If we're lucky we'll occasionally meet that special someone who makes our working life just a bit more tolerable. We may even look forward to seeing them every day as their energy and enthusiastic outlook gives us the desire to march on and do the best we can, hoping to earn their trust and approval which in turn makes us feel useful and appreciated. Franshell Rathert demonstrated these qualities to all who worked with her, in the same way our spirits were easily lifted by her beautiful smile.
Today, July 18, 2013, we lay Franshell to rest, her familiar presence already sorely missed by those who loved her. I didn't know Franshell and her family outside of work but I spent many enjoyable hours over the years discussing everything from current events to the beautiful landscape of Germany and the German people and their foods since we'd both spent some years living there, and, of course, reading and writing. But Franshell always had an influence on me that I'd like to tell about. Although there are many years between us, she easily earned my respect and admiration just being herself--a natural at managing people and using her resources to get the job done. I've worked with many professional managers over the years, male and female, and I can honestly say none of them had anything over Franshell by way of communication and resource management. She also had a subtle and clever wit that was hard to ignore, and possessed the ability to make you feel like everything was going to be alright, even though the sky was falling.
I have to go back to the beginning of my work life at the age of 12 to fully explain why I've come full circle with Franshell and Lowe's (it won't take long).
There was a small neighborhood pet store where I grew up and I had my eye on a certain tortoise in the window. It wasn't one of those little toy turtles you find in fish bowls people think look so cute, but a real, bonafide tortoise the size of a shoe box. It was $25, and way beyond my allowance (for the next five years). Mary, the store owner, had seen me browsing the varied specimens she had on display many times and asked me what I was looking for. I pointed to the tortoise and she said, "Well, that's quite an expensive pet, but I'll tell you what--if you work for me during your summer vacation you may have it." Yeah! With permission from my parents I started the next day. My duties included buying a head of lettuce in the morning for the rabbits, feeding the adorable hamsters, the brightly colored parrots and other bird species from around the world, the stinking monkeys, reptiles and a wall full of aquariums containing tropical fish. In between feeding I would bag-up rabbit pellets and hamster feed, and of course, operate the cash register. The cash registers in those days contained rows of dollar and cents buttons pressed for each item, then you'd pull down a large lever ready for the next item. When done with the order you hit a big "Total" button the size of a doorknob and pulled down the lever for the last time. You then counted out change depending what was given to you. Mary left a pad and pencil near the register so I could do the simple subtraction but soon I was able to do the math in my head mainly because I always felt the customer's need for urgency. One day, when I rung up a particularly large order and counted out the customer's change I caught Mary watching me out of the corner of my eye. She hadn't really acted concerned about me operating her register and handling money but she had a smile and that unmistakeable look of approval on her face, which made me feel pretty good.
The end of summer vacation finally came and I was awarded the tortoise for my efforts. Funny thing was the feeling I went away with from my time in her store was worth more to me that that tortoise. I learned that I was able to earn people's trust, that I enjoyed making people happy, and I could count without a pencil!
Although we had seen each other around the store many times I introduced myself to Franshell and said I was sent there to "observe" cash register operations. She said, "Okay, log in and go to one point four." "Um...I'm suppose to observe--watch what goes on here," I clarified. She said, "Okay, log in and go to one point four." "Oh, okay. One point four it is," I said, surrendering. "That's the sales screen in which you scan a customer's order into before it's totaled," she said. "Just like you'll do for the customer that's headed this way."
"Oh, no," she heard me say. "Just relax and be cordial," she said.
"Okay. No problem," I said, as my pulse rate increased a few beats.
"Hey! How's it going, Buddy?" I blurted out.
"Did you find everything you were looking for, sir?" Franshell whispered.
"Oh, ah, did you find what you were looking for, sir?"
"Yes, thank you," he said.
"Scan all of his items and bag them making sure you scan and deactivate everything, then hit the Total key," she said.
"That will be $54.28," I announced.
"Will you be using your Lowe's card for your purchase today?" Franshell whispered into my ear.
"Well, I don't know. I hadn't planned on buying anything today," I said.
"Ask him!" she said.
"Oh, sir, will you be using your Lowe's card today?" I asked, feeling pretty dumb.
"No. I'll be paying with cash," he said, handing me a hundred dollar bill.
"Type in $100.00 and hit the Cash key," she said.
"No sweat." I hit the Cash key and started calculating his change when Franshell asked, "What are you doing?"
"I'm figuring his change for a hundred."
"It's right there," she said, pointing at the monitor.
