You don't need to know my name. I was just a lowly salesman at Circuit City. But know that these people losing their jobs are not just my coworkers. They are my friends.
[The following words are quotes from the tales of over a dozen real CC sales folks, managers, liquidators, and corporate workers. I've used them to create a insider's look at what it felt like to be inside the country's number 2 electronics retailer as it fell to economic hardship. May all Circuit City workers, like everyone losing their jobs these days, find meaningful, honest work in the near future. Special thanks goes to those who contributed to this story. ]
We've all known the closing was probably going to come sooner than later. It has been so frustrating doing sales for the past 3-4 months having to persuade customers to make purchases because of the company's problems. I've never pushed anyone into a sale I didn't think was worth their time...I have no real reason to anyways due to my lack of commission.
Being an active member of the Circuit City Associate Forum community, an online message board which Circuit City associates could post to using their employee logins, I constantly read through the things which get posted within the forums. On January 9th I remember hitting that F5 button to refresh the page and reading the news that announced the company's intention to sell itself. I was the first to find out at my location and broke the news to the managers and supervisors, we stood in silence for a moment around our firedog counter in shock and then began to wonder what to do. Our future was an uncertainty.
On January 16th we all woke up and went to work. We didn't expect the speed of the judgment, at about 10:22am a TV in the break room had been tuned to CNBC and were reporting their breaking news about Circuit City beginning the liquidation process and closing its stores nationwide. Four of us watched the announcement; thirty-four thousand associates were now going to become a part of the unemployment statistic. Corporate made an official announcement to our associates 20 minutes after that news segment.
On the day the liquidation was announced a few employees spent most of the day crying, these were mostly people who had worked there for most of their adult life.
Once the sales started on Saturday morning, a sick feeling crept over my stomach. Every weekend up to this, we've been pretty dead. We'd stand around for the first hour doing almost nothing, except help the 1-2 customers that came in at this time. Saturday felt like Black Friday, only in this year's case, busier
All over 10-30%, when we had much better deals weeks ago; when our store actually cared about the customer. It's very depressing seeing these customers, in which I nicknamed "vultures", not even giving a crap at how we are losing our jobs, but wanting only a deeper discount.
Liquidation brings out the best and worst in some people. I'm not patting myself on the back here, but standing at the CSA counter, I get to see almost everything. The first day of the announcement, we received a fair number of phone calls from people expressing their condolences before going about their usual business. Those calls were nice and a bit heartwarming. Inversely, we got plenty of phone calls from people that wanted to know when our going out of business sales started and how much they would save. It was sickening to say the least. Plenty of people have bad things to say about Circuit City, just like any other retailer. Personally, I always felt this was one of the good stores.
But these past 2/3 weeks have been CRAZY. We lost our manager a few weeks ago because he needed to be closer to home because of his kid on the way. We then got a new manager who JUST left a few days ago. We've since got some new guy who I've only met once....couldn't even tell you his name. Keeping track of who's in charge has been hell.
So have policies. When we first started liquidation, we stopped all installs. Then we got the ok to keep doing them. We've since been told to stop. Our uniform changes daily from fully dressed, to casual, to half-way, to undies and tin foil hats. The biggest problem that I just found out about from a friend of mine involves bonuses. The liquidation company gives bonuses to Circuit City employees depending on how their stores sell after liquidation is over. There have been mixed messages over who is supposed to receive a bonus, but I've since heard tonight that only the salaried managers will be receiving bonuses so I expect there will be some commotion coming up in the next few days.
Never mind bonuses. One of the main gripes associates currently have is the complete loss of any accrued Paid Time Off, some associates had as many as 140 hours of it that had accrued from never taking a vacation in a year, which has now disappeared into a puff of smoke
All employees are pretty much security guards nowadays...that is only when we're not putting up liquidations signs for 9 bucks an hour. Instead of having to greet every customer, now we just have to patrol the store. Good luck getting help though...most of us really would not like to hassle the manager for his key to grab that camera for you. The mindset hasn't always been this, but liquidation has changed the attitude of most for the worse.
