Sears Portrait Studios

Sears Portrait Studios

I was looking through some old photo albums last week when I found an envelope of wallet sized photos. These were all photos of my sisters when they were kids. Based on their size, I would say they must be between the ages of 4 and 8. This make sense because a regular rite of passage for both of my sisters was their annual trip to Sears Portrait Studios. This practice ended right before I was born, but our house was filled with the results of their photo sessions.

Sears Portrait Studios visits were a ubiquitous component of so many homes in the past. My town growing up was no different. All of my friends had photos lining their wood-paneled walls as well.

One thing I remember very clearly was how mothers would give out these wallet size photos. Sometimes not just to family members, but also to friends they just met on the street. Many times I was with my Mother when she would hear a fellow mom speak glowingly about her child. Then the proud mom would whip out a wallet size photo and present it to my Mom. When my Mom would try to give it back, she would say, “No, you keep that.” My Mother would smile and put it in her purse or hold it absent-mindedly in her hand. Then, when we got to the car, she would look at the photo and ask, “Now what am I supposed to do with this?”

All those photos eventually ended up in a box that my family still has somewhere. Filled with the anonymous memories of kids I don’t recognize. I guess I understand why we have so many extras of photos of my sisters. My mother hated the practice of giving photos out to people outside of the family. So no matter how many photos she was given, it was way too many.

Enjoy this classic commercial for Sears Portrait Studios (from Canada!)

Enjoy this classic commercial for Sears Portrait Studios with a Wall Portrait offer

Montgomery Ward - Loss Prevention

Let’s All Work Together (And Be A Profit Partner!)

Ah, the department store training video – there’s nothing quite like it.

The only thing better than a department store training video? A department store training video from a store that doesn’t even exist anymore! Even better than that? Department store training videos from the 1980s and 1990s.

You know the type of videos – shot on location in a store in an area people aren’t familiar with, bad acting, goofy clothes, actual employees, your host “The Loss Prevention Guy,” and some person told to steal something for the sake of teaching employees how to handle possible theft. Basically, store employees who want their fifteen minutes of fame to be a thing.

Put that back!

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In the 1990s, Chicago, Illinois-based retailer Montgomery Ward was still a thing, and in 1997, produced a training video to combat theft in their stores. This film, Let’s All Work Together, teaches new employees how to prevent loss, act badly, and wear funky sideburns. But primarily, it teaches new employees how to prevent inventory loss through theft.

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And funky sideburns. Don’t forget funky sideburns!

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This is Andy (“Hi Andy!”), and he works in Loss Prevention for Montgomery Ward.

And as this video begins, he is helping apprehend a man who allegedly paid for a cordless phone, but is hiding it under his shirt so his daughter doesn’t see it…since the phone is supposedly for her. Yeah yeah, likely story, sir.

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It’s such a tense situation, but Andy gives us the stark reality of the consequences of shoplifting at Montgomery Ward stores – the cost is in the millions!

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Andy informs the ill-informed associate, Jeff (aka Funky Sideburns), of the cost of shoplifting, and that there is more to being a Loss Prevention and Safety Specialist than just apprehending shoplifters – they are also responsible for maintaining the safety of customers and associates. But Jeff doesn’t care, and just say he was joking around. Yeah yeah, Jeff. Take your sideburns and suspenders and do your job, mmkay?
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Andy is then spotted by Jennifer, an associate who (bad acting alert) wants to discuss the concerns she has regarding her department and one of its employees. Of course, this is not before Andy thanks her (and Unseen Associate Joey) for filling in at bowling last week. The banter in these segments is eye-poking-out inducing, but makes the entertainment value of these otherwise unwatchable training videos increase. Jennifer decides she would rather speak with Andy in confidentiality during her break at 3:30.

He agrees to a meeting with her.

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And then there’s New Manager Sarah, whose employee Liz needs to be reminded (for the second time in several days), to never leave a cabinet unlocked, not even for a few minutes. She reminds Liz of the matter of seconds it takes for someone to steal from that cabinet. As Andy explains to us, Sarah’s department is beset with inventory control issues. And like a great Loss Prevention and Safety Specialist that he is, he’s looked into the issues plaguing Sarah’s department. It turns out that an unaccounted-for pair of camcorders was not noted properly on the inventory manifest by an employee. Oh, and Unseen Horrible Employee Ken rang three pre-recorded video cassettes up, but scanned one of those videos three times, rather than scan each one, and informs Sarah that she will get a register activity report the next day. Oh and the vacuum cleaner promotion her department came up short on? Apparently, receiving didn’t send up the right number, and some of the inventory was buried. Sarah’s department may be beset with 99 problems, but not all of them are her staff. Apparently, Montgomery Ward’s receiving department (or, at least, the one at her store, can’t get it together. Come on Montgomery Ward’s receiving department, let’s all work together!

