You will put people deeper into credit card debt.

You will sell someone something they don't really need and didn't come for. They will say "I'm going to have to work a lot of extra hours for this!"

I once sold $240 worth of stuff to someone who had her current credit card balance written directly on the card in Sharpie: $5,550.00

It's either that or enjoy not having a job.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Make a lot of new friends

Because every couple weeks, someone you know will quit and a new person will take their place.

When I started, there were two girls that had been hired before me. One actually stayed with the company. As you will see, she is the exception.

Girl #2 stopped showing up on the day after Christmas, leaving everyone scrambling and changing people's Christmas plans.

#3 Left after two weeks shortly after starting to learn sales how much the company held you to it.

#4 Quit after realizing I was getting mistreated without me even having to tell her (more on that another time)

#5 Stopped showing up around Thanksgiving time because she couldn't stand having to deal with the studio manager

#6 Stopped showing up because she found the job too stressful

#7 Stopped a couple days into training after realizing the job wasn't for her

#8 Was fired for stealing

#9 Quit to "focus more on studies"

#10 Stopped showing up after about 2 weeks after he started to get written up. Studio manager told me she had expected to fire him soon for sales numbers

#11 Was fired after she attacked a coworker after a stressful night

#12 Stopped showing up after 4 days of training.

And of course I make number 13. But I put in my two week's notice after a year. Almost all of the above named quit before they were around a month.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Keep them misinformed

In an effort to keep your average sale up, you will not tell customers about the deals that are offered.

Our "regular sheet price" is 14.99 in the sense that that one is most expensive and is therefore the one we try to sell regularly. Read your coupon correctly and you'll notice that there are 7.99 sheets. These are for images that come right off the camera that don't include "enhancements".

Zoom in? That brings your price up 7 dollars. Black and white? 7 dollars. Put a little glow around the image? 7 dollars.

If you ask about 2.99 sheets, that's usually a managers special after the first 6.

So if you're getting 12 sheets and don't care about borders, you can pay $159.99 for a collection or you can pay $65.88. Your choice. But guess which one your associate will tell you about.

This isn't something in the sales training manual, but it's something that has to happen. The offical sales training manual says something to the effect of "being a good sales person is offering your customer every product". Everyone starts out that way, but then everyone gets to the point where they are given some sort of "bring your sales up or you're out of here" ultimatum and this is what they have to resort to. I know I did.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why can't you bring in more money after I ruin things?

I love getting all these story submissions! Here's what today's new submitter has to say:

"We had our district manager come in to "help" with our Santa event one year. Aside from not knowing our associates or how our studio worked, she looked messy and was somewhat awkward and quiet with the customers. She hadn't been behind a camera in so long that we figured keeping her on a sales table or as a floater would work out. Little did we know the extent to which she would screw up our day."

"Let me preface the rest of this story by saying that we had our Santa Event down to an exact science. Our fastest, best shooter was in the room with Santa, and the room stayed the same with very little variance. Santa did not leave that room so that we could get the pictures in as fast as possible. Six poses...ten minutes? No problem, we could handle it. The other room was booked consistently every half hour, for the customers wanting an appointment on that day, but not for the Santa event. With a sales person on each table, one at the register, and one in each camera room, our studio ran like clockwork."

"So there it was: the perfect system consisting of one event room (which had different pricing and its own two sales tables) and one regular portrait room. All the customers knew that Santa was completely booked and that no walk-ins could be made for him. They also knew that if a baby started screaming, they might be expected to wait a few minutes. After all, how often do you get the opportunity to have Santa and a camera room all to yourself? In other words, the Santa event customers were prepared for some craziness. The non-event customers were not. After all, they didn't sign up for it."

"Our district manager decided that she knew a better way to do things. She put herself in the non-event camera room and began shifting things around, moving Santa from room to room in order to push the non-event customers into paying the (higher) Santa event price without knowing they were doing so. As a result, the event room got backed up, our system got screwed, and one of our best and most loyal customers was forced to wait over an hour for her grandchildrens' non-event session. All the while, the DM was taking her sweet time with Santa in the non-event room, shooting substandard photos for customers who didn't want an appointment with Santa in the first place."

