Working Lives

Rainwear and more at Jarrolds (1960s-1990s)

Location: Norwich

Shirley was born in 1940. Having previously worked at BHS and Bernard’s she joined Jarrolds, working in the rainwear department.

I was made redundant from Bernard’s and I knew that Jarrolds were looking for Christmas temps and so I went along for an interview. I knew the buyer from perfumery and a personnel officer who used to work at BHS.

I was expected to work from 8.50 am to 5.40pm and I was paid £400 at the start and £750 when I finished.

Rainwear department

I started working in the rainwear department, and I had to learn whether things were waterproof or shower proof. I also had to count the macs, which was quite horrendous as they all had to tally up, and I also had to serve the customers.

Each stock that came into the store was bought by the buyer and came in en masse. You were responsible for pricing and costing each garment and each garment had to be individually entered into the stock book. You recorded the stock number, the colour and the style and each one was represented by an egg. When you sold an item you marked your tickets off by this little egg and you knew how well your stock was selling.

I worked with Pam who trained me and Mrs Rare the buyer. Mrs Rare was a lovely woman to work for, she was a disciplinarian but that was because she was disciplined herself. Obviously there was a standard at Jarrolds and she expected that the whole time. We had to be smart, articulate and most important we had to be out front looking after our customers. She was quite easy going to work with and we were quite well looked after.

You had to learn the pecking order. If you had problems you needed to know who the team leader was, supervisor, assistant manager and then the store buyer.

There was a lot to learn and I found it very strange after being in an environment where everything came down onto the shop floor ready for sale. This certainly wasn’t the case at Jarrolds. Garments had to be priced so you had to learn the cost side, pricing side, which I found difficult to start with.

I learned the skills of serving customers, relating to my colleagues and also the buying side –knowing in advance what colours were coming in.

Staff training

Staff training would take place every Tuesday from 9am – 9.30am either on the shop floor or in the dining room depending on the type of training. If it was applicable to our work it took place on the shop floor but if it was something to do with pensions or insurance then it would be done in the dining room.

The buyer would tell us what was coming in, what shades and things for example if a season was going to be black and white. Then of course catalogues would come in too,

Being given more responsibility

Over time I was given more responsibility, I was made a full time member of staff after being temporary and, well really, I had to take on board responsibilities for the whole area.

I sometimes used to go out with the buyer to get more stock so I needed to know what sold in the store, Our good hard core lines – say a good selling jacket, you needed to keep on top of that and you had to know what were good sellers, colours and sizes and then also the benefits and down sides of the garments too. As a representative of Jarrolds you had to know what was going on in your area.

Your area had to kept tidy, clean and well filled up. If you sold 3 or 4 handbags you had to go down to the stock room and get more, the same with coats and anything else. It always had to be filled, there never had to be any space, unless of course stock was unavailable. It was a big responsibility really.

Serving customers, it was a pleasure and a privilege

We used to have some lovely customers that would come in and they were a great pleasure to serve, particularly ladies who knew what they wanted to wear. It was a privilege for me to see them in their finished outfits, particularly if it was for a special occasion. What was so nice was that we were able to introduce lingerie, hosiery, everything to finish off the completed outfit, it was lovely.

I remember one time when an elderly lady came in and she didn’t wish to be served on the shop floor. She would put herself in a fitting room and we would take things to her which she wished to purchase. She always bought and bought very well, and would always come back time and time again. When she came in we would always find a fitting room for her and if one wasn’t available we would use a spare office.

She was such a lovely lady, with a dry sense of humour, and she would come to Jarrolds because she knew that she would get that extra special treatment really. To us it wasn’t anything different, she was a lady who wanted that kind of service and she received it because she was such a good customer. Whilst it obviously took a bit of time to serve this way you would just find another colleague to help serve in your own area while we were doing it. We all helped one another.

We also had some gender change customers who were quite difficult to look after, but they knew that Jarrolds would provide the type of service that was required. It was absolutely brilliant to see them look as they should with their gender change. Marvellous.

I met one customer who was coming back into work after looking after her own family. She felt very cabbage like, although obviously she wasn’t and it was so lovely to put her into suits and dresses suitable for her job. She was a secretary to a solicitor, so my knowledge came to the fore with knowing what look she needed. She became a regular customer and we became quite friendly through work, although we didn’t socialise. She found out that I was retiring and she was rather sad, she came in to say goodbye and brought me a small gift. Customers like those are the ones you miss in retirement life because they are interested in you as a person, an assistant who was able to look after them which was lovely.

That was the good thing about Jarrolds we were able to see to the needs of all our customers.

We had a boutique at the back of Jarrolds and the gentleman who owned it was a bit naughty by saying that things were exclusive. One time a lady came in dressed ready for her daughter’s wedding in a stunning apricot outfit, wanting shoes, underwear and of course a hat to complete the outfit. We put her in a fitting room, and five minutes later another lady came in wearing the identical outfit for her daughter’s wedding. So again we put her in a fitting room and we had to juggle the two of them because of course the outfits were not exclusive. We did have a giggle and the two didn’t meet in store but both would take pride of place at their daughters’ weddings.

