Value Village

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Ken Alterman
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    Book Clerk

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
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    Former Employee - Book Clerk in Fairbanks, AK
    Former Employee - Book Clerk in Fairbanks, AK

    I worked at Value Village full-time (less than an year)

    Pros

    "Last time you worked for us, you were always reading during your breaks," the manager who hired me recalled. "So why don't you work in the book department?"

    I'm a book fanatic and self pubbed author, so I really enjoyed working as a book clerk. Books are like treasures to me, and sorting through the 800 books per day I was required to process was like a treasure hunt. The sad part was that I had to throw tons of perfectly good books away because of minor flaws, like creases in the spine. It felt like I was euthanizing puppies or something. After work, I typically bought about $5 - $10 worth of books. There's a 50% employee discount, so I got half off of almost everything. Several months after leaving, I still have a huge pile of books I need to read. One of things I enjoyed was reading the backs of the books as I sorted in order to know where the books should go. It was like eating h'ordeuvres. Sometimes you find a real treasure, like a book from the 1800s describing ancient telephones or such. Besides books, you also sort DVDs, records, cassette tapes, CDs, and video games.

    Since I was the only person in the book department, I got to work alone and unsupervised, which was great. I don't like having management breathing down my neck, and I'm an introverted loner by nature. The duties were pretty simple. Each day, I would receive one or more carts full of boxes containing donated books. I would sort through these books, saving the good ones and throwing out the creased, dirty, or marked up ones. Then I would choose a price for each book. This is set either by the cover price or by your own estimation if there is no price on the book. It helps to have a good idea of what books go for, though some of the books will nevertheless be sold for $2.99 when the cover price is $64.99--thrift store customers simply will not pay the exhorbitant prices that bookstores ask for new books. After pricing the book, you type the price into a computer terminal and it prints a sticker for you (hopefully). You place the sticker on the book. Then you decide what genre the book is and place it in the appropriate bin to be taken out and shelved. There are several bins, like for example there is a bin for Romance, a bin for Young Adult, a bin for Fantasy/Science Fiction, etc. When the bins are getting full, you load them on a cart and roll them out to the book department, then place them on the appropriate shelves. I was forever cleaning the shelves from disorganized books, especially the children's section.

    I'm really good with books, so I swiftly cleared the huge backlog that had built up before I was hired, and soon I found myself running out of work. My employers were surprised; they had never had any problems with their book clerk working too fast and running out of books to sort.

    To fill my new spare time, I decided to reorganize the book department. Value Village had broad genres like Romance, but they didn't have individual shelves devoted the subgenres like Historical Romance or Supernatural Romance. There had also been no attempt to group books by series, i.e. The Box Car Children was scattered throughout the Young Adult section instead of being consolidated in one place. I implemented series and subgenres throughout the entire department so that readers could easily find what they were looking for.

    I also wanted to make the books easier to browse. The children's book section, for example, was extremely hard to flip through because the books had dramatically varying shapes, sizes, and reading levels. The shorter books would get hidden between wider books, and there was no way for a parent or teacher to find (say) a Penguin Reader Level 4. I divided the children's literature into neat categories for hardcover/softcover, long/tall/fat/oversize, and baby/learner/school, coloring/entertainment/educational and electronic (i.e. Leapfrog). When I was done, it was possible to browse the books by spine alone, without having to pull out a book to check the cover.

    The customers loved the new organization scheme. More than once, someone would come up to me and say, "Do you do the books now? I've never seen this place look better. It's so organized." Even the managers agreed that they had never the book department look neater. Eventually my book department was ranked as one of top 20 book departments in the entire U.S. Value Village chain, which includes over 300 stores.

    Cons

    The pay isn't very good. I was payed $8.85/hr as a starting wage. After 90 days, I was theoretically eligible for health insurance, which includes $1000 for dental. However, the company botched my insurance and I never received the benefits. After paying for my wisdom tooth extraction out of pocket, I left to find a better job to pay off my medical debt. It was just as well; by the time I left after five months, I was beginning to get bored.

    The quota is pretty high, and though I worked quickly, I was seldom able to do more than 780 books per day. (The quota is 800 - 900 books depending on season. Less in winter, more in summer.) Fortunately, I seldom received more than 700 books a day, so that problem was that I ran out of books to process. At first I was allowed to reorganize the book shelves, which I enjoyed, but then the managers were like, "Oh, you have spare time!" so I got sent to the clothing department to help process shirts and pants, which is boring and stressful. They also made me process clothes even when I needed to work on books, so I got behind on my work and the department got into bad shape. They didn't penalize me for not meeting my quota on these times, but it was still frustrating not being able to take care of my section. My department's ranking plummeted.

    This is a backroom job. I worked in a large, noisy, messy, crowded, dusty room with about a dozen other coworkers, who were engaged in sorting clothing, furniture, bedding, TVs, shoes, etc. I had a little 10 x 10 foot square of territory that was bounded by the boxes of books I was supposed to sort. It was typical for my workspace (and the whole backroom) to be so crowded that I had to squeeze through and reorganize to get more space lest I be buried alive. We weren't allowed to wear earbuds or use an mp3 player, though you can bring a music player that uses speakers. One of my coworkers blasted super annoying music and after a week I wanted to strangle him. Music is streamed through the intercom and during Christmas you will get nothing but holiday music, while during Halloween you get nothing but scary music. It can get old after awhile.

    Advice to ManagementAdvice

    You already provide a computer terminal for employees to enter prices. You should put that computer terminal to good use and provide your employees with readouts showing how well they are doing their job, how many books they need to sort to reach their daily and weekly goals, how well their department is ranked in the company, and whether they should set prices higher or lower for each type of media. I bet you could raise output by 10% and make employees a lot more motivated if they had a way to track their progress and self-correct poor pricing.

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