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Oh, do you see what I did there?!

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Sarah is over-the-top-acting angry about her department running out of several vacuum cleaner SKUs before the promotion was halfway over, and all because of some flubs behind the scenes. Andy assures her that he is looking into this, but all Sarah is concerned about is things shaping up. She’s like the Beyonce of Montgomery Wards, and I don’t know whether to feel bad for her, or laugh at her terrible acting.
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Andy discusses the pitfalls of merchandise shortages due to error – it drives up the cost, drives away customers, and makes Montgomery Ward less profitable and competitive. They remedy these problems by making sure that security tags are attached to all clothing, and the wires that are supposed to be attached to the tags are checked regularly.

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Also being done by Montgomery Ward? Informing associates to keep sales floor areas clean and clutter-free, keeping exits cleared, and standards that protect cash and merchandise and catch dishonest customers.

Which takes us to our next training point – always check purses and luggage for hidden merchandise:

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Check tickets on merchandise, and give potential dishonest customers the benefit of a doubt. Done right? The associate offers help finding jeans of a similar style in the woman’s price range. So she’ll still get a good deal.

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And there’s the elusive short-change artists, who try to bully and confuse associates into giving them incorrect change to their advantage. Like this Overacting Bully, who is unsuccessful in his attempt to get more change back than he should.
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And then there’s till-tapping, where one person tries to create a diversion through bad acting while another shady individual tries to break into the register with his bad acting skills…and the observant employee who remembered to close the cash drawer AND pay attention. Score one redemption point for Liz, who stopped this from happening.

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So now we’re at 3:30 in the afternoon (shockingly, we didn’t get a line of dialogue where Andy says “Oh, it’s just about 3:30, let’s go meet with Jennifer!” – that’s how bad this acting is), and Jennifer is speaking with Andy regarding a customer who has been in everyday for the last month, and always waits until Rob Kovac is working.

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Last week, Jennifer watched closer, and the “customer” brought up three answering machines, yet Rob scanned only one. Jennifer watched to see if he scanned the other two, or if the customer changed his mind, but Rob only scanned one and bagged all three.

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Clever bastard.

The guy came back later and did the same thing. Loss prevention had been up on the issues in the department, and had been investigating – Jennifer reporting her concerns will make the investigation much faster. Andy then informs Jennifer that Rob will be fired for his actions, that he would like to take action on Jennifer’s report, and asks her if she is aware of the cash award. She isn’t, so Andy explains it to her.

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The cash award is through the Profit Partners Recognition Program – if an associate is able to identify employee theft that results in termination of the offending employee, the associate will receive a $250 cash award, and up to 10% of all inventory recovered. Also part of this program? Pointing out unsafe workplace conditions and paperwork issues that could result in shrinkage. The smallest award is a $10 gold medallion (a service award, according to Big Daddy Dave’s amazing Montgomery Award Memorabilia blog post), with largest being a not-to-be-scoffed at $2000. You can report your concerns to your facility manager, or Loss Prevention and Safety Manager…or call this 800 number 24/7 anonymously, from any location.

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I can’t hear you Andy, the number is shouting at me!!!

Other ways to make the company less profitable include conspiring with friends and family to return merchandise they never purchased for a refund, not charging for labor or services on vehicles (or taking care of your own vehicle without paying for it) , or just outright having someone walk merchandise out to the back of a waiting car.

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Shady, underhanded, and right out in the open – damn you Montgomery Ward thieves!

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And then there’s shoplifting, and we’re introduced to Carl, an associate who witnessed someone stealing merchandise, and while the female suspect was videotaped, she left the store without stealing anything further, and was also not apprehended. Carl is outraged by this, but Andy reassures Carl that she may not be so lucky next time, and to remain vigilant.

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Andy discusses the trademarks of shoplifters – they love unattended areas and messy displays, can look like everyone else, and come from all walks of life. Shoplifters aren’t just relegated to certain stereotypes.

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And then there’s the next lady…and the ever-observant Funky Sideburns Associate, Jeff. But he’s smart (despite his big mouth and sarcastic attitude earlier), and reports what he sees to Loss Prevention. Andy is patrolling the floor and is on the lookout, while his co-worker Karen watches the suspect on the monitor. She describes the suspect to Andy, and Andy takes Funky Sideburns Associate-Turned Witness, Jeff, with him to apprehend the woman, who insists these are her shoes…and then breaks down and says she’s never done anything like this before.

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Andy completes his report, and lets Jeff know that he will be referred to the Profit Partners. Jeff is thrilled, but concerned for the shoplifter. It turns out she has been arrested twice before for the same crime, so any decisions are now up to the courts.