I've really become close to the people I work with over my time at the store, and this closing has only brought us even more together. Every day I walk in, and I feel like I'm saying a premptive goodbye to my extended family. Circuit City was my first "real" job, besides some basic part time work before. I've seen managers come and go, and I honestly think I work for one of the greatest management staffs one could ask for. These are not just my coworkers or bosses, they are my friends.
While we all try to make the best of a terrible situation, some customers are there to send us back to careless land. 90% of all customers that walk into the store approach me and ask when they'll be having "all the good deals" to which I always say "I HAVE NO FRIGGIN IDEA". Circuit City did not exist anymore. The liquidators were in control of the prices and we had no control of anything. We don't even know when they were going to lower the prices. It's for this reason most of us have hid some type of item we've been eying throughout the store so we can buy them later when the prices are lower (haha). We've already had the cops over a few times and I expect them to keep visiting due to the continuation of violent shoppers with nasty attitudes.
We've had our share of customers come in yelling that they've been screwed over by us in some fashion. This may sound like rhetoric, but 30,000+ associates are about to lose their jobs- how do you think we feel? I've had customer say they are glad that we're going out of business, all because we can't return their XBox game that they bought, opened, and didn't like. I'm sorry, but how does losing $US30 on a game compare to someone that is about to lose their livelihood? I'm not looking to make this a topic of money, but some associates here live paycheck to paycheck, and the thought of not having a job is scary. Some associates here just bought a new house, a new car, just got married, or just had a child. Impending job loss is devastating to them. I'm seeing it first hand. The normally happy-go-lucky attitude of some people is just gone altogether. It's sad. I've always joked that I hope Best Buy went under before us (somehow) or that when CompUSA went under that I saw it coming. Now...I regret saying those things. Watching your store, your second home, your second family, go away in front of you is depressing. I'm not going to place blame on anyone. It would be so easy to fault the liquidators, the customers, the executives, etc. However, pointing fingers won't take the pain away. Anyone that has every had to go through a liquidation or lose their job I'm sure feels the same way.
In the meantime, we have to take things the best we can. We try to laugh and joke, talk about what stuff we may buy when it gets low enough...things to enjoy the last few weeks here. We still help customers when and how we can, but our power is so limited. I used to have the ability to do practically anything in the store, but that's all been taken away. I couldn't do anything but ring up.
We also had signs that said "PLEASE DO NOT OPEN CARTONS" and apparently that meant open whatever you want. Which creates a chain reaction of people wanting to open boxes and check to make sure that everything is in there. Which then absolutely destroys the box and then customers demand discounts on those boxes.
Now this all got worse as the sales went on. I mean cursing, threatening, and just plain flipping a shit. We had one customer buy something only to return 20 min. later from Best Buy saying that he got ripped off and it was cheaper at Best Buy. Now while that was true, there are signs that say no returns ALL OVER THE STORE.
Had some more reports of customers being really degrading to employees, to the tune of "Can't you knock off another $US200 on this, it's not like your job matters", and others just being generally inconsiderate, the only bonus to those situations is that we technically no longer have to bend over backwards to please them, so if they upset us or do something stupid we can let them know and not get into trouble. For anyone who's worked in retail a store closing liquidation sale is probably one of the best times to do it, primarily because if a customer complains about your attitude, or your level of service it doesn't matter, hell we kinda joke about it to be honest, "What, he was rude to you, well we just have to let him go. Mr. Employee on March 31st I'm going to let you go!", in some stores that conversation happens in front of customers, which has frustrated them further because it's the complete opposite reaction of what customers are used to, traditionally you complain to a manager and they scold the employee, now some stores will just mock the customers, sure it's wrong, but honestly they had it coming for some of the idiot demands they have, especially in our time of loss.
