The Story Of Working At The Running Room

My time at the RR is coming to an end. So I keep mentally rehearsing what I’m going to say about it in future job interviews and subsequently thinking things we all know you never say in future job interviews.

So here’s the tip-to-tail story, to get it off my mind:

It all starts because Liv’s parents, particularly her mum, know I’m into running and was working on being a fitness instructor. There was a sign in the window of the shop looking for people to lead clinics and group runs. They texted a photo to her to show to me and I went in with my entirely cooking-based resume. And I fully expressed that I thought it would be good first chance to start building my coaching resume, since that was my life plan. And I expressed how much I love running which had a impact because everyone else there was only familiar with running as cross training for other sports. Actually hockey. Just hockey.

I got hired to lead the running group. Clinic groups had talks and I had no heads up when we didn’t have a guest speaker so I always had one prepared; I had no heads up if a route was planned so I always pretended I had one prepared.

It was the best of times. I liked who I felt I was to the group and to the store. It was technically a job which was better than technically having no job but really it was volunteering. I got paid 18 dollars per person. Which was astounding when I thought 18 dollars per person 3 times a week, holy shit but it was actually 18 dollars per person for the whole 8 week clinic.

So basically I was making 120 bucks for two month.

Or would have been. Because COVID happened before the first class wrapped up and head office kept all the money while cutting off all communication between the company, and me, and the group.

But that’s March and my story is still in December. Long before the lay-off I accepted some retail shifts behind the counter. And I had expected to be asked, I loved running and I was the only person of the entire staff of 8 part-time, random-shift, moms-and-students to have, frankly, any knowledge about it.

The manager at the time was enthusiastic about that. She even thought I’d be a good replacement for her. She was on her way out; She’d had enough of the corporate culture; Everyone in the company was a stupid jerk, she warned.

Honestly, I thought it must be that she was dumb and lazy. When someone thinks everyone around them sucks it usually means they just hate being called on their shit.

So I was working one night a week and she was leaving. Training was, shall we say, chill. I carried my notepad, I absorbed everything I could – which then all changed anyway but more on that later.

The assistant manager and I talked a little bit about what was going to happen next and then… she left too.

I was suddenly, officially, a full time employee and the defacto heir apparent because I taught the clinic, wasn’t in school, and didn’t have another job. I became the go-to guy when I’d spent about 40 hours in the store over about 3 months.

I was taking deep breaths and thinking I’d figure out all these challenges on the fly but luckily I didn’t have to. Because COVID.

I worked one of the last days before the big lay off and we took in no money while doing 500 dollars in returns. I imagine it’s that, with so much sudden uncertainty, people felt something like guilt about luxury purchases like running shoes and wanted to liquidate that money.

A different Area Manager called me in a confused fury and demanded to know what was going on, why were all Calgary stores in the negative?

I asked him, basically, who the hell he thought he was to yell at me about that and he hung up. And I thought that must have been one of the peeps the former manager was talking about, what a stupid jerk.

So, lay off happened the next day.

I started collecting CERB and living the dream. I always said, in answer to the office space question what would you do if you suddenly didn’t have to work, that I’d just train twice a day and read a lot. Which is absolutely what I did.

When the re-opening was happening I said yes immediately and took the pay cut. I wanted to show loyalty and show my hand’s-always-up.

So the store reopened with me and one other chap working open to close everyday and that was it. We were the staff.

Now he, by education, was a chemical engineer. By athleticism he was a volleyball player. By give-a-shit he was nothing. He had the school boy mentality of doing whatever he felt like as long as he wouldn’t get in trouble. If something happened and he was scared he’d get yelled at it threw him into a panic.

Luckily for him we never got yelled at for anything. The worrying lack of oversight was not worrying to him. He was actually pretty alright and I smile when I think about him – he did get a chemical engineering job and moved to Manitoba.

The first problem we diagnosed – before he left – was the daily paperwork. You see, at the end of a normal day we print off a bunch of stuff and put it in a basket. Back in the day the basket would be empty at the start of each week. And it was Charles who pointed out that it was not. It was just accumulating.

The baskets where overflowing and the drawer the baskets where in had also begun to verge on overflowing.

And I could not get an answer out of anyone I could contact as to what, specifically, to do with it.

There are, like, 8 envelopes you’re supposed to send off to Head Office each week and my A1 problem was how do I send things to head office. I only know a handful of store numbers if I’ve sent them customer transfers.