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(Or after Andy changes his golf shirt)

Andy revisits Jennifer in her department to let her know the outcome of her report about her fellow associate, Rob Kovac. Almost all of the merchandise had been recovered, and Jennifer gets a nice reward for her concerns. Which means one thing, and one thing only – you can be a Montgomery Ward Snitch for Hire…and make a profit. Who knew tattling had its rewards? Usually it gets people reprimanded for being a busybody, but at Montgomery Ward, it’s all about monetary rewards!

Profit Partners!!!

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Andy recaps everything from the video, and informs us that we too can be good Montgomery Ward associates, he hopes that we will choose to make the right decisions, and Let’s All Work Together!

The video ends with the cold, hard facts of theft while we watch security camera footage of unsuspecting Montgomery Ward shoppers, who had no idea they were being filmed for a Montgomery Ward training video. Oh, and the video is dedicated to all the Loss Prevention and Safety Specialists, as well as everyone who strives to make Montgomery Ward a safer, more secure, and shoppable store.

So, all of this happened in this one Montgomery Ward location, on this one particular day. Kind of eventful for such an empty store, don’t you think?

Sadly, Montgomery Ward was in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 1997, and rebranded as Wards that year. By December 2000, the company announced it would cease operation, and by May 2001, all merchandise had been liquidated. Which means Andy’s discussion about the company being less profitable was probably a true story. Sales were declining throughout the 1990s, and this was the beginning of the end for Montgomery Ward. Also, I have no idea where this was filmed, but judging by the accents, likely in Chicago, where they were based.

And there you have it, the 1997 Montgomery Ward Loss Prevention training video. I hope you found it informative and entertaining, and a deterrent to not ever steal anything. Because someone like Andy and Karen (and eagle-eye comrades, Funky Sideburns Associate Jeff, Jennifer, and Carl) are all watching you.

If you’d like to see the trainwreck in progress that is Let’s All Work Together!, click the videos below. The only pain you’ll feel is the pain of embarrassment for these people, who truly believed they were the best and brightest of actors Montgomery Ward had.

[Via] Joe Enos

So heed the words of Andy, our faithful Montgomery Ward Loss Prevention and Safety Specialist – Shoplifting and all other Loss Prevention-type issues are crimes and wrong in every way possible. It makes nearly-defunct department stores less profitable, it reflects badly on associates, and it’s a crime.

Did I mention that already. Oh, and if you so choose to be a vigilant employee, you too can be a Profit Partner.
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So let’s all work together, because Montgomery Ward is on its way out, but wants to keep morale up.

Allison worked in retail at one time, but not in loss prevention. She has watched videos like this, complete with bad acting. She is the head poobah of Allison’s Written Words, and would like all of us to work together and read and subscribe. If you’d like randomness in your newsfeed, you can be a Profit Partner (aka friend and follower) and subscribe to her blog’s Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @AllisonGeeksOut. She won’t follow you away from this site (nor pay you for your visit), because Allison knows that the only thing you’re stealing is a good laugh at the stuff she finds in the veritable department store known as the interwebs.

Allison has never shopped at Montgomery Ward. She just likes their training video.

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PROFIT PARTNERS!

(It’s no wonder that Montgomery Ward’s had such a shady clientele…they had Robert Hoover from Animal House as a spokesman. So this is what he got up to after the incident at Faber College!)

esso-logo

Enjoy this Radio Ad that Celebrates the Transition of Esso to Exxon

The gas station in my town growing up, at least the one everyone went to, was an Exxon station. It was a hub in the town and for a very long time inspired a brand loyalty in the Exxon brand that still somehow lingers after all these years. Of course, Exxon as a brand is not that old in the grand scheme of things. Like many companies, especially gasoline companies, it has gone through multiple name changes over the years. One that I became acquainted with early one was Esso. Not because ours was an Esso station at some point in history, but because on a frequent route we traveled on day trips to “Upstate” New York, we would pass a decaying Esso station that set my imagination ablaze.

After finding out as much as I could about the brand from my Mother and Grandmother, I even asked the owner of the Exxon station in our town, who happened to be our neighbor. The info was thin, but the largeness of the change and the connection to Standard Oil, a company that appeared frequently in my history books, intrigued me. It was like being able to step into the history book and understand how something we used daily stretched back in time.

What really thrilled me though, was the station itself. It wasn’t overgrown with trees or surrounded by junk. In fact, it was in really good shape. It was just abandoned. Which made me wonder why? Did people stop driving by here? It didn’t seem so, since my family went by at least twice a year. Did the owner pass away? Did illegal things happen there?

I would never find out and at some time in the late nineties, I drove past where the gas station should have been and it was just…gone. All that was left was a concrete pad and the now encroaching tree line. I wonder if nature has now taken it back completely and what drove someone to tear a building down and not replace it with something new. Mysteries on top of mysteries.

