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


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


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


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?