Liquidation Survival Guide

13 May

going out of business

Work in retail? Find yourself at the mercy of a brutal liquidator and your future looks foggier than the store-front window that kid just smeared his ice cream on? I feel your pain. Oh, so many of us feel your pain. But fear not! Here are 25 terrific tips to help you maintain what sanity you have left during this difficult process:

#1 STICK TOGETHER. God gave us teams for a reason. Don’t take your anger about the situation out on your teammates. Don’t commit the same crime that your bankruptcy-causing CEO is guilty of. Quitting the race early will not hurt the company — it hurts YOU and the relationships you’ve spent years building. As much as it is possible and within your power, be committed to helping your teammates survive without having the entire load dumped on a couple of remaining people. My boss says, “If you’re in management, if you’re committed, your people will be, too.” Your team may be as terrified as you are, but job shopping can be much easier if you tell prospective employers up front that you’re committed to helping your team complete the liquidation process in your store. If a prospective employer is not WILDLY IMPRESSED by your commitment and work ethic during this difficult situation, RUN. They are not worthy of you, and there will be someone else who is. By all means, look for jobs! But be honest with employers and tell them you’ll be available to start work when you’ve helped your co-workers finish the race. Take your well-deserved “stay bonus” and make your victory lap.

#2 DON’T HOLD GRUDGES. Friends and respect will be lost along the way — let it go.

#3 STOCK THE FRIDGE. Early on in this process, go to the grocery store and buy bread, lunch meat, cheese, veggies, canned drinks — things that don’t cost a lot and enough to share. It’s a great gesture to share food with others in times of need, and it’s going to get so busy (not to mention you will not have the hours or coverage you need in the end), so stock that Liquidation Apocalypse Pantry with rations for desperate times. Cheese Nips. Or Cheez-Its. Whichever. All I know is: you need them.

#4 TAKE A BATH. I’m not accusing you of having an “aroma.” Every day of our two-month liquidation process was difficult for me. Every. Day. And it got considerably harder the closer we inched toward our final day. It reached the point that even though I got off work at 5:00pm, it took me until 3:00am in the morning to mentally unwind myself enough to crawl in bed and close my eyes…even when I knew I had to open the next day. What I eventually figured out was that I needed to “wash the stink off of me” — the true “liquidator dress code” consists of unhappy funk from 10 customers, mad funk from 15 customers, and nosey funk from all the rest (except for those special few who are diamonds in the rough). So, do whatever you want to do to get ready in the morning, but the minute you get home, take all that mental funk, get it wet, and literally watch it all go down the drain. You’ll feel like a new person. And your soul will thank you.

#5 A FEW MINUTES A DAY KEEPS THE JOB SEARCH BLUES AWAY. You’re going to be too overwhelmed, emotionally drained and physically exhausted to spend a lot of time looking for other jobs. And during the spare time you manage to carve out for it, the laundry — or the nice, soft sofa — is going to start calling your name. Make it easier on yourself by committing to just a few minutes a day to check one or two job websites for that day’s postings and skim just your day’s worth of emails. It’s ok if you can only get to it every other day, but it will take a little bit longer to catch up. IMMEDIATELY get your résumé together, but don’t set unattainable job hunting goals for yourself — you do not have to check everything all the time. God knows you need a job; He CARES that you do; and He’ll make sure the right one gets in front of you somehow. Just don’t allow the nightmare liquidation to steal few minutes a day that will most certainly keep hope alive in your heart that a great future awaits you on the other side of this door. TIP: print off a copy of your job description out of your corporate policies to make updating your résumé easier.

#6 HELP YOUR CO-WORKERS FIND JOBS. For real. Want to maintain your sanity? Do something that helps someone else maintain theirs. Inevitably, before you find your perfect job, you will find several that are perfect fits for your teammates. Throw them a lifeline — share the leads with them AND give them whatever references or recommendations on LinkedIn that you can. You may be jobless (for a little while), but you can still be a hero.

#7 PRAY. Pray for peace and joy. And everything else.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11, NIV)

“[God] will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” (Psalm 102:17, KJV)

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

#8 SIT IN THE SUNSHINE. Soaking in 20 minutes of sunshine can provide more cognitive recalibration than you’d imagine. Vitamin D is no joke.