I was browsing the internet last night and stumbled upon a site that posts radio commercials and jingles and found this wonderful bit of advertising from 1972 that discusses the change from Esso to Exxon. It is a fun bit of early seventies marketing and their giveaways really take me back to all the gas station ephemera I used to find around my house growing up. Sadly the mysterious Esso station never saw this transition and the insulated white on white Exxon coffee cups promised in this commercial never graced its premises.

kmart_set

Songs to Shop By: Years of Kmart Background Music posted on the Internet

In the 70s Lily Tomlin had a lot of great one-liners in her act including “I fear that the man who thought up Muzak is thinking again.” But these I days, I wonder if Lily ever has to go to the supermarket or the mall or even an elevator and whether she likes the music being played there better now?

In the last decade most stores and businesses have replaced old-fashioned shopping music with satellite radio channels that pump out the latest hits. So as Lily reaches for that pint of half-and-half, does she enjoy the castrato screechings of Justin Bieber or the emo stylings of…I dunno, whoever that is I hear whining in Safeway all the time.

Well, if like me, you have a soft place in your heart for Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” played by a clarinet and strings, with nary a guitar to be heard, then you might be happy to discover that archive.org has provided a place for collectors of Muzak memories to share their goods with the rest of us.

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Former K-Mart employee Mark Davis has uploaded his wonderful and bizarre collection of commercial-use-only cassette tapes to the web. Made by a company called Tape-Athon, the cassettes contain background music and promotional messages to shoppers designed to be played over the K-Mart stores’ speaker systems. Later another company, Tower Sound & Communications, brought a slightly younger, hipper sound to the music. As Davis himself explains on his page “Attention K-Mart Shoppers” on the archive.org site:

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I worked for Kmart behind the service desk and the store played specific pre-recorded cassettes issued by corporate. This was background music, or perhaps you could call it elevator music. Anyways, I saved these tapes from the trash during this period…The older tapes contain canned elevator music with instrumental renditions of songs. Then, the songs became completely mainstream around 1991. All of them have advertisements every few songs.

In 2014, Davis digitized the entire collection to 320 MP3. Now the 56 cassettes have a home online. For more of the background story, Davis has posted a video about his collection. And breaking news! As I wrote this, Davis found and posted a 3 hour Kmart Reel to Reel from 1988.

Sadly, for me at least, the really retro instrumental music from Tape-Athon makes up only a small part of the collection before it shifts over to bland 90s pop of the Bruce Hornsby and the Range variety. Still, there are some nifty highlights: Kmart Pharmacy Spots from May 1988; the heady excitement of Kmart Dutch Boy Paint Vendor Messages; and the not to be missed Kmart 30th Anniversary Program!

But mostly the tapes are song-song-ad-song-song-ad. In college sociology classes in the 80s, I remember suspicions discussions where we theorized that under that velvety blanket of orchestral strings, advertisers had secreted subliminal message to buy more, more, more! But no, the ads as well as the music are pretty tame. Innocent even, by today’s standards.

So the collection may not be exactly a blast from the past; more like a snore from yore. But Davis has done us all a great service by sharing this often overlooked bit of commercial-art history.

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seamans

This Classic Commercials for Seaman’s is all Information

This classic mid-eighties ad for “Seaman’s” does not mess around with flashy gimmicks. No, this is all business. I wonder if the star of the commercial read through the script and thought, “Wow, this is all me. For 30 seconds the entire NY/NJ/CT tri-state area will be hanging on my every word!”

He delivers the good and staring right into the camera and into our homes he breaks down how stupid we would all have to be to not take advantages of “Seaman’s” low low prices and easy credit. Just goes to show there are no boring parts, just boring actors. So when you have to explain department store credit, you own it and the world will stand up and take notices (30 years later).

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Kmart…It’s The Place

I really enjoy watching retro commercial from other countries and when the product is one that I am familiar with, all the better. In this mid-eighties ad for the Kmart, we get a little Australian spin on a familiar brand. I am not sure what is going on here, these ladies are really into telling me Kmart…”It’s the place”, almost to the point where it sounds like a chant, like they are members of a Kcult.

Then they are riding tandem bikes and then they leap off the bike, but its okay, because you know, Kmart. Pure advertising magic.

color-tile

Back to the Color Tile Quiz Time

This late seventies commercial for the store, “Color Tile” spoofs the game show hosts and styles of the period. It is pure silliness with an over the top host, contestant and silly puppet. Combined, these elements make it crazy enough that it would have been memorable if had run in my next of the woods when I was growing up.

I am not sure that this store exists anymore. I found a Color Tile still open down in Portland, but the logo is different and they do not have a “History” section.