"You mean it automatically tells you what to give back? Wow!" Franshell shook her head.
"Your change is forty-five dollars and seventy-two cents, sir," I said as I counted it out to him.
"Thank you for shopping at Lowe's," she whispered.
"And thank you for shopping at Lowe's, sir."
I turned to Franshell and said," I know I looked like a fool, but I can do this."
"I know you can, Mike," she said, with much more confidence than I had.
I was bound and determined to get this cashier thing right so I got mentally prepared for the next customer that came along, and it didn't take long.
"Good day, sir. Did you find everything you were looking for today?"
"Yes, I did, and I received some good advise back there in your plumbing department. Your people were very helpful"
"Yes sir. We have some talented folks on the floor who have been specifically trained to assist their customers the very best they can," I said.
I rang-up his purchase and asked," Will you be using your Lowe's card for your purchase today? You receive a five percent discount each and every time you use it as a special thanks from Lowe's for giving us your business."
"I wasn't aware of that discount," he said. "Here's my Lowe's card."
"And here are your items and thank you for shopping at Lowe's. Please come back and see us again. Have a great day!"
When I turned to Franshell she just stood there with a silent smile in her eyes. It was the
same look Mary had when I knew she was pleased with my work, and it once again filled my heart with joy even after all those years. I got a phone call from Electrical requesting my presence back to the department but I told her I was still in training. "Well, let's get going. We have customers." I said, "I have customers, too. Be there when I can!" About a hour later when I was about to head back to Aisle 14 it dawned on me how much I missed interacting with people. Down stocking and taking care of IRPs were also important, but I wanted more of what Franshell had introduced me to. I stopped her on the way to the break room and asked if there was room for one clumsy sales associate in the front end. She smiled and said, "I'd love to have you up front with us. But you'll have to learn how to take returns, too." I said, "Let me at 'em!" In two weeks I was a full fledged cashier and loving every minute of it. Sure, there were times when you wanted to scream, but they were few and far in-between to make that much difference to me, and I've never really looked back--greatly due to Franshell's casual but efficient way of managing people, and the unwavering fairness she displayed to all. Not once did I ever hear her talk down to anyone, and she was always available to hear our concerns.
Franshell had a lighter side to her and it was delivered when you least expected it. Like most people I had a particularly miserable evening followed by a equally miserable morning. I didn't want to go to work but showed up anyway, only to regret being there in my supposed misery. So, displaying my best Typhoid Fever imitation, I pathetically shuffled over to Franshell and said, "Franshell...Franshell," I pleaded. "I don't feel good." Without hesitation she reached over and pinched my arm and said, "You feel good to me!" I couldn't help but laugh. Then, having blown my cover, shuffled off saying, "Never mind." There was also the time I thought I'd take advantage of a complaint by Franshell about insulation blowing machine rental forms. She thought it was impractical for them at the Customer Service desk to process a form for equipment kept in the lumber department, and that registers two and three should really be doing the paperwork. She was right, but I had to get something in return. "Okay, how about this. We'll do all the blower machine rental forms and you do all the returns at the Return desk," I suggested. "After all, merchandise returns should be taken to the return desk, right? Do people take returns to the Produce department at Walmart? No, they take them to the Return desk. Why in the world do people around here think the Lumber department is the return desk?"
"Okay, agreed. I'll bring all the blower machine rental forms down here and you send all returns to the Return desk," she said. I thought, "Yes! Finally, no more returns! Yahooo!" Franshell didn't get two steps away when she stopped and turned. "Hey, wait a minute," she said, hands on her hips. "You're supposed to be taking returns down here anyways. We've been doing it since Day One!" Shoot! So now we have to process blower machine rental forms AND take returns. The moral of this story? Never try to outfox a fox.
Of all the sterling qualities Franshell possessed, there are three I will miss the most--Her unwavering fairness to all within her sphere of influence, her irresistible charm and her clever wit. Those three qualities alone make for an exceptional human being, in addition to being the embodiment of kindness and graciousness.
There are times in our lives when we all wonder why the Almighty God takes the young. Every day we read about babies, children, teenagers, young adults and people in their 20's, 30's and even 40's that are just starting life or a promising career and are struck down by violence, neglect or illness. We ask "Why?" Why does the Lord allow these things to happen? Why are good, decent people such as Franshell taken from their families and friends at such a young age? Why? It just isn't fair!
Until one day I heard someone say, "God takes the young, because he doesn't want to be without them in his Kingdom."
That's the way I choose to remember this day, and my dear friend, Franshell Rathert.
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