We act the same way our customers do (if they get angry, we get angry, if they are nice, we are), though before my store would bend over backwards to treat the customer right, unlike the Circuit City horror stories I read on Consumerist, which motivated me to do the right thing for the customer which included telling the customer that all HDMI cables under a certain feet were the same for one. Our store was great at treating customers, and such. It's like just because your brother is a bad egg, doesn't mean you are.
Still, the rules were gone as far as customer care went.
See, for some reason some folks seem to love bragging about God, being one of the folks who have to call people you'd be amazed how many voice mail boxes you get with people going "God is good all the time, and all the time God is good", or "God loves you!", or and I shit you not, the voice mailbox plays some Christian style music, used to drive me nuts! So, on one of my last day at the store I decide to work the front register and this one lady calls up the store and I happily pickup the phone
Me: "Thank you for calling Circuit City, how can I help you today?"
Her: "Yeah, I wanted to know what the discounts were at now on laptops?"
M: "They're 10%"
H: "But the sign says 30% outside?"
M: "Up to 30%, laptops are still 10%"
H: "Oh, is it true you guys are going out of business?"
M: "Yes man"
H: "Wow, you guys have been around for ever
M: "Yeah, #2 consumer electronics retail store and we're forced to close our doors because the economy failed us and now 34,000 employees are without jobs, all because people didn't wanna go out and spend money so we could keep operating."
H: "Wow, that's terrible what's your name?
H: "Well Ted, are you a Christian?"
Now, like I said above, it's not so much a bad customer, so much as an example of policies going out the window. There I am on the phone with a lady who, while polite and all, was about to do something I did not want to deal with on my last day. She was about to preach to me about how God does things for a reason, and God has a plan, blah, blah, I have no interest in listening to this, customers like this drive me nuts. Really, God made Circuit City fail so that 34,000 other people could lose their jobs, among other companies doing lay offs and such. While I am Christian, I was not in the mood for this. I hung up on her. Wow, that was rude of me, probably one of the worst things I've done in retail, especially to a customer who was trying to be polite and caring and what not, I just had no interest in hearing it. So I stand at the register for a couple moments and the phone rings again, so I decide to try something slightly different, so in as thick a Russian accent as I can put on I answer the phone.
M: "Zank you for callink Zirkuit Zity, how kan I help you?"
H: "Hi, I was just talking to Ted a moment ago"
M: "Zorry ma'am but Ted valked avay, how kan I help you?
H: "I wanted to know if Toshibas were on sale?"
M: "Yez ma'am, Toshibas are all 10% off, as are all laptops"
H: "Ok, well I know it's you Ted and I just wanted to mention that you're an asshole"
Uh oh, the gig is up
M: "Alright, thanks ma'am buh bye!"
And hang up again. For a christian about to preach to me she sure didn't mind calling me an asshole, while probably not the story you were expecting I want you to play that out in your head and tell me that's not hilarious. The way she said it "I know it's you Ted", man it was awesome. Prime example of the rule book being tossed. I actually used the name Ted too, every person I talk to finds the story funny cause she was like "I know it's you Ted".
In another store, our associates are coming to work and the moral is NOT rock bottom. This is mainly because this stores general manager who has been with two other companies as they liquidated. He is providing great support to all the associates. They also happen to be lucky enough to have a great "consultant" aka the guy calling all the shots now. The liquidation consultant, Phil, has bought everyone in the store pizza for lunch/dinner and often comes in the morning with a few big boxes of coffee and donuts.
There was a lot of stolen stuff from the store. Mostly empty game cases and the biggest section with loss was..... Spanish music. I would find tons of CD cases just open with nothing in them.
The biggest problem our store has faced is internal theft from those who no longer respect their work place. These are some quotes from some emails the director of asset protection sent out in regards to a private firm hired to conduct all AP tasks...
