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."


"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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hope you don't like relaxation

You're 3 hours in your five and a half hour shift and it's time for your thirty minute unpaid lunch. Since you're the only person around, you are expected to stay around the studio in case the phone should ring or if someone shows up so you can work off the clock.

Why not clock in? Well, clock in and out too many times and you'll get a Summary of Conversation written against you.

Once you handle that customer's question, someone comes in to pick up their pictures. Handle that and you get another phone call.

And suddenly your break is done and it's time to get back on the clock.

Oh, also, food isn't allowed in the back room. Hope you don't like eating.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Skeleton Crew [part 1]

Sears Portrait Studio has as few people as possible working on a given day. This meant that I worked alone most of the time.

Pretend you've got a six month old baby that you've brought in for photos. You've taken the time to make sure that he's had a nap, that he didn't get his clothes dirty, and that he was fed before he came. You were really worried that he might not take good photos because he doesn't have much patience, but the first few photos are adorable.

Then the phone rings. The photographer is required to excuse herself and get the phone. The person on the phone may request to see if their pictures are in which requires the photographer to dig around in the drawer. Or the caller may have a bunch of questions that she demands me answered right then and there.

When the photographer comes back, she may get in another five minute of cute photos only to be interrupted with someone that has come to pick up their photos. The photographer obliges.

Your child starts crying and it is clear the photo session is over before you even got a chance to get some of the photos you wanted.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Parents lie

I once had a woman show up with her three year old daughter wanting a walk-in appointment. I was, of course, working alone. I had two other appointments that were soon approaching so I told her that unfortunately I wouldn't be able to take her as I had an appointment that was less than 45 minutes away (appointments usually take a hour to see through to completion and I didn't want to make all my future appointments late) but I would be happy to schedule her a time another day or I could give her an appointment in a few hours after my other appointment.

She told me that this was the only time she could do the appointment. That there was no other time. She told me that her daughter was great with pictures. That she would be easy.

I took her word for it. When I photographed a good four year old, I could get them in and out in about 45 minutes. This still sounds like a stupid move, I realize, but CPI has a zero tolerance policy: if you refuse an appointment, you are fired. And I didn't want to get stuck in some grey area.

To make sure she knew what to expect, I explained the situation again. I told her that if I couldn't do anything that would make my following appointments late. I told her if we went over on time that I would set her up on the computer herself and she would be able to pick out her order while I photographed the other session.

The daughter was not good with cameras as promised. She was shy. Shy is fine. I'm good with shy. But I'm not good with shy when I don't have the time to connect with the child because the mom is a rushed, walk-in, last minute appointment. The mom also wanted to add on a mother-daughter shot, which I happily did. She wanted to do some shots with the big #4, which I was more than happy to do. I got a lot of good photos and made pretty good time and then asked "so is there anything else I can do for you?"

And from her backpack she pulled two other dresses. I should have asked if she had outfits, yes, but you don't expect someone to pull two dresses from a small backpack.

Oh, and she wanted to do some individual shots of herself. On a different background than the one that was out.

It was a rush to get everything she wanted and I, as we previously discussed, had to set her up at a computer.

Midway through my next session, she interrupted the session to ask how much longer it was going to be until I could help her because she "felt like I wasn't paying enough attention" to her.

To make matters worse, she came in the next day (a day she said she absolutely could not make) to add onto her session so she could get more individual photos of herself (you can't make these things up) and complained to my boss about how rushed I seemed when in the camera room.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Opportunity for advancement

Of all the things they tell you at your interview, one thing that will be true is that there is a huge opportunity for advancement. One of my superiors started as part time and within two years had a high ranking management position. This is a story you will year across the company.

Saying that there is opportunity for advancement, however, is like telling Will Smith's character in I am Legend that he has opportunity to become President. If all the people above you leave, of course you're going to get a higher position if you're the only one left standing.