"Because of this incident, we almost lost the business of three customers who had come consistently for years, none of us got breaks, our sales were down as compared to previous Santa Events, and Santa (begrudgingly) had to stay late. To add insult to injury, our DM had the nerve to chastise us for our decreased sales on that day. That was four years ago. She is still the DM and delights in coming into our studio, unannounced, in order to "check up" on us and throw away props and other items that make our camera room look "crowded." She denies us money to replace those props and expects us to keep our sales up when we don't have the items that the customers want in their pictures. She is never certain about anything, and seems not to know how to return phone calls, but expects us to drop everything when she decides to grace us with her presence. "

"I love taking pictures, working with people, and training new employees, but this woman makes life at the portrait studio hell. With the amount of money they make, you'd think that they could at least hire clear-thinking people to run the districts."

I'm adding my thoughts to the comments. Why not add yours too?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Perceptive Computer

On the studio intranet there was a category called "What's In It For Me?" and when I checked it, it would tell me "This listing is empty"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Being Pushy

The company provides you with scripts. When they released the new canvas wrap prints, we got a memo that had the new scripts.

Imagine you're a customer and you've sat down at the sales table after a good photo session with your daughter. You've come to spend about $70 and you've told this to the photographer. This is what the script-following associate would say regardless:

"Mrs. Smith we got such great pictures! I remember you said that her grandmother bought her that dress. I think it suits her personality so well! What do you say we surprise grandma with one of our new canvas wraps as a gift! Would you like it in 8x10 or 11x14?"

These start at $129.99 each.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

No one trusts you

Everyone was always suspect.

I can't tell you how many times I was woken up by my phone in the morning asking why I had only done 20 outreach calls. Or why the new shipment of photos (that came in early) hadn't been put away yet.

Things happen. People come up and need passports. Babies get upset. People come in to pick up photos. People call with 20 minutes of questions.

Yet there is little respect for this and since you work by yourself, you don't have anyone to back you up.

I'm a very diligent worker. At a previous job, management gave me awards and recognition for my hard work. At Sears Portrait Studio, I was only met with suspicion.

And so I took to keeping a log of every hour I worked.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hold events, pay for them yourself.

Please sir, I want some cupcakes for my outreach eventI know exactly what today's submission by an ex Studio Manager is talking about: at Easter I shelled out thirty bucks for our outreach event and the studio manager did likewise.

She writes, "I regularly bought balloons, cupcakes and goodie bags for the monthly birthday event out of my own pocket. When I began to question upper management about this, they got all shifty-eyed and began squirming in their seats. I was told I should visit bakeries and other businesses in my area and ask them to donate their products for the events. WTF? This is a for profit CORPORATION, not the United Way!!!"

"The icing on the cake was when my (former) DM visited my studio and showed me a photo from the #1 studio in the district from their "Fairy Forest" event. The set up was very elaborate: garden arches, toads, mushrooms, and tons of flowers, etc.

"I said, "Wow, that looks awesome! Who paid for all the stuff?" Of course, DM's whole demeanor changed, and he replied that the studio manager had paid for it, not expecting to be reimbursed. So, that's how she runs that $175 PRS: she pays for new props and decorations.

If things are so bad that CPI can't give the studios a monthly $20 slush fund for events (the equivalent of one set of specs sheets sold), maybe they can apply for food stamps- at least that would pay for the cupcakes."

"Shortly after this conversation took place, I was told I had a bad attitude and the write-ups began... "

Friday, September 26, 2008

Re: "You are encouraged" comment....

Every blog writer loves comments, even negative ones, so let's respond to this.

On my Sept 24 entry, we received this comment:
"You are an idiot. This is a business we are running and most businesses want to make money. Who are you to say how to go about doing that. You don't sound like you want to work. In your world, if the customer does come in, they would have their portraits for free! I could go on and on but you probably won't post this anyway."
I'm unsure what you're responding to: the story submitter or myself for the comment I made following the story. I'll assume I'm the one being called an idiot though.

