Ian's Bits & Bobs: The Blog


Tales from the Trenches: The Invisible Ladies

Picture the scene: two smart well-dressed ladies in their fifties, who love to shop together for their garden, home, grandkids or sometimes just themselves, drove into the parking lot of a large, family-owned grower-retailer “somewhere in Amurrica”. It was a bright sunny mid-week morning, spring was in the air and shopping was on their minds as they each grabbed a flat-bed 4 wheeled cart. These girls were here to spend!

Imagine the pressure for the store: it was a late, cold, wet spring in this particular part of the country, especially after 2012’s early, gorgeous, record beating weather.  So owners and managers were already on-edge awaiting sunshine, warmth and impulsive customers.  Already, their “numbers” were way behind last year – that expected 12 weeks-to-pay-for-the-whole-year was already down to 9 weeks.

The Tale

The ladies had lived through the cold, wet, spring too: they were excited to finally be shopping. In the following hour and ten minutes they spent wandering through a gorgeous, full greenhouse with that magic smell of spring, no one, not one employee spoke to or even made eye-contact with them. All the picking up and putting down, the ooh-ing and aah-ing, all the high energy comments and “likes” drew absolutely zero interest or action from what seemed a busy but ample group of employees all around them.

The hanging baskets were a particular challenge for the two ladies as they craned their necks up trying to decide what they were, how much and how the heck they got them down. “I think those are still growing, where are the ones for sale?” one lady thought out loud. Then the other one spotted a basket lifter on a long pole, so they eventually chose several 10 inch beauties but no staff ran to help, or even seemed to notice them struggling.

An hour after arriving our shoppers were ready for home so they pushed the two overflowing carts, to the waiting cashiers. In that time, well over $250 had been invested on the baskets, tropicals, perennials, veggies and herbs and the ladies were visibly excited to get planting.

But they still had no eye contact from staff, no offer of help pushing the loaded carts, no suggested tie-ins or companion plants, no comments on their loads, no shared joy – nada.

It gets worse 

Adding to the story, one of the ladies had worked there while in school and was reminiscing to her friend. In her excitement she asked the female cashier if they were having a good year.  “OK” was the bored reply. To which our lady said, “I used to work here and it’s great to bring my friend, – just wondered how you were doing with the wet weather”.

The final “you’re kidding me” moment was the cashier’s response: “Oh”.

“Oh”?! Is that all?

They just spent $250 dollars to help pay your wages in a wet cold spring.  Two friends are obviously excited to spend their time and money where one of them had worked just like you today and all you can say is; “Oh”.

After that it just got worse, no carry-out to help load those heavy plants, not one staff person recognized the ladies’ existence. Not even a synthetic “Have a nice day.”


It’s important to note that this place is not a ramshackle, failing business (well not yet). Both the reputation and drive-by image are impressive. These shoppers could have just caught the company on a bad day with several absentee or sick employees. The cashier may have dreaded being stuck on the register or had a raging headache. She may have had no training or expectations set.

But what about all those other busy head-down employees….?

What about the leadership? What about the culture?

The Fix

Company culture is a hot topic right now. It’s clear to me that if a company doesn’t set the desired culture from the top down, there is a serious risk of the wrong culture developing from the bottom-up.  And company culture isn’t something you can “set & forget” – it’s a constant process, one that you must remain vigilant about. This company has 42 weeks to get it right for next year.

Thanks for reading and “Have a nice day.”

Photo Credit:  anonymous greenhouse taken by Ian in Washington State, 2007.

(NOT the location where the invisible ladies were shopping, in case anyone recognizes it)


Jun 18, 2013 22 Comments