Part II: The Leap
Welcome to Part II of my ‘There and Back Again’ series. This is meant to provide background on the ‘Dogs or Dollars’ journey of the past 3 years. Please take a moment to read Part I: The Layoff.
After The Layoff, I went home. I worked 1 day a week a week at the Pet Store. I pondered my future.
I was still doing that when the out-source company, who I really did not want to work for, called and offered me a job, again. The job I’d already turned down a couple times pre-layoff. I took it. The only things to note about that experience are…
- It was the culmination of everything I hated about Corporate America.
- I kept my part-time Pet Store job during that time. My first foray into the life of 2 jobs, and 1 day off per week.
- It was almost 6 months to the day when I put in my notice.
As I suspected, I did not want to work for that company. My chipper gonna-make-it-work attitude did not last long. It was like a greatest hits reel of reasons why I did not want to do that anymore.
Most importantly though, my unhappy work circumstances, provided me with the motivation I needed to walk away.
I took a full-time job as the Manager of the Pet Store.
Let’s define the Pet Store a little. First off, we did not sell cats or dogs. Or fish or hamsters for that matter. Purely a dog and cat supply shop. We also did not sell Alpo or Kibbles and Bits or even Iams or Science Diet. Only hand picked high-quality products. The things I’d been educating myself on and advocating for years in my dog-related hobbies of rescue and training.
The store was independently owned by a wonderful women, herself a Corporate Drop-out. After almost 5 years in business, she wanted to take a step back from the daily operations. I would be responsible for all the ordering and receiving, most of the management of the 8 employees, vendor relations, customer service escalations, site management, and much of the promotions and events. Pretty much everything, except the payroll and the taxes.
For this I would be paid $15/hour to start. I made more than that when I was 18.
I did this willingly and whole-heartedly. As paltry as the rate seemed, I did my homework. I knew it was quite competitive for the industry. Even generous, considering I had limited experience in the field, and had never managed people before.
In August of 2009, I left Corporate America on a Friday, and started at The Pet Store on a Tuesday. And, so it began.
Almost immediately, I was completely overwhelmed. With details. With responsibilities. With employees, unhappy about their inexperienced manager. With new products. With paperwork and invoices.
It was the first time for so many things in my work experience. The first time I had to work a set schedule. Work the holidays. Be on my feet most of the day. Not have a desk or personal space. Set the example for all the other employees around me. Have my every move under scrutiny.
Never mind the people management, I’d never had a full-time customer service job. I had no idea how challenging and disruptive dealing with the public all day could be. For the first time in my very talkative life, I ran out of chit for my chat. I would come home and want to be nothing but quiet. I couldn’t even listen to the radio in the car.
It was not easy. Those first 6 months are a blur of exhaustion and self-doubt.
I had this awesome Boss Lady. She was the best, and most challenging boss I have ever had. Boss Lady had run this business herself for many years. She could do all aspects of my job better than me, at any time. To her, I was an investment. She paid me more than anyone else, so she wouldn’t have to be there. It was the first time I was aware of my salary being a line item on someone’s balance sheet. It was an education in difference between working for an individual vs. a faceless corporation.
As an employer, she was a good one. Most of the employees had been there for years. Remember this is retail. That is not typical. She treated us well. Paid time off accrual. Quarterly profit sharing bonuses. Partial reimbursement on insurance premiums. We hosted cats for adoption, at our own expense and regularly held events for non-profit organizations. Community building and responsibility were her bag.
I was hired knowing it would not be forever. I was doing this to get out of Corporate America and see if I wanted to open my own store. Boss Lady and I had a policy of full disclosure, frank and open communication. How do you run someones business who wants to run their own business? You tell them everything. See, Boss Lady was wonderful, but she was also a bit of a workaholic. She wanted to be at home working. Emphasis on the working. I quickly learned that she needed to be kept abreast of daily operations and decisions. As long as I kept the information flowing, all was well.
I admit, I lost myself in this whole thing. Work/Life balance was certainly compromised. There was so much to learn, big shoes to fill, and a never-ending to-do list. Gone were the days of laying low in my cubicle for a day or two between projects. This was a bottom-less pit of go and do.
I dove in. I was passionate about the subject matter. About new products and pricing and providing unique options for our customers. About making this the best store it could be. I began to refer to it as ‘our store’.
My set schedule afforded me mornings to myself to exercise, and think and manage my financial empire. But, I often came home late. In the evenings, it was a struggle to disengage from the store. There was always one more invoice, one more customer. I volunteered myself for extra work because I thought it was my responsibility to be flexible and available. On my days off, I checked email. I had long phone conversations with Boss Lady about the upcoming week.
And I loved it. I was so determined to succeed at this. There was self-motivation I did not know I had. I have never worked so hard in my life.
During this time, we were also adjusting to significantly less income. Obviously, I prepared for this. However, the reality was a rude awakening. I had always been the primary bread-winner in our household. This job meant about a 60% reduction in income. We could not have even considered doing this if our financial house wasn’t already in order. On paper it was do-able, even with our Big Fat Mortgage.
My Pet Store income was the same as what I’d made on unemployment during The Layoff. We’d come through that no worse for wear. That was a temporary thing though. A batten down the hatches and weather the storm situation. This was our life now. Again, that reality was something slightly different.
Irregular expenses were not as easy to recover from. Irregular expenses I had taken for granted. Things which were not accounted for in our budget, because we’d previously lived so far below our means. Before I’d had plenty of slush money for things like our annual Holiday Party, and anniversaries and Foster Dog expenses. I could cover those things without saving. Now, I found myself dipping into the ‘Emergency Fund’. Then, because we had less income, that Emergency Fund wasn’t so quick to recover.
There were growing (shrinking?) pains. We were making adjustments. Still saving. Fine by all accounts.
Then, The Husband lost his job.