Yes, CPICorp wants to make money. I would never give away portraits for free. If they had money, I'd be happy to take it. However their business model is set up in a way that can discourage that. Let's break this down.

Let's say you're a high school student [as many associates are] and it's prom season. Your friends are all going to need group shots and Sears Portrait Studio is far cheaper than the photos they take at the dance and the photos would turn out far better and have variety. It makes sense that you would want to invite your friends in.

Here's what should happen:
You invite your friends in and make appointments for them. They can't all come in at the same time so you have to do two different sittings. Each sitting buys the $9.99 package of their favorite pose and a 29.99 cute collage you made up. Those two sales make up $80 that your studio would not have had that week. Your manager thanks you for the extra money you brought in for the company.

Here's what happens:
How many hours you work and how you are viewed as an employee is based on your sales average. If you invite your friends in, you know that your sales average will take a huge hit (To make up for your two $40 sales, your next sale would have to be $240 to bring you back up to $120 average). Yet you invite them in anyway because you really want to take their photos. Your sales average for the week ends up at $90 after some other sales.
Your ninety dollar sales average gets posted on the bottom of the studio's list, serving to make it look as if you have done the company a disservice. Rather than being commended for bringing in sales, you will be reprimanded. Your numbers will fall and that will signal to the company that you aren't doing your job. I know this seems blown out of proportion and for just two sales, but I know that other SPS employees can back up that this is how the company works. They do not care the amount of business you bring in. And yes, they care about how much money your studio brings in, but their perception of you is shackled to your average sale number.

Call this blog sour grapes. Call it an isolated studio. All I have to say is this. I woke up every morning dreading going to work. When people push me and tell me that I'm not making my numbers, that only encouraged me to work harder to try and prove them wrong. Despite this, I have never worked at a job where I was more disrespected. The more I talk to other SPS employees, the more I find this is a nation-wide problem. I currently have daily entries queued up until November 1. I hope the fact that I would go to all this trouble says something about what a truly negative work environment SPS is. If that alone doesn't say it, I'll let the entries themselves do that. I've saved some of the best for last.


[Also note: any comments that show up as removed are always spam comments. I would never remove an actual comment. Call me an idiot all you'd like: consider this your written invitation to get the debate going]

No one cares about you

There was a studio manager that took a failing studio and turned it around to make it even more profitable. So the company said "Hey, we want you to move 200 miles south and do the same thing with a different studio"

Studio manager said "Well, I can't make any promises about what I could do. Each studio is different. I would want to know what I was getting into first."

"Come on down!" they said, "we love you."

And the studio manager went. She took over a studio that was previously known for having a creepy studio manager. That in and of itself would be hard enough, but a competing portrait studio opened up nearby shortly after she took over.

When she didn't produce sales numbers, they demoted her to associate and put her at a different studio.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When your PRS starts to fall

At some point in your career, you will have a bad series of weeks, and your sales average will be low. This will be a conversation. Goals will be set. Write ups will be made and sent to the district manager.

They will decide that you can no longer work the peak hours. Therefore, they will put you on more evening shifts. This means you will have
1) Fewer hours
2) Fewer appointments
3) Fewer opportunities to improve
Your hours will move to flex hours and one of your coworkers will suddenly have her schedule change with two day's notice to take your hours.

Rather than encouragement saying that you can get your numbers up, they will instead issue threats about what will happen if you numbers don't go up and put you at times when people characteristically spend less money.

Good luck.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You are encouraged to bring in less money

Another submission from an ex studio manager who writes:

"My studio was in a depressed, former factory town in the Midwest, and the average customer did not have a lot of money to spend. As with most studios, our sittings were down, but we did a phenomenal job with outreach, some weeks bringing in over 20 appointments from outreach alone." [Note: this is an amazing number. We struggled to make our goal of 10 every week at my studio]

"The average sale from our outreach appointments was only about $55, though, so it usually contributed to our lower average sale. Some weeks, we were bringing in an extra $900 just from these appointments that we worked hard to get, and I made sure to track everything and send the numbers to my District Manager. While many studios had very negative total sales compared to last year, we were able to stay in the positive."

