Masters employees speak out about “aggressive” customer behaviour and “brutal” conditions in fire sale

Masters – A failure of corporate governance?

Employees at Masters Home Improvement say they are facing aggression and abuse from customers as the hardware store continues to liquidate $700 million of stock.

Over the weekend shoppers took to social media to complain about disgruntled employees on the floor of the hardware stores.

However, a number of past and current Masters employees have since contacted SmartCompany to say that uncertainty about the future of the business has taken a toll on team members. Several said they are receiving routine abuse and aggression from customers demanding even bigger discounts, while facing larger volumes of shoppers than they had ever experienced in store.

“We are running on skeleton crew as that is all we have left. Most staff have moved on to new jobs and we are all working [overtime] to try and keep up,” one comment writer said in response to yesterday’s SmartCompany report.

“We understand your frustration at times as we are customers on our days off to [sic], but it is not necessary to be an arrogant pig to the people who serve you at your local hardware store,” said another individual, claiming to be a Masters employee.

SmartCompany understands that while staff members have been told to keep a “business as usual” attitude to their day-to-day operations, they have been experiencing routine abuse from customers, including some instances of threats of violence over sales items.

Several staff expressed disappointment that so far the media has pointed blame at employees, rather than parent company Woolworths, after it announced the intention to close all stores by December 11.

Staff say they are encountering customers who have never shopped in Masters stores prior to the liquidation sale, and that the drive to find bargains has resulted in some shoppers hurling abuse at staff who were set to lose their jobs.

“I have been called all manner of curse words, including my integrity, intelligence, and morals called into question by customers for the most tedious of reasons,” one Masters employee told SmartCompany.

“We as team members have been predominantly poorly treated by customers during this whole ordeal.”

“Just take a minute to think about how these families feel,” a reader said through a comment on a SmartCompany article.

“Not sure of their future and just before Christmas too. It is NOT THEIR fault management screwed up the business. It is NOT THEIR fault that your greedy selves can only get 10% off.”

Others say they have been trying their hardest in a difficult situation and that these were some of the most “brutal” days in their retail careers.

“We still go to work with smiles on our faces, snacks in our pockets to keep us going and a lot of encourage words get thrown around after a long hard day,” said one employee on Facebook.

In August Woolworths announced it would exit its failed venture into the home improvement space and stated its intention to close all stores by December 11, 2016.

In its initial announcement to exit the business, Woolworths said it would work hard to find staff members “jobs within the Group, or will pay full redundancy where suitable roles are not available”.

Some customers have also reached out in sympathy to employees of the business, who face uncertain job prospects in the lead-up to Christmas.

“Have some thought for them and stop your bloody complaining. Your world hasn’t fallen apart,” one SmartCompany reader suggested.

Concerns were also raised about welfare of meet and greet staff and those who had to work outside in poor conditions, holding promotional signs for the sale.

This is not the first time a large scale liquidation sale has caused tension between staff members and customers. At the end of 2015 sales at electronics retailer Dick Smith, employees were accused by angry customers of hoarding sales stock, while employees explained the stresses caused by a sudden influx of new shoppers.

Masters staff are telling customers to be calm between now and the official closure of stores at the year’s end – or shop elsewhere.

“If you like Bunnings then shop there and speak to them when their price increases next year,” said one comment writer.

SmartCompany contacted Woolworths for comment on the issue but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Rohan
Rohan
4 years ago

I’m not surprised. I’ve been on the side of the counter that the Masters employee’s are when you’re swamped. It’s stressful especially when narcissistic self entitled customers believe that their excrement smells like roses. So they think they can simply treat the people serving them like garbage.

Was in my local Masters store on the weekend and it was pure chaos. I do have significant sympathy for the staff there who all looked stressed.

Still a lot of stock there too. Still worth shopping to get that 10% discount.

Staff
Staff
4 years ago

I would like to personally thank those that are supporting us Masters staff. It truly is a hard time at the moment. Most days I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s so hard to get my head around it all myself and how this is going to impact me, my young children, my finances ect. To then put on a smile, walk through the door and be reminded again and again that the place I truly love working at is closing. I LOVE Masters but all the slander is so depressing. I am the first to greet you with a smile and help you but I have had sooo many customers that are rude to you the moment they open their mouth. I have been threatened and disrespected by customers some that were on illegal substances and told by others that “they are glad we are losing our jobs”
You wouldn’t say that if I was your best friend or sister so I don’t see why people say it at all. It’s bullying, and IT HURTS. I know its frustrating for customers and we honestly understand, everything is out of our control now, but please don’t blame or take it out on us. We aren’t doing this on purpose to upset anyone. We don’t always know what’s changing day to day. I do know we are doing our best. And most of us aren’t rude to those that are not rude to us!

Rube
Rube
4 years ago
Reply to  Staff

There is still such a thing as Karma… the people being horrible will have it come their way at some stage. Chin up..
I think you are doing an amazing job just being there..

