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.


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


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."
"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."
"$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.

"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


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


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]


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?


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


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


"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 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 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.