"This however, did not matter because our average sale amount was not over $100. Of course, you want to maximize every sale opportunity, but such an emphasis on the average customer sale does not seem right. With that number looming over your head, when a customer comes in and they are asking you about prices, it gets you thinking inside, “Listen, if you’re not going to spend $100, don’t even bother coming in!” "

I love this story because it so perfectly illustrates the bizarre business model that Sears Portrait Studio uses. I would have loved to invite my friends to come in for pictures but didn't because I knew that it would hurt my job performance more if they spent 30 dollars and brought down the average sale than if they would have not come in all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Be a telemarketer [part 1]

When you have a spare moment, you are expected to get on the phone list and call past customers. There are approximately 100 people on the list at any given time. Whether or not you make calls is monitored and you need to make at least three appointments per week over the phone regardless of how many hours you work. If you don't, you will be written up.

The people you call do not want to hear from you. They have heard from you before. They may book appointments just to be nice and then not show up. When they don't show up, management will be suspicious and wonder if you are making up fake appointments.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Un-fed babies

New parents have a tendency to bring their babies in for walk-in appointments.

I once had a couple come in while I was busy with another session. I told them I would be able to take them back in twenty minutes once I finished my other appointment. They were in a hurry so they were annoyed with this, but decided to wait.

From the seats they waited in, they could witness the entire process and see for themselves when I was almost through. The five minutes it takes me to ring up a customer is an ideal time to start getting ready.

I took them back at four. I had the room all ready to go and then the mom decided that then was the time to start:
1) Feeding the baby (takes 10+ min)
2) Changing the baby's outfit

And I had another appointment in an hour which of course went back late.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Appointments are jammed together

Appointments take an hour to see through from start to finish (50 minutes of you are lucky). Even when things went great, I would most often get done with one appointment just as the other was rolling in.

Let's break down what makes up an appointment
-Greeting/Asking Questions about session (5 min)
-Photography (15 min)
-Editing (10 min)
-Sales (25 min)
-Ringing out (5 min)

With an hour appointment, you have no time for delays. And yet:
-Parents will take 10 minutes to change a kid into their outfit
-Babies will be upset and need time to calm down
-The phone will ring
-Someone will come to pick up their photos on a non pick up day
-The server will crash
-The phone will ring again
-The mom will take forever to choose her photos
-Babies will be unfed
-Parents will have no control over their children

If one appointment runs late? Well there's no time between appointments and you're all alone, so your next appointment is going to go back late. And that will make the next appointment even later. And then in a space where you had a moment of downtime to catch up, the appointment scheduler will add another appointment.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Skeleton Crew [part 2]

CPICorp has a 1-800 number that you can call to schedule an appointment. There is not way to call your studio directly from the website.

This is actually a good thing for those at the studio. It means that hopefully your photographer has minimal phone interruptions while she shoots your appointment.

The problem, however, this the appointment call center is overseas and will make appointments whenever it (or the customer) feels like it.

So let's say you're alone (as always) and you have two appointments on the books for the rest of the night: one at three and one at four. You have plenty of open space for appointments between your four and close at 8:00. Then, despite all these open slots, the appointment scheduler gives you an 8:00 appointment.

You could try and call the customer, but the appointment scheduler typed in their phone number incorrectly and you have no way of contacting them.

When you later talk to the customer, you realize that they were flexible with their time and could have done earlier.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blantantly deceive your customers

We have received our first submission from another SPS employee, this time an ex Studio Manager. We'll call this person SM1. Let's read, shall we?

"I learned immediately that I was expected to use shady sales practices at SPS. I really don’t believe that this is coming completely from the corporate level, but more from the Regional Manager. Between the months of July and November 2006, so much emphasis was put on on-site printing that we were instructed to tell our customers that this was their only option.