#9 KEEP YOUR SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE. I lost mine. I admit it. The day I brought the boxes of shopping bags out of the back to sell and I didn’t have enough at the register to get me through the weekend, a customer asked me for TEN bags and would not listen when I tried to explain and a store full of customers was listening in and I dropped her purchase at her feet walked away from her mid-sentence…..aaaargh! Fortunately, perspective fell from the sky a few minutes later when my co-worker told me she needed to go to the hospital after work because her uncle was not expected to live through the night. Can you say FAIL? Crazy customer wanted silly bags. Far crazier me ended up with high blood pressure and a guilty conscience…while a family was about to lose someone they loved dearly. Perspective. You may fail, and that’s ok. But you don’t owe anyone pieces of your soul over stuff that just does not matter.

#10 BELIEVE 1/2 OF WHAT YOU’RE TOLD. Your company has told you one thing. Your liquidator may tell you another. (And Google will tell you still more.) Be discerning about what you see and hear. The only voice you should trust 100% is God’s.

#11 LEAVE YOUR TIARA AT HOME. You’re no longer in charge. No complaining. Prepare to become more flexible than you’ve ever been — your life is on hold for the next __ weeks. The beautiful habits you have built to grow your business MUST be reversed, transformed into habits intended to kill it. Accept that and your life will be easier. Don’t tuck tags. Don’t build your UPT or conversion. Don’t spend time on chores everyday when there are dozens of customers (including thieves to patrol) and mountains of clothes to put back.

#12 DON’T WAIT TO START THE “SPRING CLEANING.” Our liquidator rep promised us as much time as we needed the day after the store closed to sort the business belongings and leave the store broom swept for the next tenant, but that was not how it happened in reality. His priority was to take our keys and turn out the lights. Our customer lists…prom and special events notes…business supplies we had purchased ourselves and built into something useful…were all in his piles for the dumpster. So be sure to get your priorities settled as early as possible. Early on in the liquidation process you may be stunned and in shock, but that’s when you’ll have the most time to start thinking through what happens to the business end of what you’ve built. Don’t wait until the last day…because you may very well not have a last day to do it in.

#13 DON’T STOP CARING ABOUT THE THINGS THAT MATTER. Stay classy! Don’t surrender what matters in spite of the fact that it feels like people above you may have surrendered theirs. Customer service, straightening the store at night, treating co-workers with respect, etc., still matter. One of the ways we decided to stay classy was to not abandon our store Instagram & Facebook accounts — we chose to leave a legacy (or a trail of glitter), positive memories that would be there long after we were gone.

#14 SEEK OUT THINGS THAT MAKE YOU SMILE. Mani/pedi? Gardening? Retail therapy for yourself? I like pretty nails, but I hate going to the salon. Friends forcibly treated me to two pedi visits in my last month — it wasn’t the pretty polish but their friendship and kindness that worked magic in my heart. No laughing, but I also found it calming to leave work but not the mall — I had trouble decompressing and didn’t want to take it home, so I spent an hour or two wandering through stores that were calm, orderly and had never been touched by the fingers of liquidation. Walk into a Hallmark store and read some cards. Volunteer to babysit somebody’s kiddos (for the hugs). Find a trampoline to jump on, a puddle to splash in or bubble wrap to pop. Or blog about an Ephron film.

#15 FORGET DOING THE DISHES. Aim for healthy options where possible, but save yourself the time and energy of cooking and cleaning and eat out when you go home! Sleep in and grab breakfast on your way to work. Paper plates on a temporary basis won’t kill you.

#16 FORGET THE DRESS CODE. Remember those good habits? This is one to forget. Wear the shoes you can run a marathon in…because you will.

#17 HAVE MERCY ON THE LANDLORD. Not leaving the store broom swept was a huge burr in our saddle. That’s not the kind of people we are. And even worse — our landlord was one of the creditors left holding an unpaid bill and with an empty (non-profit-making) hole in his mall. No matter what your working relationship has been like in the past, put all personalities aside and communicate, show as much respect and remorse for their position as possible, and do your best to leave them with a highly rentable space.

