Searching for some respite after working for Toys ‘R’ Us during the 2003 holiday season, I fortunately saw a Hasbro job posting inside the vendors’ binder at the customer service counter, and just in time too! For 20 minutes, I attempted to explain to an upset customer who was yelling in my face that his sales receipt clearly stated that Toys ‘R’ Us didn’t accept returns on baby potties, and therefore, my hands were tied.
Despite this customer’s continuous threat of bodily harm (yes, over a potty), I diligently tried upholding the return policy. My manager, oblivious to the specifics, swooped in and attempted to diffuse the situation by telling me to “just take back the potty.” I stared at him incredulously, but he quickly weaseled away and left me with an already angry customer, but now with a newly gained sense of entitlement. With the customer’s stare seemingly burrowing into me, I proceeded to make the return for the potty amidst tears of frustration beginning to form. As I looked away, I tried to relax and blinked to prevent them from spilling out, but the customer didn’t take his eyes off me, and soon witnessed my frustration. “Sorry about the trouble. I’ve just been having a bad day,” he said. I insincerely answered back, “You’re no trouble at all. I’ll get this return processed so you can be on your way. No harm no foul.”
Why defend a company that doesn’t back you up when you’re right, and when you’re attempting to do what’s in their best interest according to their policies? A productive employee can promptly turn into a scornful one, and whether I wanted to or not, I was heading down that path.
Without caring that I had the store security camera over my head, I took the Hasbro job posting out of the binder, folded it, and stuffed it in my pocket. With a sense of hopefulness, I called the number during my lunch break and scheduled my job interview the very next day.
Speaking on the phone with the Hasbro district manager, I asked her how I’d know who she was? She told me to “look for Mr. Potato Head.” Huh? So sure enough, at the Taco Bell inside the Target next to the Toys ‘R’ Us, I noticed a woman with a small Mr. Potato Head toy on her table. I eagerly sat down and introduced myself, but the butterflies in my stomach were unrelenting. I needed to relax. This was an opportunity to practice my interview skills and pick the brains of someone who worked for a company that, in 2003, reported net earnings of $157.7 million. Maybe if I played my cards right, she could become my ticket out of Toy ‘R’ Us.
The conversation with her was straight forward but easy going. She was clear on her expectations if I was brought on board but couldn’t have been nicer about it. In my insecurity, I began explaining my hair, which at the time was shoulder length, but customarily arranged in a ponytail. My brain told me to close my trap and not bring attention to it, but my mouth kept blathering. She then stopped me mid-sentence and prevented me from further shoving my foot in my mouth, assuring me that job performance and goal achievement were more important than hair length or how I decided to wear it.
This statement gave me a good vibe, and my gut feeling told me that working for Hasbro should become my next move. So, in my search for greener pastures, in the summer of 2004, I became a Retail Merchandiser for twenty-one stores in the northern Virginia area. I had to service all the Wal-Marts, Targets, Toy ‘R’ Us, and Kmarts in the immediate vicinity. A couple of times, I also went to Maryland. The job consisted mainly in assuring that all Hasbro merchandise was well-represented on the sales floor and that the stores followed the planograms to the tee, when possible. Cultivating positive relationships with store managers would often result in incremental space for Hasbro merchandise, or at least that was the goal.
One of my treasured memories as a Retail Merchandiser was working “Force Friday” a couple of months before the premiere of Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith. I got to see the merchandise before anybody else and set up the massive Star Wars display at a Wal-Mart I serviced. I later stocked the new inventory and provided a helping hand to customers. That same day, I assisted the nearest Target and Toys ‘R’ Us as well.
Video Provided by Star Wars Commercials
A funny incident that happened often was customers mistaking me for a store associate even when always wearing my green Hasbro vest. I found myself innumerable times explaining that I didn’t work for the store, but I’d gladly help them find the toy they were searching for. I never got peeved; I enjoyed helping people.
The strangest incident was when we were sent to stores to confiscate hundreds of Star Wars figures and made sure they met their fate in the store’s trash compactor. Nooooo! The reason for this tragedy, you may ask? There had been an error on the packaging side, and the cardboard had a very slight discoloration almost unnoticeable to the naked eye.
If only I had kept ONE of those action figures. They were getting destroyed anyway! Curse my moral upbringing! I couldn’t bring myself to do anything deceitful.
Working for Hasbro, I did develop a sense of the never-ending rivalry against fellow toy giant Mattel. They were Barbie and Polly Pocket, and we were My Little Pony and G.I. Joe. They offered Fisher-Price for young children; we had Playskool and Play-Doh. Hot Wheels was their vehicle of choice, but we represented Tonka. Transformers, Star Wars, and Nerf were other big Hasbro licenses that gave us an edge with the boys. We were fully aware of the importance of selling more than them, and at the store level, we always made sure that we had more space for our product. Mattel mostly concentrated on keeping Barbie and Fisher-Price well-stocked, but we had specific goals each visit, and keeping our items stocked was only the beginning of or job.
Despite the Hasbro DM warning me that some of the retail corporations didn’t think too highly of toys compared to other merchandise, I did not expect them to react with hostility to my store visits. Many didn’t appreciate the value of me being there, and instead, saw me as something bothersome that popped in every couple of weeks. Despite my friendly demeanor, store cooperation was sporadic and akin to rowing upstream in a canoe but with a spoon instead of a paddle. Simple things like trying to obtain a scanner to search their inventory, or politely trying to find out why their store hadn’t followed the planogram, made my visits unnecessarily stressful.
Now, I’m not complaining about my job with Hasbro. Working with them was a privilege, and my boss was supportive and very professional. The other merchandiser who helped me at my Toys ‘R’ Us store visits was a great co-worker that I occasionally correspond with to this day. But the store managers never understood that the relationship was supposed to be symbiotic and reciprocal, not one full of animosity or apathy.
After one year with Hasbro, I moved to San Francisco, CA. My boss was very upset at the time, but I hope she understood that I had to quit only because I was moving, not because I didn’t enjoy the job. I tried working for them again while in California, but I think my “quitting” didn’t sit well with them, and I never heard anything back. I still feel bad for leaving, but it’s been 15 years, and I think we’ve all moved on. Even now, I rarely buy anything by Mattel. My heart is with Hasbro, who always treated me with respect and made me feel like an essential piece of a vast company.
I still keep the small Mr. Potato Head toy, the Hasbro DM gave me, amongst my most prized collectibles. It represents an opportunity given to me when I sorely needed to get out of a bad situation. I’ll never forget that and always appreciate it.