Manager trainee learning the ropes at Hillsboro ALCO

The driving winds in Kansas can be fierce and relentless, just like they are in Pampa, Texas.

That’s the hometown of Chrissy Norris, the new assistant manager in a training program at the local ALCO Discount Store.

“I feel like I’m living back home,” Norris, 22, said after moving to Hillsboro in January.

“But you have trees here. Down in the panhandle of Texas, it’s just flat. There’s hardly any trees unless you’re down by the water. And it’s a little colder here.”

Norris has joined the ALCO staff for a six-month assistant-manager training program under the tutelage of Joe Hampton, ALCO manager.

Since Hampton took over management duties about two years ago, Duckwall-ALCO Stores Inc.-the parent company out of Abilene-has been sending trainees to the local store as well as other outlets in a corporate chain that includes 185 stores in 21 states.

“They’ve started sending them here because he has a lot of retail experience,” Norris said about Hampton. “I think they like him being a mentor for other assistant managers.”

Norris has a notebook of 12 management areas to learn and complete in the time she will spend at the local ALCO.

“It’s like schooling again,” Norris said riffling through a thick notebook of duties and questions. “You’re learning everything, and you have questions to answer. I take this home and do them at home like homework. I never quit.”

After graduating from Pampa High School in 1999, Norris attended Oklahoma State University and graduated with a business degree and double major in marketing and management in August, 2003.

Before graduating, she interviewed with 15 to 20 companies, such as Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Chicago.

But with larger companies, the pace can be exhausting, the big cities overwhelming and the stores as vast and impersonal as massive warehouses.

“I could take it on,” Norris said. “But I felt a smaller store would probably be a lot easier to get along in-in a smaller town.”

After graduation, she submitted her resume to Duckwall-ALCO and was interviewed for an assistant-buyer position.

“I did research on it, and I thought it would be interesting because I love shopping anyway,” Norris said with a quick smile.

During three hour-long interviews in Abilene, she visited with the vice-president of recruiting, the vice-president of merchandising and the president of the company.

She learned that the assistant-buyer training program is new. It was recently developed because a large faction of the current store buyers are now in their 40s and 50s, and the company needs to train new recruits .

“They’re close to retiring, so they’re starting to look for a new work force,” Norris said. “They’re looking for college graduates.”

Because she lacked retail experience, Norris was asked to train as an assistant manager before she entered the assistant-buyer program.

With the experience she gains in Hillsboro and opportunities to train in other ALCO stores, Norris could eventually stay in management or become an assistant buyer.

Her five-day work week begins around 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. and lasts until 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. During her 45-hour-a-week schedule, she is allotted one weekend off a month.

Her training requirements are contained in a large, white notebook of training profiles titled “Management Developments Program.”

Following the outline of the book, Norris shadows staff, studies each section and answers questions listed at the end of those sections.

The 12 areas of management covered in a period of two-week intervals each are as follows:

—  Customer Service-learning about operating the registers, assisting cashiers, helping with exchanges and returns, and developing customer-service skills.

“At ALCO, the customer always comes first,” Norris said.

— Receiving-logging in inventory and working in the stock room. “We learn how we put everything in the stock room and keep everything organized,” Norris said. “That way, we don’t get merchandise lost in there.”

— Store Electronic Data System-reviewing the computer system and data entry, and using cash registers for such transactions as lay-a-ways.

— Loss Prevention-dealing with issues such as theft and damage. Norris is currently working on this section that focuses on anything that affects profit-loss.

— Personnel-handling scheduling procedures and complications as well as any hiring and firing issues.

“Obviously, we have hours during the day that have a lot more traffic in here than other days and hours,” Norris said about scheduling procedures she will learn to handle.

—  Hardline Merchandising-getting to know the hardline merchandise, such as food, cosmetics, automotives and pet supplies. “You learn who the buyers are for the departments so you know who to talk to if you have any problems,” Norris said.

—  Softline Merchandising-working with the lines of clothing, and domestics, such as curtains and towels.

— Office-shadowing the operation’s manager as she handles paperwork and accounts from the vendors.

— Money Room-combining the office procedures with the finances. Norris will learn about daily deposits and how to handle bad checks.

— Statistical-figuring profit and loss, cost of goods and marking down merchandise. “There’s actually a retail-math section back here that goes through all the formulas, gross margins and things like that,” Norris said about a portion of her notebook.

— Inventory-keeping the inventory current and organized. “We have to check on the dates of things, like the milk,” Norris said. “We have to keep up with that and mark them down if they’re getting close to the due dates.”

— Operations-overseeing the general operations of the store.

ALCO has five group managers who Norris will work with during her six-month stay-one softline, two hardline, one front end and one operations manager.

“So I go around with them all,” Norris said. “When I have questions going through my book, I’ll go in there and ask them to explain it to me and show me how it’s done.”

When each of the 12 sections of study is completed, Norris meets with Hampton. After a review, they both sign a training-profile certificate, and Hampton faxes that to the corporate company.

“That way, they can monitor it,” Norris said. “Sometimes, they’ll ask to turn in certain pages of questions to see how I’ve been answering them.”

Before coming to the local ALCO, Norris said she heard positive comments about the store.

“This is one of the average-size stores for ALCO, but it’s one of the better ones,” Norris said. “When I came into the program, they told me they were sending me to one of the best stores. They’re really proud of this store.”

After less than two months at the Hillsboro store, Norris said the most important thing she’s learned is patience.

“You have to have a lot of it,” she said. “You can accomplish what you wanted to get done that day, but not at a certain time. It’s just going to have to get done sometime.”

After putting in long days, she looks back and appreciates the people she’s helped, both staff and customers, and the lessons she’s learned.

“The first couple of weeks, I was just overwhelmed,” Norris said.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m never going to learn all of this stuff.’ But, since I’ve been here a couple of months, I realize I’m learning and getting it all, and it’s a good atmosphere in here. And the ladies always bring food. I love it.”

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