During the years there were also times where one had fun and times when incidents occurred which make hilarious dinner table conversation and stories to tell the kids and grandchildren.
Claremont and the citizen’s arrest
I need to paint the scene for this. I can’t remember the year, probably mid 70’s.
Picture this: Claremont, busy peak hour Friday afternoon. I was still working as a trainee manager with Harry Gargan as the manager. Harry was not a very big chap but he was very strong and, I believe, had a lot of police experience as well. He was probably one of the best managers at catching shoplifters.
Before the store was renovated in Claremont, we had a section on the first floor that was covered by a bamboo curtain through which we could see the whole store and the customers. It was from here that one could easily notice shoplifters and take proper action. On this particular, busy, summer afternoon, Harry calls me and says: “Roberto, come quickly, our Pick and Mix girl has just told me that two guys came in, stole some sweets and threatened her not to say anything to anybody!” “Follow me, we’re going to do a citizen’s arrest.”
s arrest but in those days one could comfortably do it. Harry and I walk out of the shop, look right and see these two guys walking along the pavement. The guys tried to resist but we held them firmly by one arm and started marching them back to our store.
Remember, Claremont, busy Friday afternoon. Lots of people walking along the pavement. Lots of traffic. At one point, about halfway back to the store, the chap that Harry was holding suddenly slips free, pulls a knife out of his pocket and tries to attack Harry. This is not something that you do to Harry Gargan. I see this and I am in a dilemma of whether to let go of my guy and distract the other one so that Harry can put himself in a safe position, or to continue bringing my guy into the store. Unfortunately, I had to let go of the guy I was holding to help Harry.
Harry manages to duck and dive from the attack and land a good punch. The knife falls out of his hand and Harry lays into him. They both end up in the middle of the busy road, disrupting the traffic. Scene straight out of a movie! Eventually they fall on the bonnet of a car and bend the aerial. The driver gets out of the car, and with no concern about anybody’s safety shouts:” You bent my aerial!”
As I’m about to enter the shop, the other staff had observed this and good old Ronnie De Jager took one of the cashier’s stools and ran outside to hit the thief. By this time, however, Harry managed to get everything under control and subdue the thief and brought him inside. Soon after the Police arrive and the rest is history.
Remember Auntie Mainguard? She was my first Office Supervisor in Claremont. I remember her very well to this day. A lot of people used to tease her because she was a serious person, but she was a good sport as well and took the teasing in good spirit.
We remember her, among other things, because she used to drive around in this little Mini Cooper.
I think the funniest joke we played on her, was parking the Mini inside the shop. Definitely not a career advancing joke, but then we thought it was hilarious.
I must explain that at that time Claremont had a large entrance and there was a lot of space between the doors and a row of cashiers.
So one day, we had this brilliant idea of driving her car and parking it inside the entrance. Auntie Mainguard finishes cashing up, closes the office and walks to the back to the parking area to drive home.
After a few minutes she comes rushing in, white in the face and says: “Mr Gargan, I can’t find my car. I think it’s been stolen!”. We pretended to be very concerned and went outside to help look for the car. Eventually, when she was becoming a bit too distressed we brought back inside again, took her to the front and there, much to the relief, was her car parked. We don’t know whether she ever reported this higher up the line because Harry and I and the rest of the staff never got called up to Jack Goldin’s office. (I would not be writing this today! We would have been fired on the spot!).
This says something about Auntie M’s character. She was a good teacher and a good sport. We eventually developed a good friendship to the extent that I use to take her to visit her son in George when I went there. Bless her heart, she always used to bring these wonderful picnic baskets with her to enjoy on the trip. Oh, she also used to make this incredible grape jam, with no pips as she used to remove all the pips grape by grape. Great woman.
A fellow Clicker once wrote in the Clicks News January 1975:
“AUNNTIE’S FOUND HER NITCH
For many a year there’s been on the staff,
A lady known by all, for sharing a laugh.
From branch to branch she often went.
For many an opening she was lent.
She once worked at Claremont, for all of her day.
Now she’s at H/O sending adverts away.
So at last her roaming days are over
for she has her own office, and is in a clover.
To most she is “Aunty”, to some she is “Mrs”
But from all of us we send her our wishes.”
One liner lessons
Throughout the years there were certain phrases which had an impact on me, which I call “ one-liners”. Here are some of them.
“ Roberto, as you make your bed so you will sleep in it” Peter Green.
This was one of the first things that Peter told me when I was promoted to Corporate Services Buyer. What he was trying to tell me was, in my dealings with my colleagues, that the way that I conducted myself and managed the office would be the foundation upon which the office would function.
“ If you want to negotiate the best deals, you must build relationships and have a win-win situation” Theo Salomon.
I think that this was the single most important lesson that I have learnt as a buyer, and I will forever be grateful to Theo for it. To my embarrassment, I remember being very arrogant and brash in the beginning days as a buyer with our suppliers. I still blush at the thought of how I treated people in the beginning. I can see clearly in my mind the day that Theo walked into my office, sat down and talked with this lesson.
From that day onwards, I changed my attitude, albeit slowly, but I am glad to say that as a result of that we were able to negotiate some fantastic deals and maintain the long relationships with some very important suppliers. This attitude, in particular, helped us negotiate the Company out of a very serious time in its history. It was a time when the company suffered very heavily with shrinkage and low sales. I believe that was the most critical period in the history of the Company and it could easily have swung either way . But, by putting this lesson into practice, we were able to negotiate with our suppliers deals where we ended up paying less for products and services than we had in the past and still keep the excellent relationships that we had enjoyed because we still kept them as our preferred suppliers.
“ The best way to teach a person is to teach him how to do it properly, not how not to do it incorrectly” Harry Bell
Harry and I were working together in drawing up training manuals for the stores. One of the problems that we had, and if anybody had ever worked in a storeroom will understand what I’m saying, was the cutting open cardboard boxes.
How many times did I slice through a cardboard box to unpack washing soap! Not only a messy business, but a problem for our suppliers who would get very upset by the fact that they had to take back damaged goods caused by stupidity. So when I suggested that we write: ” do not use a cutter with a long blade to slice through the box which slices the inner soapboxes…..”, Harry said to me:” rather be positive and say” this is how one opens a box of stock—“. I found out that teaching somebody had to do it properly first time in a positive way, is far more successful.
This is a lesson that I apply in everyday life, even with my sons. Showing them the correct way of doing things is far better than showing them how not to do it.
More one liners
“Retail is detail.”
“To trust is good but to check is best.” Adapted from ” Trust, but verify “
“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.”
Roberto Battistuzzi (20 Years Service)