[Editor's note: On site printing costs an additional 3 dollars per sheet, has worse color quality than lab printing and is on glossy rather than matte paper]

Managers in my district refused to honor coupons, saying that their studio only did on-site printing. If the customer got angry enough, the studio would order them from the lab, but still keep the extra $3 on the sheet price.

We were told not to put out any of the fliers with the current promotional collection (We had to keep the one hanging on the wall up because it was required, but if a customer asked about it, we were to talk down the lab telling them how the pictures took almost a month to come in). Basically, I felt like every day we were asked to lie to the customers about prices and products.

Other questionable initiatives:
-Denying customer use of the $9.99 package
-Only selling certain products in a 20x20 size when the company clearly has the 10x10 size on the website and price list
-Denying the existence of the 5x7 wallet/combo size
-Not letting the customer know about any collection less than $100 (this is back when there WAS a collection under $99.99).

Things improved when the new CEO came on board and we were focusing more on “making the day” [beating last year's sales numbers] and we were instructed to start using the company-created collections rather than the many various manager-created collections that were floating around and serving only to confuse our associates.

Several customer service complaints in our district led to a call from corporate to our entire district about dissatisfaction with on-site printing, and all of a sudden our Regional Manager was saying on-site printing was only meant to be offered as an option to customers, telling us to now do the very thing we had earlier been expressly told not to do."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Your time is not your own [part 3]

Our portrait studio was open until 8pm. What this means, however, is that if someone comes in at 8:00 or even 8:10, you take them back for their appointment. Refuse an appointment? You're fired.

You never quite know when you'll get out. The appointment scheduler loves to make late appointments [see entry being posted Saturday] at 8:00 when other times are available.

Closing takes about half an hour. So some days I would be able to leave at 8:30. On days when I could start closing procedures early, I would be done at 8:10. Other days 9:30.

This entry probably sounds more nitpicky than previous entries, but you have to combine this with other entries and realize that it's yet another way you always feel on call. Working the evening shift means you can't make any definite plans until 10. So in a sense even though your shift says you're done at 8, Sears really has you until 10.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Customers don't know math

I once had a woman call me up with questions. She was buying a large package for a group shot and wanted to know how many sheets of photos each family would get. She was asking about our different packages.

"Now our silver package will give you twelve sheets"

"Ok," she said, "so if I have five families, how many sheets would each family get"
It was like I was talking to a fourth grade division problem. "Well" I said "On average each family is going to get about two and a half sheets"

"How can you have half a picture?"

"Well, you can't. It's an average. Everyone will get two and you'll have some extras."

"Extras?"

"Yes, because in total you have twelve sheets and if everyone has two sheets, then you'll have two extras."

"So how many do each get?"

I had to go on to repeat myself a number of times. I tried to keep it as flexible as possible for her, to show her how she could do different numbers for each family (which is what she wanted) but in the end had to just tell her "Each family gets two sheets and your grandmother gets four"

Now, I can [almost] understand how it could be somewhat confusing for someone around thirty years old when you have remainders and want a whole number. But later...

"Ok so now instead of that collection," I said "you could go with the gold which I could mix around to give you 20 sheets"
"So if I have five families for that shot, how many sheets would they each get?"
"Well, if I divide 20 by 5, I get 4 each."
"What if I had twenty five sheets with the other collection?"
"You would have 5 each."
"Ohhhh okay"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

CPI Corp breaks the rules of statistics

On the customer's recepit, these is a link to a survey they can take where they are asked three questions. It's something like: would you reccomend us to a friend, did your photographer listen to your needs, what was your overall satisfaction. These are rated on a scale from 1-10 with ten being the best.

Nines and tens are considered good. Anything else is not.

Furthermore, one bad review is more heavily weighted than a good review. Let's say the woman from the previous entry had a bone to pick and decided she didn't get enough time and was going to stick it to me by giving me all 1's. It would take ten good reviews to make up for one bad review.

Get bad reviews? You're going to get written up.