Working at a Pet Store: It’s a One-Eyed Hamster’s World

Hello dear readers of the Shop Girl Anonymous Blog!

Jess has given me this wonderful opportunity to post as a guest using a little known technique called “Guest Posting” so that I may educate, enlighten, and entertain you using my experience as an Associate, and then Team Leader of one store in a large chain of retail pet stores.

I had just moved to the greater Seattle area on savings and the proceeds from selling my Hyundai Accent.  Being that I was never able to save up much money, and Hyundai Accents did not have a high resale value, I was in need of employment, and quickly.  I scoured the online world, and newspapers (they still used those for jobs in 2003) but to no avail.  Desperate, I went looking around my neighborhood and saw that the pet store (who shall not be named) was hiring.  I had no pet store experience, hardly any retail experienced, but I love animals and had telephone customer service experience.  I went home, changed into a little more interview appropriate clothes, and went right back to ask for an application.

Rather than getting an application I was taken back to meet the Assistant Store Manager for an Interview.  There was no actual Store Manager for our store at the time, (a sign I probably should have taken into consideration), but I was assured that either he would be the Store Manager, or the District Manager would shuffle someone from another store to fill the void and everything would be fine.  I proceeded with the interview.  The Assistant Manager was very nice, and was very impressed with me, but something seemed a little off.  He handed me an application, telling me it was just for records, and offered me the job.  I took it, happy to be able to pay rent the next month.  It wasn’t until he got up to shake my hand that I noticed the alcohol on his breath.

Oh well, I had a job, and it paid okay for being a retail associate.

I met the crew of Team Leaders, and then the Associates.  Everyone was great, and cared genuinely about animals.  The lack of an actual Manager only created mild problems (mostly no editing of the automatic orders resulting in overstock, a horribly messy back room, expired product, and a lot of headaches) but we were still racking up the sales, the animals were as cared for as they could be, and most of us got along pretty well.  In the beginning, the job was actually fun.

I learned about animal nutrition, proper care, fish, reptiles, small animals, and birds.

The store was kept relatively clean, despite lacking any solid managerial staff.  As Associates and Team Leaders we took it upon ourselves to thoroughly clean and mop the floors – a task made difficult by animals constantly having “accidents” on them.  (I say accidents in quotes because I swear some customers brought their dogs in just to use our floors as a bathroom.)  Eventually, the Assistant Manager decided not to show up.  (Rumors of forced rehab.)  The Team Leaders were bumped up to effective Store Managers without an increase in pay or even title.  Naturally, some got burnt out and quit.  I became a Team Leader, and did my best to keep things running.  Those days were tough, but we kept telling ourselves we were doing it for the animals.

That mantra, of going through all of the issues for the animals was starting to crack.  Because order changes were neglected, (we were not given the access to alter the orders) we became flooded with feeder mice, fish, and small animals.  What is worse, is that one of the breeders started to ship horribly sick or starving, or genetically weak animals to us.  The “Live Count” we would do upon receiving a shipment of animals or fish turned into the Dead Count.  Our complaints to corporate over one breeder in particular seemed to go nowhere.

Then Jeff arrived.  Jeff was to be the new Store Manager.  I will not change Jeff’s name, because Jeff was an evil son-of-a-bitch who deserves people to figure out exactly who I’m talking about and make his life miserable for as long as he continues to walk the planet Earth.  Why such hatred for Jeff?

  • Jeff came from an Albertson’s grocery store where he was fired, had no animal experience, and did not care one bit about animals or anyone but Jeff.
  • Jeff has a “my way or the highway” approach, ala Fred Durst.
  • Jeff would not listen to our concerns about ordering too much and then would scream at all of us for the amount of product that was flooding the stockroom.
  • Jeff took time away from animal care in the schedules to focus on product display and sales techniques; causing some of us to work off the clock to ensure proper animal care.
  •  Jeff was feeding the finches one night after cutting hours for the associates who usually did and slammed a finch’s leg in the drawer breaking it.  When pointed out to him and that we needed to call the Emergency Vet (as was corporate policy), he said he was not going to call the vet for a $3.99 bird.  While I don’t know if the bird could have been saved, it certainly could have been killed more humanely, instead of suffering from a broken leg for 18 hours before finally dying.  We all got together and decided to file separate complaints.
  • Jeff said he was leaving and got a grocery store to manage which was his style anyway, but we figure he likely got canned.
  • His protegé was promoted to Assistant Manager shortly thereafter, and we were once again without a Store Manager.
  • I was done.

Now for the lessons I learned working there.  I’ll start with the good.

  • Associates at those stores will generally do whatever it takes to make sure the animals are properly cared for.   In fact, my first and only Hamster was one we took in because his eye had been gouged out by another Hamster the customer had (against out advice) caged together.  We took it in, paid the vet bills, and I adopted it.  He was my good friend Mr. Stitch, and lived a happy short life (Hamsters don’t live long) with me.  (I like to think he is in an alternate universe, bumping beats with his friends in a Kia Soul.)
  • The Associates care about the customers.
  • Corporate has some policies in place to protect animal welfare.
  • These stores are a great place to buy animal food and care products.

Now, the not-so-good.

  • Strong, effective management is just not a priority.
  • The breeders used for the animals are terrible.
  • They hired someone like Jeff.
  • Stores are often disorganized and you have to watch out for puddles as customers don’t like to let you know when their pets do their business.

Over all, I’m happy to have worked there, because I met some good people, and had fun with great animals.  I do wish that those stores would get out of the animal selling business altogether.  Please do not support the animal trade at these stores, but they are great places to get quality products to care for the ones that you already have, or have purchased elsewhere.  You should buy your small animals, fish, and reptiles at stores that specialize in them, because the animals will be of better quality and employees will take more time (because they have more time) to educate you on their care.  As with anything, caring for animals is best done when you do your research.

I hope I have given some insight into the world of the large chain pet stores, and what they are (food and care products) and are not (animals and avoiding piss puddles) good for.

Picture Courtesy of:  Jpbarrass

17 thoughts on “Working at a Pet Store: It’s a One-Eyed Hamster’s World

  1. Well done, Josh! I worked for a large corporation that specializes in bath products, and I found that the associates were often far more competent (and concerned for the customers) than the assistant managers. I think it comes down to having a district or regional manager who takes an honest look at what is going on in individual stores rather than one who is taken in by a little bit of ass-kissing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the fact that you did not change Jeff’s name because he is “an evil son of a bitch!” Sad about the finch, but overall, excellent post. Why were you sweating this?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I too have worked in a large chain retail store for extra cash and found the ‘managerial staff’ to be less than professional. I love animals and was always happy to help any and all customers, was stuck sweeping and buffing every one of my shifts, and loved to stock and turn cans. So much so that one night all the staff left and locked me in the store after hours. No heads up, nothing. As I felt like a goldfish pacing back and forth in front of the large glass doors (and contemplating ramming a shopping cart through them to get out), I finally realized that I needed to call 911 and the fire dept to unlock the doors. Good times, yup… good times.

    Liked by 2 people

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