#18 GET FAMILIAR WITH THE “STAGES OF GRIEF.” The Monday I opened the store that the liquidator rep wanted all the fixtures pulled out of the back onto an already full sales floor and the other ASM gave her notice…that was a really bad day. The next time I saw my boss, I thought about sucking it up and not telling her, but something inside me just said, “She needs to know where you are. Otherwise you’re the only one who understands that cloud over your head. You’re in this together, for better or worse.” So I told her. And I was so glad I did. She didn’t need to see the tears in my eyes to know how bad that day had been. She responded with a fabulous summation: “We’re all going through the stages of grief. This is a loss. A death, really. Something we loved and built and invested in and depended on has died, and we’re the ones who have to stick around to bury it. It is painful to lose relationships we’ve built. Being in denial of that will not change the result.” I’d hit my sad day. Not long after I hit my mad day. Fortunately for us, we went through our stages in different ways on different days. Refer back to point #1…STICK TOGETHER.

#19 BE GRATEFUL. And show appreciation. No matter how tired you are. No matter how other people behave. You’ve been blessed with a job for __ years…find what makes you grateful for the time you’ve had there. Find gratitude for opportunities heading your way you don’t even know about yet.

#20 GO TO CHURCH. Random hypothetical scenario (ahem): So the shopgirl forgets to “take that bath” on Saturday night when she gets home with smoke coming out her nose because the liquidator rep made her stay late for an unexpected inventory count after a lady yelled at her about not accepting gift cards any more and her bones were aching and she couldn’t get to sleep till 2AM. Sunday morning may be the only time of the week we’re not on call, but if we ever need to go to church, this is it. As much as we’d like to avoid people right now, these are the kind kind…who don’t bite or want something from us. We need other (sane) people around us who can pray for us, pat us on the back and cheer for us. Make a pit stop and gas-up that spiritual tank.

#21 GET A GOOD TAPE RECORDER. Not really, but that’s what you’re going to wish you had when every customer who comes through your doors, every single day for months on end asks you the same question, “Why are you going out of business???” It’s not their business, but it is yours — including the determination of how much energy and patience you are willing to allot to this. Be prepared for both the worst and best of people. Corporate guidance is effectively out the window — you and your teammates are on your own when it comes to public relations and sales floor “press releases.”

#22 ASK FOR HELP. Depend on others. Depend on neighbors. This is an emergency situation, and you’d be surprised how compassionate people can be. Tell customers/random strangers in public you need a job — they may have a lead. Is it time to cash in a favor you’ve been saving up? Speak up!

#23 GRACE FOR YOURSELF, GRACE FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS. You will not do everything right. You’ll probably be tempted to do a lot of things wrong. Don’t succumb to temptation. But don’t beat yourself up when you fall short. And don’t take it out on the customers — it is NOT their fault this has happened. Has one of your favorite stores ever closed?

#24 COMMIT TO NEVER CAUSE THIS FOR ANYONE ELSE. Walk away with the determination that you’ll never make the kind of decisions that leave others in a mess. Don’t get mad at AT&T because the store’s phone and internet service has been dropped and you can’t take credit cards for cranky customers…get mad because you and every other AT&T customer will be paying for companies who file bankruptcy and walk away from all their bills. 200 stores gone, and the last email you get from your CEO conveys his best wishes to you as he ponders personal travel destinations. FORGIVE like you want to be forgiven and REMEMBER what you learn from the mistakes of others throughout this process. Be the kind of person who won’t do the same thing to someone else down the road.

#25 PLAN A PARTY. Some people believe funerals should be celebrations. This is it. Give yourself one great thing to look forward to in the middle of this mess: put a date on the calendar after the closing to celebrate your hard work (believe me, you have EARNED IT) and the relationships that have made it through. Think: what would they do in New Orleans? Then go bigger. You deserve it.

Survived a retail tragedy of your own? I bet you have even better tips to offer. Feel free to leave your pointers in the comments below. Please be NICE and HELPFUL — let’s keep this post rating at PG.

Special thanks to my amazing boss, Sandy, who not only has been amazing to work for over so many years, but also for her wise and helpful contributions to this post.

4 Responses to “Liquidation Survival Guide”

  1. Urban Wife May 13, 2015 at 7:55 pm #

    After reading this post, I can say you have succeeded in making lemonade out of lemons. 🙂 I’m sorry you had to experience this loss (very well put, by the way) and will continue praying the job hunt goes well!

    • Jennifer White May 13, 2015 at 8:15 pm #

      Thank you for being so encouraging! You’re awesome!

  2. Sandy May 13, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    Written from a warriors heart great job.Only the strong survive.

    • Jennifer White May 14, 2015 at 9:30 am #

      So true! Thanks for your wonderful contributions to this post…and for being one of the most amazing people I know! 🙂

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