What Working in a Seafood Department Taught Me About Life & Business

Flickr: mattieb

When I was in college, I worked at the Safeway in Bowie, MD. I did lots of jobs in the store, but I think I learned the most while working seafood. I liked working in seafood most because it was like running my own business. Most days and nights, it was just me behind the counter, and I had a small corner to sell seafood all to myself.

Sometimes it Stinks

One of the things I learned while working in seafood is it stinks. I would work and then put my shoes in a plastic bag I kept in my car’s trunk, so I wouldn’t smell up my car. When you work more than 30 minutes in seafood, you smell like seafood; there is no getting around it, I’ve found. Whether the seafood is fresh off the truck or not, seafood has a unique odor to it, and after working with it for a few hours, you will too. Similarly, in life, if you are around someone for long enough, you will start to take on characteristics you may or may not like. Be careful who you surround yourself with.

Another thing that working in a sometimes smelly department taught me about life is, no matter what you do life is going to stink for you or others around you at one point or another. I am convinced there is a communal mood across the masses. There is the saying, “it must be a full moon?” When working retail, I interacted with hundreds of people a day. Depending on what you believe, whether the law of attraction or the law of “full moon,” moods across the masses, for the most part, seemed reasonably consistent. I don’t know that the law of attraction always works because I think we’ve all had days where you are in the best mood and ready to really tackle life, and as soon as you interact with a few people, you see a pattern of moods across the office, coffee shop, or home life. You can’t control the mood of others, so don’t let them affect yours.

If it Smells Fishy, Don’t Buy It

There is a saying in life that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” and similarly, in life, if something smells fishy, don’t do or buy it. Trust your gut. I don’t think I need to say much about this, rely on your instincts, they are usually right.

Sometimes You Need to Take a Step Back

One of my favorite business interactions was also while working in the seafood department. As a young college kid on weekends, I was usually scheduled to come in at 7 am and set up the seafood case, which meant putting fresh crushed ice in the case, laying out trays in rows, and finally putting the product on the trays with proper signage. One of the weekends, the District Manager was in the store and had a brief interaction with me as he was inspecting the case I had set up. I felt pretty proud of myself and the job I had done setting up the case that particular day, so I asked how he thought it looked. How he responded might seem like common sense, and I think it is, but as I’ve found over the years, what is common sense doesn’t always mean we do it. He responded by motioning for me to come over and stand next to him, about 20 feet away from the seafood case. As I stood next to him, he said, “Jeremy, what I do isn’t all that hard, and I’ll teach you a secret, business is all about taking a step back every now and then.” He next said, “you see that hole where you don’t have any product in that tray over to the bottom right of the case?” I immediately replied with, “yeah, I am running low on that,” to which he said, “yeah, so break that tray up into two types of product, so there is product everywhere the customer looks”. He said, “customers won’t buy a product they can’t see, and they don’t and can’t buy those metal trays…they aren’t for sale…our seafood is”. As basic of a concept as it is, taking a step back resonated with me, and I’ve used that simple “secret” the DM taught me throughout life from that point on.

Jeremy’s Theory of Supply & Demand

This one has always intrigued me. Seafood isn’t the most popular thing people think to buy when they are in a grocery store. There can be a negative connotation to it for some. Trust me, if you are a young college kid trying to interact with college-aged customers (of the female type), being behind a seafood counter doesn’t work to your advantage. I am convinced, if you can sell seafood, you can sell just about anything else. One of the things I saw first hand was what I’ve called Jeremy’s law of supply and demand. I took economics in college, and you probably did too. You probably didn’t learn about Jeremy’s law of supply and demand, though, did you? My law of supply and demand says that c + c = $. That is one customer + one customer = cash money and lots of it. I could literally go an entire hour without any customers, and all of a sudden, one customer would order something, and almost instantly others would appear. It was odd, and it was very consistent. I would get that flood of customers, and then the business would die off again. I don’t know if you’ve seen this concept in life, but it always fascinated me.

I contemplated majoring in psychology in college. I always loved my psychology courses. I always wanted to try an experiment where I paid someone to have a cart full of products who played the role of an actor who came by my counter every five minutes. My hypothesis is that my seafood sales would at least double, but I never got to put my theory into practice. I think the reason why customers attract other customers is for many reasons, like the common peer pressure tactic many marketers use, but I also have another theory. I think in part, people don’t approach a certain area of the store because I am standing behind the counter, and it is awkward for some to approach. I have always wondered if part of the reason people are more likely to approach a department when someone else is already there is it helps to ‘break the ice’ in some unconscious way. If you have a business and can try putting this theory into practice, I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

OK, so you are probably thinking, “OK Jeremy, great…and crazy Seafood business theories…but what about everyday life…how does this theory work in real life?” I’m glad you asked, I have an interesting video that demonstrates this theory in about 3 minutes. In the video, you will first see a guy dancing all by himself in an audience. In the first 30-45 seconds, another person joins him, and every 20 seconds or so after that more and more people start to join him until it becomes a viral event. In life, there are a few people who will do something despite what others think, and it takes just a few people to join that person to create a movement very quickly. If I had taken more than a few semesters of psychology, I probably would have learned what theory can be applied to these types of events, but for now, I’ll pretend I’m the only one who has ever thought of this.

Sasquatch music festival 2009 - Guy starts dance party

0 thoughts on “What Working in a Seafood Department Taught Me About Life & Business

  • very well-written. I’m thinkin of applying to a large grocery store and seafood is among the open departments. aside from the smell…which just might put me off (the floral dept is open too!) you make a seafood dept sound like a good way to get a course in life (and sales). thanks for a great read.

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