Working for Toys R Us

I see one of my former employers has filed for bankruptcy:

Toys ‘R’ Us has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US and Canada as it attempts to restructure its debts.

I don’t know if this will affect their UK stores, particularly the one on Great Ancoats Street in Manchester in which I worked through Christmas 1996. I know the store still exists because it’s in the background of this video from last July of a man carrying a crossbow and a knife being tasered by police:

That ought to tell you what sort of area we’re talking about.

I took the job out of necessity having failed to grasp the concept of budgeting in my first term in university. I secured it within five minutes of walking into a manpower agency; this was early December and Toys R Us was ramping up for the busy Christmas period. I turned up and was issued with a blue blazer with a yellow collar and a round badge of Jeffrey Giraffe, a garment I kept for several years after I left for fancy dress parties. My job was that of Product Adviser, the lowest position in the store which involved standing around trying to help customers.

There were a few of us, some of whom were brand new, others who’d worked there years. My manager was a Manc woman in her late twenties whose boyfriend ran the warehouse or something. From what I remember they were both nice people, and I had no problems with her or any of the other managers. It is worth mentioning that was probably the only job I’ve had where I can say this.

My fellow grunts varied. Two of the area supervisors were students, a little older than me, and good lads. The guy I was put to work with was called Greg, a youngster from Openshawe who was as thick as mince but a really nice guy. Nearby was a 16 year old Asian girl from Longsight, possibly of Iranian extraction, who was very attractive but way too innocent to be working around us. She was also very pleasant. Then there was some nasty piece of work whose name I forget, a man in his mid-twenties with a pierced eyebrow and a greasy ponytail down to his arse. On my first day he immediately told me students are useless and don’t know shit, and he seemed to resent me being there. He told me I was inferior because he had five years’ experience and I had none. Yet there we were doing exactly the same job. I soon figured out he was desperate to be invited onto the management training programme, but his being thick, nasty, and unpresentable prevented it.

We were kept busy. The lead-up to Christmas in a Toys R Us is mental, and on the last Saturday before the 25th we took £150k on the tills (this was in 1996). The most sought-after toy was a Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story which had recently been in British cinemas. Unfortunately the product people vastly underestimated demand and they were sold out worldwide. Customers would come running up to me and say:

“OhmyGodIheardyouhaveBuzzLightyearswherearetheywe’lltakefour!”

The girls manning the phones would get calls that went:

“HelloIwantaBuzzLightyearmycreditcardnumberisthreefoursix…”

We never had one in the shop the whole time, and we turned away a lot of disappointed parents who would have paid a hundred quid or more for one. The Toy Story sequel even made reference to this shortage:

The work itself was rather tedious, standing on a shop floor for eight hours per day, but the worst aspect was the Christmas musak. They played the same ten or twelve Christmas tracks over and over again to the point I still can’t go in a shop in the festive season and not think of my time in Toys R Us. I would have thought it would have been banned on human rights grounds (along with my children’s clothes) by now, but apparently such tortures are still permitted.

I only worked there a few weeks, then my new semester started and the store laid off the additional hires they’d taken on for Christmas. On my last day I was asked to go and see my manager and, instead of a bollocking of the type I’d have to get used to in my career proper, she asked if I’d be interested in joining the management training programme. I politely declined and said I was heading back to class, and she laughed and said they’d expected I’d say that, but they thought they’d ask anyway. I liked that.

I left her office and went straight up to the dickhead with the ponytail and said I’d been offered after a month what he’d been striving for his whole adult life, yet I’d turned it down. I’d worked with plenty of stupid people before on farms, but most were harmless enough and some were very pleasant. Toys R Us was the first of many jobs where I’d work with people who were both stupid and nasty.

Several years later I’d graduated, and was sitting in the McDonald’s in Fallowfield with a bunch of friends when I thought I recognised the Johnny-No-Stars who was sweeping the floor. Sure enough he was one of the Product Advisers I’d worked with at Toys R Us, a right horrible little shit with a big mouth. When he saw me he made the mistake of opening it again with a smartarse remark, and spent the next twenty minutes ducking pieces of burger and French fries my friends and I were hurling at him.

“I see you’ve moved up in the world,” I said to him as we were leaving. I pointed to the plastic yellow man who stands over wet spots on the floor. “He’ll be promoted faster than you. Now get sweeping!”

I hope the nice ones did all right.

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27 thoughts on “Working for Toys R Us

  1. I worked part time in a supermarket during my A levels and I well remember the Christmas Muzak. It started in around November and was relentless, looping over and over.

    I also remember how busy it was. We would bring out ‘cages’ stacked with bottles of booze or trays of cans and customers would rip them open before I could even put them on the shelf.

  2. My first Xmas vac I worked on the post. Sorting was OK but cycling to empty the pillar boxes was an adventure with ex-classmates bombarding me with snowballs.