But, I figured, the stores are sequential based on when they opened (Calgary currently has stores 013, 065, 078, 086, and 1 more but I’m not looking up fucking Crossiron) so head office might be 001. So I jammed everything from the weeks before the lay-off and everything since into two envelopes and said okay, I know this is wrong but it’s probably so wrong that someone will scream at me about it and I’ll be able to say… thank you, now where is it supposed to go and how it supposed to be filed?

Doing something dead wrong in the worst possible way should be the easiest possible path to feedback.

Instead… nothing.

I wanted to step up, take a shot, and risk looking like a fucking idiot but it turned out I didn’t look like anything.

And that actually explains the tone of the company communication.

You are at best shouting into a void. The norm is shockingly worse.

My favorite bad examples are once receiving an email that was just a question mark and copy/pasted line from a spreadsheet and when I replied could they explain what they were asking they replied a few minutes later your manager should have told you.

And the second thing I can never forget I already wrote about, but when I’m enraged and talking about it I summarize it as me having to track down one pair of shoes by calling California, two people in Edmonton, then getting a call from one person in Kingston, finally to have Edmonton email me to say listen, we sent them wherever they’re supposed to go. But then the next day getting an email saying the shoes were coming direct to my store from Kingston and we don’t know what happened.

Motherfucker you happened. This must be one of the guys the former manager was trying to tell me was a twat.

And this is the whole toxic culture of the place – maybe they really didn’t know what happened. Maybe something got dumped in their lap with no context and no guidance and they did what they thought was possibly correct then felt an absence of gratitude when they got called out for guessing wrong.

Because that’s ultimately all this company is. The answer to every problem (unless you are exceptionally lucky and if you are exceptionally lucky we will laughingly tell you) is I don’t know why that happened and no I can’t fix it.

And it got to me, it toxified me. When customers, innocent and niave people, came to me with a problem my first reaction was to be so dismissive and cold because this wasn’t my problem and I couldn’t help. All i could do was want you to try elsewhere.

The store got a pseudo-manager in the form of the events coordinator. But all he does is tell people he’s the events coordinator. He resents the store and the company more than I do. Because he’s been in it longer. And he hates customers more than I do to the point it shames and appalls me.

But from the companies point of view there’s no one else.

You see, no store actually has employees right now. 2 Area Managers, 3 store managers, 1 Events Coordinator, and me represent the entire, dwindling, work force for the 5 Calgary stores.

And those Managers, over-worked as they honestly are, have vacation days. Vacation days they have no intention of missing.

So my job has turned into just showing up, opening the store, and having no idea if I’m solo for the whole day with no breaks or if I’m on for 3 hours and 1 or sometimes 2 salaried old men are coming in to relieve me.

Oh the email, oh the email I have to talk about the “thanks” email… When someone rage quit and the Area Manager was going to have start covering their shifts (and therefore not covering all the shifts they were already covering elsewhere) they sent out an email telling us that profits are up and it’s all thanks to us doing what we do to keep wages lean.

My highest concern, thanks. All day I had to repeatedly fight the urge to reply that the federal government has paid my rent 18 months in a row but I’m super glad corporate profits are up.

And that’s where we are right now. Everyday on a pad at work I write a number out of ten for how much I dreaded going in and how strongly I feel the pull to just leave. I’m on the verge of just leaving while a customer is talking.

Because… it’s retail. You know retail. I don’t know if I’ve written this point before but there’s bad, neutral, and good customer experiences. And the majority will always be that neutral category. That neutral category though becomes bad when you look back on a day or a week and feel that nothingness.

The bad becomes stories and stories give meaning.

The good… few are far between. I still light up when someone has sincere athletic questions and is receptive to sincere athletic advice; I still get customers who remember me and thank me by name. There’s usually one interaction a week where I’m glad and I feel I’m doing my service and I can sigh with relief. Other than that I’m just a listening-whore for old ladies for the remaining 150 interactions.

That’s a shit ratio for job satisfaction. That’s shit job satisfaction for minimum wage.

And yet I feel like if I could just be perfect this wouldn’t matter. Why can’t I be a listening-whore for old ladies, do I think I’m so much better than that, isn’t it egotistical to want to be valued for I want to give?

Maybe. But fuck it, life’s too short to dread your job.

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