Where’s the rest of my money?

By Jessica Bernstein, 17, Beverly Hills HS
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Jessica Bernstein's dream job is to be a photojournalist.

When most people hear the word "retail" they think of a clothing store, but not me. When I hear "retail" I think of folding napkins, hanging up table linens on a linen rack and cleaning table after table after table at Pottery Barn.

At Pottery Barn, a chain of furniture and houseware stores usually in a mall, I am known as a "sales associate." This means that I help people make purchases and make suggestions as to what they should buy. When I was hired, I was taught to suggest certain smaller items to go with larger items. This way the customer gets the whole package. If someone wants to buy a table I then suggest all the things that could go along with their new table, such as napkins, tablecloths or place mats.

How I Got The Job

I was hired by Pottery Barn in October 2002 and have been working there on a semi-consistent basis since.

Getting the job wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t a lot of fun either. I went into Pottery Barn and picked up an application. Next, I called my past employers and asked if they would be references. My problem was that my past employers were mothers; I had been a baby sitter. I wasn’t sure if that would be professional enough. I then went back into Pottery Barn during an "open house," dropped off my application and instantly received an interview. I got a call the next day saying they liked me and wanted me to work for them. I was shocked. I didn’t actually think I was going to get the job because I was so young and inexperienced in terms of retail. Next I had to go and apply for a work permit. I went to my high school, filled out a request with all of Pottery Barn’s information, and received the permit two days later. I started working the next week.

Jessica would rather wear her everyday jeans and sneakers than follow the Pottery Barn dress code.
Photos by Ptalia Greenwald, 17, Beverly Hills HS

My first day on the job I was given the "test." This test consisted of being handed a catalog, then going around the store and picking out everything from the catalog and writing down where it was found in the store. It was a challenge because not everything in the catalog was in the store so I had to be careful which products I was marking. The catalog that I used for the test was the big winter edition so it was more than 100 pages thick. Also, I took the test during store hours so I was unable to help customers who were in need, even the one who asked for help. But the test really helped me to learn my way around the store and become familiar with the hundreds of products that are sold at Pottery Barn.

I Get a Discount and Great Co-Workers

Not all jobs come with perks, but thankfully mine did. I received a 40 percent discount at Pottery Barn and also at two other stores: Williams-Sonoma and Hold Everything. Williams-Sonoma sells high-class kitchenware and Hold Everything has everything a person would need to get organized. When my mom found out about my discount she was thrilled.

She bought a new dining room set made of wood that has a black finish and has a distressed look. My older sister got bedroom furniture—wood with a white finish. My younger sister and I got white wooden shelves for our room. The three of us also got mirrors and a few picture frames.

For the holidays last year, I used my discount to buy all my gifts at Pottery Barn. I bought my sister and her boyfriend a beautiful throw blanket for their couch. I got my mom some things for our bar. And I bought my dad and his fiancé playing cards that have cocktail recipes on them and a CD trilogy set.

But the discount is not the only perk. I work with the best group of people I could ever ask for and right in the heart of Beverly Hills, just six blocks from my house. I am also the youngest person at my location. Despite my age, everyone is very nice to me and they treat me as an equal, not just as some teenager.

Shirts must be white and bottoms (dress slacks or knee-length or longer skirts) must be black, charcoal gray, tan, chocolate brown or navy blue. If she wears a skirt she must also wear stockings. No jeans or corduroys. Khakis are OK. Despite the rules, ov

Even though my job has tons of great perks, it does have its pitfalls. I am not a permanent part-time employee. I am a permanent-casual employee, which means that I have things called "on-calls." On-calls are when I have to call in an hour before my scheduled shift and then they tell me if I am needed. Granted, this can be good if you are not in the mood to work but it stinks if you could have made plans and now it’s too late. For instance, when I had the SAT 1, I also was scheduled to work. I called in to check if they needed me, and thankfully they didn’t, because I wouldn’t have been able to work. But, there have been other times where I could have gone out with my girlfriends and I wasn’t able to because I had an on-call so I spent a Friday night at home.

Also, if not enough people buy products in a month, they have to cut back on the number of employees that work the following month. This could mean you might not be working for a while.

Another downside is that you can’t act like a teenager when you are on the job. When I am at work I have to act and look mature. There’s no goofing off at work. And I don’t get to wear T-shirts or tennis shoes. I have to wear button-down shirts and loafers. When I found out what I had to wear to work, I had to go out and buy everything because I don’t typically dress that way.

The hardest part of my job is closing a sale. Many times I have had people come in who are interested in a table. I will give them all the information and see if we have it in stock, and then they get up and leave. It can be extremely frustrating. Thankfully though, I have been taught how to handle these situations properly. I was told that under no circumstances should I get angry with the customer. It is part of the retail business.

The hardest job in the store is selling upholstered furniture, such as couches and arm chairs. There is so much information that you are required to know about each couch, everything from spring size to the kind of wood to how deep the seat is.

For my job I am required to know information about every item in the store. I am supposed to know everything from what each plate is made out of, to how much each thing costs to what CD is currently playing. Even though I have been working at Pottery Barn for nearly a year, I don’t know everything about each of the more than 500 items in stock.

Having a job has been a life-altering experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It has made me more mature and harder working, and I now have some money in my checking account. I have learned how to deal with people on a more in-depth and serious level. It has also changed the way I shop in stores. I am now a lot nicer to the employees and I don’t bother them if they look busy, because I now know what they have to go through.

Pottery Barn has been so accommodating to me, since I was unable to work during the school week last year because of a full course load. Even though I don’t work every day I still make a good bit of money, $8 an hour, and I have saved a little and spent a lot. This past holiday season I was finally able to buy all of my family members gifts and even though it made a dent in my wallet it felt amazing to make all of my family members and friends happy. Overall, my time spent working at Pottery Barn has been tough, rewarding and even a little fun.