    Come the Easter vac I settled for tutoring for the forthcoming O-level exams. Maths, physics, chemistry, French, English, history and geography. No German because I didn’t speak it, no Latin because I hated it, and no biology because my knowledge stopped at The Bean.

  3. “I see you’ve moved up in the world,” I said to him as we were leaving. I pointed to the plastic yellow man who stands over wet spots on the floor. “He’ll be promoted faster than you. Now get sweeping!”

    Mean

  4. “They played the same ten or twelve Christmas tracks over and over again to the point I still can’t go in a shop in the festive season and not think of my time in Toys R Us.”

    I once spent a summer driving a Mr. Softee truck. Not sure you have them in England. They have a 15 second theme song that is played on a CONTINUOUS LOOP. Now, when I hear one coming, I have to hide.

    For your listening pleasure: https://youtu.be/r47RM2X_NVc

  5. “He deserved it.”

    Undoubtedly. But I suspect all you achieved with your delicious put-down was to feed his sense of resentment. If he now votes for Corbyn, it’s all your fault, Tim!!

    My first vacation job (1970s) was sweeping carriages at York railway station. Most of the team were middle aged women. All voted Labour – despite being anti-immigrant, pro-monarchy, pro-nukes and against the “permissive society”, particularly abortion. Strange.

  6. But I suspect all you achieved with your delicious put-down was to feed his sense of resentment.

    I dunno. He was one of those guys who was too thick to resent abuse like that. That’s the thing with real thickos, they don’t resent and harbour grudges. The most dangerous people are those who are just smart enough to know they’re thick, this guy probably didn’t even realise I was putting him down: I might as well have just called him a twat.

  7. “All voted Labour – despite being …”: well known fact from my youth. If you asked the masses about their opinions on policies they were heavily Tory. But then went and voted Labour anyway. Tribal, you see.

    Though to be fair to the masses, the People’s Party has never won 50% of the vote in a General Election. (Nor, come to that, did Slick Willie.)

  8. “He was one of those guys who was too thick to resent abuse like that.”

    If he didn’t resent it, he didn’t understand it.

  9. @Dom – we did have Mr Softee in the UK and from a forgotten box stuffed into a long disused locker in my childhood memory is the jingle to go with the Muzak. It goes “The creamiest, dreamiest, most delightful soft ice cream, you get from Mr Softee …”

    Here it is …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0rGNLd6tdw

    How the hell can I remember that from my childhood half a century past but can’t remember where I left the bloody car keys five minutes ago, eh?

  10. My first job was working in a pub- the manageress was a big fan of Dirty Dancing.

    I have committed both soundtracks to memory. In toto. I can recite every lyric from every song in order.

    If I cared to try, I could probably play ‘She’s like the Wind’ on guitar from memory of having to listen to it, on repeat, forty times a shift.

    Kim Jong Un couldnt come up with a better torture.

  11. @Phil B

    On the truck they just had the jingle played on bells of some sort; I forgot they had lyrics in the tv ads.

    What I remember most is that the last three seconds of the jingle — “S O F T double-e, mis-ter softee” — was sped up a bit. It was like the truck couldn’t wait to start the jingle again.

  12. @Dom,

    Yep – you skipped to the ice cream van with your pocket money clutched in your hot little hand SINGING THE WORDS to the bells and the jingle.

    As the Jesuits, Adolf Hitler and other ne’er do wells said “Give me the child by age seven and I’ll show you the man”. Or, in this case, brainwash the kid by the age of 7 and 55 years later he’ll still remember the words of the advert.

    Funny how that works, eh?

    Though there were other Ice Cream vans that each had their own tunes that they played. Greensleeves (composed by Henry VIII) was a favourite and another one which I don’t know the name of but could still whistle it today.

    And I STILL can’t find the bloody car keys! >};o(

  13. On background muzak, I’m going to name and shame the Sofitel in Hamburg. Was trying to eat dinner in their restaurant once. Despite it being nearly empty we were seated right next to the only other people in the restaurant. And the background music was not music but some corporate jingle, which lasted about 6 seconds. And then repeated. And repeated. And repeated…

  14. I once spent Christmas working at Butlins and heard “Happy Christmas was is over 9 times a day” – it is an awful song. “Last Christmas ” however can be heard many times without wishing to kill someone.

  15. @dearieme,

    In my town the buskers and beggars are run by Albanian gangsters. One of the prime pitches is occupied by a bloke who murders the theme from the Godfather on an accordion. All fucking day long. For years on end.

    Go to Zürich, however, and the buskers are coralled into one promenade, which keeps the shopping streets clearer. Most of them, including the Eastern Europeans, sound like pros who’ve not got a gig today.

  16. In my town the buskers and beggars are run by Albanian gangsters.

    Hurrah for diversity and tolerance!

  17. Given the gangsters who were running the entire country not too long ago I don’t complain too hard…

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