From Austin — 03/25/2010
I've worked at several different locations with this company and my scoring would vary widely, depending on who my store manager and district manager are/were. I worked for one manager who kept the staffing to the barest minimum so it almost felt we were being worked to death but gave us amazing raises, was honest and supportive. This manager was a great leader - lead by example and worked very hard (including taking out the trash, unclogging toilets, vacuuming - all the dirty work) and expected us to work as hard in kind. The district manager was based 3 hours away - we rarely saw him/her and when he/she did come by, it was for a brisk walk-through and to take management to lunch. Another manager was a liar, lazy, a sexual harasser, and hired a psychotic spouse who bossed everyone around and openly expressed hate for certain employees. (This manager was eventually promoted to a district manager.) The current district manager has kept our salaries at the lowest in the company, despite the fact the cost of living here requires most of the staff to have to have room-mates or live with mom and dad, and to barely get by paycheck-to-paycheck. She's such a penny pincher she won't even let the stores stock a small supply of tampons for female staff emergencies! (Or customer emergencies...)
Great managers have been fired unjustly and based on lies. District managers can be inept, capricious, out-of-touch, and simply still at the job because they're friends with the CEO. Yes, the company was founded by leftover hippies, but most of those hippies have grown up and "become Republicans" by putting an end to most employee perks, capping raises, and threatening to do away with company-paid health insurance - all in the pursuit of higher profits.
The company tries to give the impression they're environmentally conscious, yet store signage is constantly changing and is printed with the most toxic, evil-smelling and store-clearing ink ON PLASTIC. The company also discriminates against handicapped and temporarily disabled, long-time employees, even though the job is incredibly physical and demanding (lifting in excess of 40 lbs., standing for hours on end on concrete floors, processing merchandise that harbors mold and insects, etc.). Most folks I work/have worked with suffer from back, foot, knee, and other joint ailments - all of which are completely work-related.
Pay raises for long time and well-experienced employees who don't have supervisory or managerial aspirations top out at around $12.50/hr. (and has been so for about 12 years) so unless one works overtime (which is rarely available), you can actually make less money over time. This can be especially galling as entry-level employees can be making just a few cents less than seasoned employees.
It's a fallacy that full-time employees all get free health insurance. Many managers get around this by hiring folks as "temps", axing them after a certain period of time, and hiring new schlubs, thus saving the company money on insurance coverage and making these same managers look good to the corporate folk. (Not all districts do this - many still respect their employees and treat them well.) Generally though, the longer one's worked at one location, the better one is able to balance work and life with a regular schedule - although all staff and management is required to work at least one weekend day each week. (Managers in some districts are known to get all weekends off, thanks to district managers who violate company policy in order to do so.) Most managers try to accomodate employee schedule requests for special circumstances.
The company's emphasis has become less and less on the used book trade, and more and more on packaged and remainder stock, even though the cost of goods is much, much higher. The folksy and welcoming atmosphere of the stores is changing to almost totally resemble mainstream, non-independent bookstores, right down to the color of the walls. No longer is local artistic ability valued by the addition of handmade posters and signs - just those Madison Avenue-ish, sterile and uninspired signage spewed out by the corporate marketing department.
What keeps me working for this company? Co-workers - most of whom are degree-holding, well-educated people with a wide range of interests, gifts and talents. Sometimes there can be too many wannabe musicians staffing a small store, all wanting to take their vacations at the same time (during SXSW, for example) or frequently not showing up because of too many late nights and beer, but over-all, you won't find a more diverse bunch of people in one place. Our customer base is long-time and loyal, with only a few schnooks in the bunch. I've learned a lot from every manager and district manager I've worked with and for, including how NOT to treat co-workers. The profit sharing is nice and always welcome, even though it's decreased somewhat over time. The company gets high marks for 401K contributions and Christmas bonuses as well as a recent increase in our anniversary gift certificates (we also get a gift certificate at Christmas). Every job at every company in every country has its good points and bad ones. The trick is having more good to say about one's employer, and depending on the location and management of each store in this company's chain, the good can (and should) outweigh the bad. Too bad the corporate folks always look at the numbers to the detriment of employee morale, not realizing if the workers are happy the customers will be, too.