Men’s Department Manager at Kohl’s: If you had told me in the Spring of 1998 that after I completed my internship I would be selling mensware at a department store in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, I might have questioned your sanity. And yet, by the Fall of 1998, while sleeping on the floor of my friends apartment with no place of my own, I landed a job at Kohl’s as the co-(and future solo) Men’s Department Manager.
After moving to Columbus and striking out with interviews at the Columbus Clippers (AAA baseball) and CD101 (independent rock radio station), it was suggested by my bandmate’s girlfriend and generous co-host providing the previously mentioned floor that I apply to work at the new Kohl’s department store opening up in nearby Lewis Center, Ohio. She had already landed a position as a Junior’s department manager and got me an interview with the boss, who I believe was named Matt.
Although my retail experience was limited to mostly stocking shelves at Heinen’s and Revco, Matt hired me on as the co-manager of the Men’s department along with a woman named Kara. Kara was barely five foot tall with short blonde hair, a Southern Ohio drawl and an acerbic sense of humor. In other words, we got a long just fine.
Although I didn’t love some of the hours, like getting up at 5am for a 6am start to install new signage for a sale, it wasn’t horrific. A plus was Kohl’s philosophy of letting the customer ask questions instead of pestering them with “Is there something I can help you find?” Being the introverted type, approaching strangers was not ideal. Neither was putting together a good suit -shirt – tie – belt – shoes combo, but here I was, dolling out advice like I had watched What Not To Where religiously, which I’m sure didn’t exist at the time.
Even though there was little room for creativity, I somehow weasled my way into writing the monthly store newsletter, something I had done as a R.A. for my dorm, and would do in the future. Other than that, I couldn’t so much as change the layout of a single rack of clothing. There was a special regional layout person that dictated where each and every sweater, shirt and pair of pants were folded or hung, all based on pyscological marketing or some make believe retail science.
A positive to working retail was that I had a nice discount for buying clothes. A negative is that I worked up a nice bill buying clothes, mainly for work, and spent months after I left Kohl’s paying it off. Another positive was the flexible schedule as it’s retail so 9-5 is out the window. That meant getting days off during the week when I could run around stapling gig flyers to kiosks, bulletin boards and telephone polls around Columbus. Of course, that also meant having to work weekends to make up the missed weekday hours, but at the time I found a decent balance.
As with most retail, the only really tough part was surviving the Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday push, where most retail makes their money. It was early mornings and late nights, which meant lots of extra hours, but by the time the season was over Kara left and I was put in charge of the department on my own.
At some point during the Fall of 1998 bandmate Keith moved to Columbus and we got an apartment together as he started an internship with the State House doing video production. I wasn’t that long he was in the position before he landed a regular full-time job, and wasn’t long after that I would leave Kohl’s and follow him to the same company in what would be one the greatest failures of my life (How’s that for a cliffhanger?).