As Debbie shared, we have experienced significant shrink issues pushing us to over 160 internal theft cases and nearly $US400K in case value in just 6 days. I would prefer not to spend the money and yet we have members of the team, (including management), that have resorted to theft and fraud over the past 6 days.
This engagement by Protiviti is to ensure the integrity of the inventory as we close down the stores in the company. I also want to make it clear that this is not the liquidators initiative or project, but is a CC project that we are driving with the liquidators as partners. This is just one component of the Asset Protection Plan, and we need all of your help as we close the stores remaining vigilant on inventory management and holding yourselves and others to a standard of integrity.
Like you, we are all impacted by this close down. The first inclination might be to throw up our hands and not show the c oncern that is warranted to these issues. I on the other hand subscribe to the idea that most of our people are honest and show integrity. Unfortunately, there are those that don't make good decisions, which require us to take the appropriate actions to limit the exposure. I sincerely wish all of you well and welcome your feedback."
The biggest let down that I personally experienced was the fact that thousands of people who shopped with us this week could have saved the company by shopping a few weeks ago. The prices are higher than a month ago, yet we are selling much more than ever before just because there is a big "going out of business sign" above our door. People are just stupid... I haven't bought a single thing since the announcement (then again they did take away our decent employee discount).
Now here it was the final day. We opened and were immediately rushed with people. I mean it was crazy. Now we still had some software and ink, plenty of cables, plenty of media, along with other random stuff. At 1 PM a manager came on the loud speaker. "For the next 20 minutes only take and additional 50% off of everything." So that continued for two hours. At 3 he started naming stuff that we had plenty of (like ink and cables) and said that the stuff is $1. So I grabbed a PlayNC card for $1. And back to work. By 4 PM most of the stuff had died down, but we still had plenty of cables and ink. The liquidator just grabbed a cart, filled it with random shit and said " WHOLE CART FOR $1". So everything else went out the door fast. But a buddy of mine did come up with gold. He got a lens (which was in plain sight and wasn't stashed) and a flash for $10. Now the lens was a $400 lens and the flash was $200. So I'm sure he ebayed that for some pocket.
I looked in a shelving unit to see if anyone had stashed anything for the final days ( we searched the entire store and found tons of stuff. Lucky for the people who came the next morning to find GTA IV for $2). I had found an entire stash of acc. such as remotes and instructions for iPod docks and various stereos, including an Apple product with the remote and every dock adaptor made. So logically I ask my manager what do do with all this stuff. "Trash it." Well can I have the iPod thing? "No, trash it." Awesome. So i proceed to throw away all this stuff.
So now the customers were out, we were closed and the cleaning started. Mostly taking down all the signs and getting all the fixtures to the front (they continued to be open until the end of Dec. for selling those). We would all come back the next day to face our final day as CCity employees.
We walked in and talked at the front for a little bit, then started the rest of the clean up. That took a good 4 hours. Then we got a treat I didn't expect. We were told we were going to watch a tape of one of my managers on Divorce Court. Wow. That was gold. After that we all stepped into the store managers office for the final time as he clicked on the termination button. Most employees stayed for a little while and played football in the store and talked. Later we left and parted ways.
Some of our skilled associates in the company who've developed good working friendships with their co-workers are planning on opening their own shops based around their skill, TV installs, PC repairs, or car installs, it's kinda neat, but overall all sad at the same time.
All I can say, from the perspective of a closing store associate is this: Remember next time you walk in any other retailer/store that is closing- this company is made up of people, just like you and me. We're just ordinary individuals trying to make our way in the world. It's one thing to hate the company because of a bad experience, but a majority of us are good people, and it's heartbreaking to see how some people just don't care. I'm not asking anyone to pull a 180 on their views of the company. All I ask is that if you have negative, malicious thoughts, please keep them to yourselves. Life is going to be hard enough for some of us as is once we are gone, it doesn't help to have someone scream in your face "I'm glad you're going out of business"
This company gave me a lot, and I'm slowly seeing it fade away.