My STEP signature project consisted of me interning for 10 weeks for a PPG store on N Hamilton Rd. During my time there, I worked 40 hours a week and was an integral part to the daily operation of the store. I worked with 2 other middle aged men, one of which who had been with the company for over 26 years. I did everything from simple tasks such as ring customers up at the register to more challenging tasks such as giving proper advice on add on products that could help customers. There were also the occasional days where I would go help the delivery driver and ride with him to a drop off zone where we would then carry the paint to it’s designated area.
The main thing that I got from this experience was exactly that, experience. I had never before worked a retail job to the extent that I did at PPG. It was definitely a change for me to have a job with a variable work load that was fairly dependent on the customers. I had been used to working warehouse jobs where I had a set amount of work, but never one where the job constituted being able to cater to customer demands. It was definitely an adjustment for me because I didn’t fully understand the open ended type of nature that is a retail job. There were many moments where I had to be on my toes and think on the fly. It was difficult at times not to get overwhelmed, but as the weeks went on I learned how to better manage.
A main influence on my during my time at PPG was the worker store manager who was my supervisor, Phil. He’s the employee I mentioned earlier who had been apart of the company for over 26 years. He knew all the ins and outs of the business and definitely was helpful with my transition into the job. During the first few weeks, I wasn’t involved as much at the register because I didn’t fully understand what to do yet. Phil had me basically shadow him during this time and watch what he did as well as just take mental notes on how he dealt with the customers. He was exceptional at understanding the desires of the customer even when the customer didn’t truly understand what they wanted themselves. I was able to apply this myself in the later weeks as I started to work the register more and I used some of his strategies and it made things a lot simpler.
Additionally, I made a few significant relationships with a few of the regular customers. Since majority of the customers I helped were contractors who had businesses they ran themselves, I would continuously talk to them about their days as well as how their business would operate on a daily basis. I learned a lot of things from them including how to properly motivate employees of their own, how to deal with customers who have high expectations, and so on. I developed a broader understanding of the types of problems that the average small business owner would run into. For example, multiple customers who were business owners told me how they never expected anything of their employees that they couldn’t hold the employees accountable for. They felt it irresponsible and unnecessary for them to set expectations that they wouldn’t be able to follow up on. Even with all these stories and business strategies they told me about, I also was able to discuss with them their daily lives and families, and those interactions helped me develop a higher sense of empathy. There were often times where it would have been the easy thing to be frustrated when I was dealing with multiple customers at once, but being able to calm down for a second and humanize them helped the day go by better.
Even as much as working retail was a nice experience, the daily remedial work was a necessary experience for me to come to the realization that this wasn’t the type of work I could do day to do. Constantly having to pick up phones, do tedious inventory work, and lift heavy buckets of paint was physically and mentally exhausting. Since I was the inexperienced worker during my time there, I was often tasked with the more tedious work, and this wasn’t always enjoyable. I wasn’t good enough or experienced enough to work on more stimulating things such as ordering inventory or offering input on new marketing strategies. Seeing Phil be able to do less physically taxing work that seemed more enjoyable was a good motivator for me. I understood that I couldn’t just be content with where I was in life and that there was always a better goal to push towards. I wanted a more relaxing job and working at PPG made me realize that it was only myself who stood in the way of that.
Overall, it was definitely an experience that was necessary for me to understand more about the real world of day to day business. I’m grateful for the people I worked with as well as the atmosphere I worked in because it definitely changed my outlook on the common day to day world of business and how it’s operated. I’m more aware of my fit in this type of environment and am more aware of how I will go about pursuing that fit. My confidence is higher than it was before I started this project and I feel much more prepared on what to expect once I get a full time job. STEP provided me the financial means to reasonably help me with expenses for this project. Without STEP, I wouldn’t have pursued an opportunity like this. For that, I’m thankful and wish that more students will use STE to take an opportunity to learn more about themselves and/or others.