When family gets in the way of business

07/15/2010 12:00 AM |

When I was little I loved to play store with a cigar box as my cash register. Every time I’d lift the lid I’d say “ka-ching,” the universal cash-register sound effect.

So when my daughter-in-law opened a small organic market, I immediately volunteered my services and, following a brief tutorial, began working a two-hour shift on Monday mornings. I mean, knowing when to step in and help, that’s what family is all about.

Unfortunately, after the first week I was still having cash register issues, and I routinely used about $17 worth of ingredients every time I blendered up a $4 blueberry smoothie. No surprise that I did not make it as a finalist for employee of the week, even though there was only one other employee.

“No problem,” my daughter-in-law said each time she had to void out another amount I’d mis-entered into the cash register or when she nudged me away from the smoothie blenders so that she could do things herself, the right way.

She may have been family but she was driving me crazy! I kept thinking OMG! What does a person have to do to get fired around here? I know if I was my boss I’d have fired me after the first dozen voided ka-chings.

Even with the help of cheat-sheets that had instructions printed in single syllables, I could not figure out that cash register, which, I maintained, was defective — I don’t care what the company rep said.

On Monday, a customer waited patiently as I tried to ring up three items (two taxable, one not.) I apologized for the time it was taking me and she just shrugged it off. “That’s OK. I know what happens to my father when he uses a cash register.” She laughed. “He’s 73 and he can never figure out how it works, either.”

I laughed, too. Aren’t the old folks such a scream. Hardy har har har.

I was just glad she hadn’t seen me open up that morning because not only did I have a problem with the cash register, it took me 10 minutes to get the door open on account of what had to be a defective key, even if it unlocked just fine for other people.

This stint of working behind a counter was not new for me. In addition to playing store when I was a kid, I “clerked” at a local island business when the owners had to be away for a day and weren’t able to get someone to watch the store. I volunteered to fill in as their temp.

When they suggested that maybe they’d be better off just closing shop for the day, I insisted. How hard could it be? Customers would buy stuff and I would take their money. “Am I not an excellent shopper?” I asked. “And isn’t clerking the same thing as shopping, except in reverse?”

As it would turn out, not so much.

Even though the owners gave me a crash course in operating the cash register, when I tried to ring up the first sale, instead of “ka-ching!” the machine went into lockdown and I couldn’t get the cash drawer to open. I made change out of my purse, computing the mathematical part of the transaction on paper. Multiplying the sales tax gave me such a headache I had to buy myself some aspirin. Fortunately, there was no tax on that.

Eventually — with the help of two customers and a woman who closed her shop for 10 minutes when I called, begging for help — I got the machine working and my first “official” cash-register sale for three fifty-cent candy bars rang up as $1,500. KA-CHING!!!

At the end of that day the cash register showed a take of $38,461.27 from 11 customers. I did leave a note in the cash drawer explaining that I’d had a couple of over-rings (clerk lingo for “oops!”). That was a long time ago and whenever I see the store owners, I remind them, “I’m here if you need me.” In 14 years they haven’t.

That’s why I was excited and eager to lend a hand at my daughter-in-law’s store until I tried my first ka-ching! and was reminded of what clerking is really like. And I think she was excited, too, until she had a chance to watch me under fire.

Finally, after three weeks, I worked up the nerve to say “I quit.” She did not object, and God bless her, she refrained from jumping up and down, raising her eyes heavenward and shouting “Thank you! Thank you!”

Because that, too, is what family is all about.