When I left, there were 6 assistant manager and one studio manger positions open in a district of approximately 12 studios.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Your time is not your own [part 2]

Let's now say you are a part timer. Most of you time will be made up of flex shifts (as opposed to coverage shifts). A flex shift is basically an "if you are needed" shift. I had one associate that was scheduled for 0 coverage hours a week (something that happens if your PRS isn't $120). She only worked if she was needed. The following is something that happened to one of my associates.

It is Sunday and as usual, you are on flex from 3-6pm (common flex shifts are 3-4 hours long which makes it quite hard to rack up hours even when called in). Your family is having a big yearly family BBQ at a park that you would really love to attend but as usual you don't think you will be able to.

Feeling hopeful, you call work earlier than necessary. Appointments for the evening look okay. There is a 4pm and 5pm appointment, so you won't be needed if it stays the same.

As required, you call in two hours before your shift at 1pm. The appointments haven't changed. You are excited and tell all your family members that they will get to see you at the BBQ.

At 2:50 you get a call saying that a second 5pm appointment was made through the 1-800 number and you are needed. If you don't go in, not only will your job be in jeopardy, but you will leave you co-worker with the task of photographing two sittings simultaneously all by herself, something that is not possible. Looks like your family will have to see you next year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Your time is not your own [part 1]

If you are “full time” you will be getting 30 hours per week spread across five days. Your days off will be weekdays and subject to change at random. Your days off will not be consecutive. Occasionally, there will be mandatory meetings made only 1-2 days in advance. These are usually either early before open or late in the evening. If you work 9-4 that day, get ready to come back a few hours later for a meeting. Conference calls can also come up without warning. Everything is mandatory. Everything is a condition of employment.

If you work evenings, be prepared to get woken up by your phone often in the morning. Your phone cannot ever be off if you are a full timer, or a summary of conversation will be filed against you.

Your schedule will change without notice. You will lose days off when other people get sick and they need someone. People leave the company often and leave without giving two weeks notice, so also be prepared to get called in when someone doesn’t show up for work and then have to help cover their shifts for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

PRS is not your friend

The primary way an employee is rated is not by how good her/his photos are, but rather by how much money she/he makes selling them.

Your PRS is the average money you make per sale. The goal is $120/sale. This alone is a huge challenge, but then you have to realize that the company blankets the nation with a package for 10 bucks. This means that if you get one person that comes in and does the package (something some people do every month), your next sale will have to be $230 dollars to make up for that.

What happens when your PRS isn't at 120? Well, that's a talking to.

You will have a conversation with the studio manager in which she/he threatens your job security. I once had a conversation with a manager in which I was told "If you can't get this number up [by ten dollars in the next week], it's going to be either your job or mine. And it's not going to be mine."

Ask yourself this: if you were to go into a Sears Portrait Studio (please don't), would you be walking in expecting to pay $120 for your photos? If not, get ready to have your photographer (and by photographer I mean sales person) try and try and try to get you up to the 120 mark. Her job depends on it.

Why make this site?

Sears Portrait Studio was the worst job experience I have ever had. Putting in my two weeks notice was a joyous day and I was ready to move on to new things and put SPS behind me.

Then two things happened.
1) I got a great job where I'm respected and valued. The stark contrast made me further realize what an awful job working at SPS was.
2) I saw http://www.youtube.com/user/WhistleBlowerZero and realized just how much it was like working for CPI

I'm going to work at writing a post a day for a while. Please leave comments so I know you're out there.

Coming Soon

This site exists to explain why Sears Portrait Studio (A.k.a Sears Photo) sucks as a place of employment. Sears Portrait Studio is owned by CPICorp (CPY) and is not somewhere you want to work.

Thanks to Zero Originality for inspiring me to do this.

If you came here from googling "I hate my job" "I hate Sears Portrait Studio" or "Sears Portrait Studio sucks" then welcome.

Are you an employee of Sears Portrait Studio or a PictureMe portrait studio (or even Olan Mills or JCPenny)? Email searsphotosucks@gmail.com
with your stories and I'll put them online anonymously.