Rube
Rube
4 years ago

I have recently left the employ of Masters. I added many hours of unpaid work time to my store to get my commitments to customers finished and my area in good shape – my choice. Most customers I dealt with were reasonable yet the few would come in to me telling me that it was no wonder we’d be closing.
The staff do their best every day under extreme stress. Management are looking after themselves and although HR have been appointed to see how they will place the 7700 people who will soon be out of work I actually fear that they are just being led on by the management to get them to the end. Payouts are being questioned, job roles changed when they have become redundant so they dont have to pay out for that. The whole thing is shonky.. When you do ask questions the information from above is so vast that you dont know who to believe.
I love all my workmates.. they fight on with cheerful smiles yet are all crying at the end of the day… THIS IS NOT THEIR FAULT!
Customers just need to learn to chill.
My other thought is that maybe this is all just a tax write off. Otherwise Woolworths would have made a real effort in advertising and getting behind their brand. And would have put hardware management into position instead of unknowledgeable managers.

Radioman
Radioman
4 years ago

Oh gosh, speaking as a Dick Smith worker who went through the “fire sale” and closure and watched as customers went completely FERAL!! I must say “I’m so surprised!”

Yes Sheldon, that is sarcasm

Big Breno
Big Breno
4 years ago

We have dealt with Masters 4 times in the last week and have shocked at how aggressive and disrespectful the response to every question we have asked. We weren’t rude, as this article would suggest, we were simply asking general product questions. My wife rang to ask if an item was available, as we didn’t want to go to the store unless we absolutely had to

Rube
Rube
4 years ago
Reply to  Big Breno

Unfortunately so many of the staff have been abused now that they find it hard to disassociate. There are simply not enough staff to go running to see if your stock item is there.. stretched thin and abused it would be nicer if there was some understanding of this.. it is new knowledge now that the phone doesnt ring instore anymore. You can ring a number for queries that is in a recorded message.. hopefully they can help you. I’m not at all sure that the staff member was being deliberately rude when she made that comment.. in fact there would have been a queue of resentful, angry people in front of her looking for instant answers as well.

Kevin Fazlic
Kevin Fazlic
4 years ago

Ive been in the store as customer and witnessed the rude,intimidating behaviour of selfish greedy customers. You didn’t shop there when you could have made a differenceand now that you smell blood in the water you revert back to your inner child.
Are those complaining about switched off staff serious?, they are out of a job , many may lose their homes or cars etc and all you can worry about is yourself wtf!.
What surprises me is how tolerant they are as I hope the next time they cop abuse they tell the customer to shove it.
Personally thanks Masters for your great friendly service,heated stores,your high merchandising standards, none of which were available at your opposition.
This predicament you’ve found yourself in reminds me of the BETA vs VHS wars of the 80s, sometimes due to public apathy the best format doesn’t win.

Brigette
Brigette
4 years ago

Why blame the employees, they don’t make the prices, they didn’t close down the stores. Why aren’t the people up top in the store addressing these aggressive customers. The staff in the stores have been thrown into a mess that they have no control over. People are now flooding the stores to get the bargains, which I have seen before in stocktake sales. Customers are rude, and expect everything for nothing. You try being on your feet all day, trying to assist numerous customers at once, even the best customer service people can only take so much. And so what if the get the pick of the good stuff. They work there, they are losing their jobs, they are entitled to some kickbacks, it happens in most industries. I have been in the South Oakleigh store, looking for a bargain or 2, no they didn’t have what I wanted. But I found the team member helpful, with my stupid questions about clotheline, and I saw another spending over 30 mins with one customer helping work out how much flooring they would need to cover an odd shaped room. ( Personally I feel he went above and beyond what his role is). So instead of attacking the staff at store level, go knocking on the doors of the Management at head office, hiding from the Kaos.

Carol
Carol
4 years ago

I have witnessed some of the abuse and yes, it is abuse that the Masters staff receive. These guys work extremely long hours, they are working double and triple time to cover the shifts as other employees leave and with little reward for all the hard work they put in. These staff love their jobs, they are friendly and trying to do their best to assist everyone. They are human – just like you and me. They have not been trained in conflict management or difficult discussions, but still under extreme duress, go to work each day knowing that they will be subject to more abuse. Cut them some slack – they want to continue the good service they have always provided, they just need some support from customers to enable to do this.

Mick
Mick
4 years ago

Don’t be mistake, that business close down, because it had the worse management and workers who are the blame for the fail.once in Nerang I had that old short guy who try to sell me a fridge , completely useless.

Zeafer
Zeafer
3 years ago

Customers can be painful to deal with in every retail environment. High-stress situations such as store Closures make this worse. I sincerely hope the customers can show some understanding, as the store-level staff will be overworked and feeling undervalued.

My 2 cents: Pricing and management are the key reasons for Masters’ failure. No wonder customers are frustrated when the “clearance” prices on some items are still 30%+ more expensive than competitors. Also, someone may want to ask how much value there is in the warehouse full of “gun display cases” the American partner thought would be worthwhile importing. I guess at least they’ve minimised their losses…