My first paying job for a proper employer was back in the late 70’s. I had done babysitting for friends of the family, but that was infrequent and as there wasn’t a lot of money coming into the home, my Step-Mother suggested that I get a Saturday/holiday job to help with household income, seeing as I was staying on at School.
So, I wandered up and down the High Street, and asked, and asked, and asked and eventually I wandered into the Toy Shop. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope. When you are sixteen with the confidence of a gnat you don’t think you are going to get anywhere.
The old man on the till, looked me up and down, asked me a few questions, said come back for a trial on Saturday – be here at 8.30am sharp. We’ll provide your uniform, no jeans, sensible shoes.
So, I turned up the following week, I hadn’t asked what the pay was, what my hours were, or even if I was going to get paid for the trial! Long story short, I got taken on, given a scarlet red crimplene (yes, really!) dress to wear over my trousers and introduced to the other staff. Shown where the staff room (back shed) was and the loo and left to get on with it.
It was great working in a toy shop, we had to know our stock, what it could do and how it worked. So we got to play with all the new stuff, as well as putting it up in the stick room. I worked there for two years. Did two Christmases. Let me tell you, Christmas in a toy shop is hell. The stock room was groaning from August onwards, and we could have had the staff party in it by the middle of November. The latest must have would have sold out weeks before Christmas, and the bosses would be desperately trying to get hold of more supplies.
The best bit for me was selling the Britains farm animals and Matchbox cars to the children who were spending their pocket money. The discussions over whether to have 2 piglets and a lamb, or one horse and a farmer would go on for ages. The Matchbox cars were in a display and we had to get the chosen item from upstairs.
Eventually, I graduated onto the model trains section and I could discuss Z gauge N gauge, 00 and 0 gauge with the best of them, Hornby trains, Fleichmann, plus the bits and bobs for modelling the sets.
We also had a pram and cot section. The parents would come in to try out the different prams, and we would sell the visivent mattresses, often we got to see the new babies when the proud parents would come back in for supplies of something or another. I remember that Mr Neal would not let a pram go out of the store until the baby had been born and all was well. He would personally deliver the pram to the new family, and I am sure that a teddy was given as well.
I can remember that on Saturday’s when the FA cup or the Grand National was on, the High Street would be dead from about 2pm, but we weren’t allowed to go home, we had to clean the shop, or stock the shelves. One year we entered the town carnival procession. The delivery vehicle was decorated in the yard and driven down the street covered in flags. We had to stay in the shop, but we watched it go past.
It was those days that taught me the value of customer service, something that I have taken with me through out my working life. If we didn’t have an item in stock, we tried our hardest to get it. If we couldn’t, we would tell our customer where they could try instead, and people would come back to us because we cared.
I can’t remember how much I got paid to start with, but I know I finished on a fiver a day. I loved working in the holidays, it seemed like a bumper pay day after a week at work, even if most of it when into the pot at home.
Great days. A Saturday job I loved. Sadly, the shop went by the bye some years later, as shops like Argos and the Supermarkets took their trade. A small family firm, with family values.