Today is Easter Saturday, when the shops of the country find out if they have enough Easter Eggs to meet the local demand, as shoppers suddenly remember to get those last minute chocolate gifts for children, friends, relatives and other loved ones, as the last minute panic of shops being closed for an extra day over a weekend encourage people to buy too much, and people buy enough chocolate not just for a long weekend but for at least the next month. It always reminds me of Easter Saturday 1991 when I had an evening and weekend job at a local supermarket whilst I finished school and did my A Levels. I was 17 at the time, and this was my second paid job after having been a paper boy in a local housing estate. Easter 1991 followed the very same dates as 2013, and Easter Saturday in both 1991 and 2013 was the 30th March.
The supermarket was one of the larger ones in the town, and the senior staff consisted of a manager, a deputy manager and one or two trainee managers, who would rotate around, normally spending somewhere between a few weeks and a few months with us. To give you an idea of how much things have changed in the couple of decades that have passed since then, only the female staff were allowed to work on check in, and almost all the management staff who passed through were male. One of the trainee managers at the time, the senior of the two we had then working at the store, was quite a character, who I will refer to only as Frank. Anyone who worked with him will remember him. He was quite the salesman, I remember a woman walking into the shop and asking about a particular pasta sauce that was not in stock. I was assigned to tinned peas and beans, pasta sauce and dried pasta, so this was in my area. Frank was talking to me at the time, and answered the woman’s question that, although her particular sauce was not in stock, he could give her an old family recipe that would allow her to enjoy an even better sauce, and required her to purchase various fresh vegetables that would cost her quite a bit more than her cheap jar of sauce would have. I watched in amazement as he scribbled a couple of notes on a scrap of paper, and watched as the elderly lady – or at least, what I thought was an elderly lady when I was 17, she probably was not actually that old – left with half the shop’s fresh produce. I was even more amazed when, a few days later, she came back to thank him for his recipe and how it was so much better than the jar of sauce.
On Easter Saturday 1991, we had too many Easter Eggs. Not just one or two too many, but boxes and boxes of eggs left. We even had survived the great Barry Easter Egg Disaster, when my colleague Barry had ran across a pallet of Easter Eggs and sunk into some of them, not quite realising that the eggs would not take his weight. Just after lunch, an edict came through from head office telling us to get rid of our eggs, however we could.
Frank had an idea. Together with another colleague, we moved as many of the eggs as we could to the back of the shop, near the butchery department, where we had some free space. There, we started selling the eggs like market traders. Frank started shouting about our wares, and did deals on the prices of eggs based roughly on a two for one basis. If someone was buying two, but looked like they might take more, he would sell them four for two, and give them a fifth free. “Roll up, roll up, get some Easter Eggs!” was the cry. Soon there were two more of us selling eggs alongside Frank, and then a couple of our colleagues joined in. People heard about the egg sale, and came to watch. Yes, there was not much else going on in Larne on 30th March 1991. “I only came in because I heard something was going on”, I heard a woman say, “and I’ve bought six eggs now”. People who did not know that they had either a need or a desire for more chocolate made impulse purchases because either they wanted to be part of some fun, or more likely, they thought that they were getting a great bargain. This went on until the store closed at 1730 that afternoon, and by that stage, although not all of our eggs were gone, the vast majority were now in the happy hands of those who had witnessed the store being really a super market rather than a supermarket. I was exhausted. I walked into the warehouse, where the general manager was sitting having a cigarette, tired just watching the effort that had gone into the sale. He looked like the was looking for a darkened room in which to lie so that he could recover. This was not a place familiar with quirky or novel selling techniques, so this had been a rather stressful day, although no doubt the tills had been busy enough to make up for any stress that this had caused him.
It was one of those things that was rather rare at the time; a successful day at work that was also remarkably good fun. I may have been a naïve 17 year old at the time, and very much a passenger in the setting up of the process, but I was an enthusiastic and energetic participant when the opportunity arose, and I really did learn that day that hard work can be fun. In fact, if you want to be successful, if you can find a way, it should be fun. That is a maxim I still try to apply every working day.