If we could not help a customer we would send them on to another store because Jarrolds still benefited on the accessory side and we benefited because other stores would send customers to us if they didn’t have anything suitable. So again that was part of life.

We were naughty sometimes because we would dress up. Especially if we were doing one particular job of unpacking millinery on a very hot day. It wasn’t very pleasant because there were furs, false furs and hats and we would just sometimes be a little naughty and dress up.

We did sometimes mimic customers which I suppose was rather naughty too, but we did have to relax at work to enjoy looking after people. One of the tasks was to clean out the coat hangers which we hated so we did talk amongst ourselves and have a good giggle about what we’d done the night before or perhaps what we were going to do, so yes we did used to play.

I didn’t always like customers that were rude or abusive. It could be quite difficult to deal with particularly if a garment had been self damaged, they felt that they automatically deserved a refund. We could ask for them to have it repaired and they would get even angrier so it was better for us to give them their money back and get them out of the store, hoping that they didn’t come back anymore, but obviously they did.

That could be a real let down, they thought that you were there to take their abuse, but again we had good back up. You knew that if you had a particularly upsetting incident the store knew and they would protect you and look after you. If that customer came in again you didn’t have to serve them, somebody else would so there was protection there for the staff. They cared for you.

Changes, moving Jarrolds forward

Coming into the 21st century changes were seeing Jarrolds move forward, new fitments, new till areas, the way we were trained, new manufacturers coming in, all sorts of things. Michelle Jarrold came in and she was very far reaching, she was young and really blew the mustiness away. I think that it was always a good store but it was a little bit antiquated but she had the foresight and that’s why the store is the store it is today.

We started having more upmarket clothing, we did lose some of our older manufacturers but having said that the good stock that started coming in was coming from America and Germany. We had our core customers, the older lady but we started looking more at the 30s to 45 year olds, a younger look which has really worked out. And again it was a pleasure to work with those customers.

Jarrolds has made a big contribution to the city. The store stands out because of its service, the knowledge of the staff, and also because it’s a one off. You walk into Jarrolds and you were able to purchase items that were not available anywhere else in the city.

I was proud to work for Jarrolds. My main aim was to serve and give a good service because it was so lovely to see the complete finished article and see customers walking out of the door so pleased with their purchases which to me was what I was there for, to serve and look after them.

Being part of the Jarrolds ‘family’

If there was an illness they would see that you were looked after, you were cared for in a family environment, you were part of a big family. An example of this is my first Saturday at Jarrolds. I was involved in a car crash on my way to work, I wasn’t seriously injured and I did make it into work, As soon as I got in I was checked over and spoken to to see if I wanted to be there, they also laughed and said ‘We know you have never worked Saturdays and this is a great way to get out of working Saturdays!’ That is something that has always stood by me because they were there for me.

If you were poorly there was never any pressure, you went back when the doctor said that you were ready and they would even put you on reduced hours if you wanted to. So the care was there to look after us, because we needed to look after the customers.

I enjoyed mixing with my colleagues, and I socialised with other staff. We had evenings out to the theatre, dinners out, bowling, darts and other things, we had a great time.

Jarrolds organised a special dinner at the end of the year, but a lot of the time it was the staff who got together and said ‘Should we have an evening out?’ We included our buyer and Mrs Green when she took over as buyer, so it was our department or other departments mixing together, so yes we did have a good social life.

Retirement and the positive effect Jarrolds had on my life

I worked for Jarrolds for 14 years and it was a great part of my life although it didn’t seem that long. It had a positive effect on my life, they didn’t try to change this silly wacky woman, I was allowed to be me and this came across in my customer service. I undertook everything to the best of my ability at work, but again I was allowed to be me and that was more important sometimes.

Obviously working at Jarrolds full time it was a big part of my life. But I did come home to a husband and a son and they were very stable and life was very good at home. If I’d had a bad day at work I could come home and be a bit of a misery and I was ignored, which is how it should be and there would always be a meal provided because Charles was a very good cook. So, yes I had support at home to enable me to do my job.

I made friends and I stay in touch with a number of them including Nina who was my new supervisor. It’s been wonderful to see her come through from a funky young woman to someone who is doing good work in menswear, she’s literally turned it on its head. We still all socialise when I am able to.

I was given a good retirement party which again was very nice. It went ahead in Mrs Green’s office and my family were allowed to come. It was done over the whole of lunchtime so from 12 until 3 and lots of people came through, there was beautiful food and drink provided. I think at one point we were rather noisy and customers wanted to know what was going on in the background, and then one customer popped her head round the corner and said goodbye to me, so even customers were welcome. People would just drop by and say goodbye and that they would miss me.

Knowing Mr Richard and Michelle and working with them sometimes was a great honour and privilege. They enabled me to do my work because they wanted their staff to be knowledgeable and to be approachable to their staff. So, yes that’s what was different about Jarrolds . We were able to approach the top and your answers would be sorted out for you. Knowing that you could actually go to the top of the store and be treated as a colleague rather than an assistant was very nice.

Shirley (b.1940) talking to WISEArchive on 2nd February 2006.

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