Why Working at L’Occitane (or any cosmetic giant) is the worst

I am not ever going to work for any corporate cosmetic giant again ever.  Why? That industry is just really, really fake.  From the fake smiles from management, to the fake unnatural ingredients and scents in products, I just never seem to like these corporate conglomerates that spew goo onto the masses and say that it’s skincare, that it’s beautifying.  What it is is actually taxing. To our minds, bodies and souls.  Not one of them is good. There is no difference between L’oreal, Body Shop, Bath and Body Works, and even the classy, upscale philanthropic L’Occitane En Provence. They are all about the bottom line, semi-decent products, and they don’t value their employees at all.  Most recently I gave L’Occitane a chance, and in the past I have also worked at Bath and Body Works, and you can hear about the gripes here in another article.

Okay, so I still have their sales apron...but I didn't snag it. It was actually because they were not clear when my last day would be, and I had optimistically taken it home thinking I'd be there again...
Okay, so I still have their sales apron…but I didn’t snag it. It was actually because they were not clear when my last day would be, and I had optimistically taken it home thinking I’d be there again…

When I got the seasonal position at the French cosmetic company L’Occitane last holiday season, I was optimistic about their business model.  I wanted to learn about the cosmetics industry on a corporate level, and compare it to what I did in my own cosmetic studios at dreamecosmetics, and well, my findings were just disillusioning.  Like I mentioned before, it doesn’t matter which corporation is running the show, but all of the cosmetics industry is about profit, and none of it is about self care, healing or learning. They all want to “seem” beautifying, but with a focus on profit, market shareholders, and too many corrupt people in management, it is impossible for them to fill that mission.

Things I learned at L’Occitane that is probably true of all Cosmetic Conglomerates:

  1. They only care about making sales, and it doesn’t matter how: When I was on the sales floor as a seasonal rep, management was always nervous about me helping customers.  Like I would negate a sale, and that their other permanent reps would do better.  Well, what about letting me learn, and earn my keep there?  No, they preferred that I defer customers to other staff rather than I learn how to sell their product. Short term gains over long term investment in educating me to be part of their team. Typical.
  2. The products were over priced, over hyped, and just idealized too much.  L’Occitane’s hair care, skin care, and perfumes were at least triple the price of most common name brands at the pharmacy, and they did little to justify the cost of them.  Instead we had to focus on the heritage of the company, how it was a beautiful region of France that it originated from, and how this magically meant that a hand cream could be $32 a tube.  Well, even if they were slightly better in quality, did we really have to believe that it was made of rainbows and centuries of heritage from the south of France?  No, obviously not.  But we had to pedal that image to customers, or face the wrath of being sent to the stock room. Which leads me to point 3…
  3. I got sent to the stockroom to do menial tasks more often than not. I was really good with customers and had knowledge about skincare and fashion, but instead of using this knowledge, they put me in the backroom to unload stock for most of the day, then sent me back to the sales floor, then sent me back to the stock.  I wasn’t treated like I was a valuable part of the team. Why hire seasonal sales staff if you are not willing to treat them well for the short time they are there? I cut my fingers deeply twice during the time that I worked there, because of the menial tasking they delegated to me…and I was not hired to be a backroom stock person, seasonal or not.
  4. Management fakery: This was the main reason of all my stress there.  Because head office only spoke with the managers and only looked at the bottom line, a crappy manager could get away with a lot, and even get a promotion (which she did during the time I was there to District Manager).  The manager for L’Occitane told me I had a good chance at getting a permanent position after serving my seasonal one, but also hired another seasonal staff that I felt I had to compete with.  Even though I felt I was the more qualified one (ie. years of retail experience) the other seasonal eventually became permanent.  In hindsight, I doubt that the manager ever wanted to put me as a permanent staff.  She just wanted to use me for the short period and then drop me the minute she could…which is what she did in the most unprofessional manner: She didn’t even tell me that they would not be renewing my contract.  I had to assume this when she sent me a staff schedule that didn’t have dates past my contract end.  That’s right…I was just supposed to shrivel away….and disappear.  As if!
  5. They had the laziest permanent staff: I never saw a more lazy sales team than that of the permanent staff at L’Occitane.  They complained about standing around with nothing to do.  They chatted and gossiped at large about nothing in particular, and the worst of their problems was who would get the early shift the next day.  Customers were annoying to them, and they often didn’t even like the products they sold and were dispassionate. They barely shared information with me about what they knew about the company, and often compensated for their professional distance with asking personal questions about my private life.  All in all, it was not cool, and I have never felt less useful as a worker in my life.  And this was at a posh store like L’Occitane.  It’s sad, really.
  6. Brand Image Hypocrisy: Because of the high prices/high end image L’Occitane held in the marketplace, they had to have a more “philanthropic” image to show to the public.  They often talked about how they donate to noble causes such as associations for the blind, and “Dress for Success”; an initiative that gave second hand clothes to marginalized women so that they can get jobs.  Now here is the irony: I’m sure L’occitane hires a lot of women in need during the holidays as seasonal sales.  And well, what would of been nice of them to do was not only to pay our temporary wages, but to instill management to treat the seasonal staff with more respect–it doesn’t cost the bottom line. If a company wants to support under-served women and community…why not start with their staff?  I am a long time retail worker, I could use a bit of respect on top of the meager wages any day.

After finding out the hard way that they didn’t renew my contract, I was obviously upset. The manager encouraged me to keep in contact with the company and the store, so that they can keep having a relationship with me as a worker.  But honestly, corporations that alienate the work force have little to no chance of a relationship with me. If I was a valuable member of their sales team last holiday, then ultimately it’s their loss, and not mine.



Is Bath and Body Works racist?

This is me in front of the offending store. Boo!

Okay, so this entry is as political as I’ll get.  I don’t usually like playing the “race card“. It’s too done. Being the first generation of my family to be born here in Toronto, one of the most multi cultural places in the world, I haven’t really ever felt racism. I mean there were awkward times during my high school years where I didn’t fit in with the main cliques, partly do to the fact that I was a small, withdrawn Asian girl that didn’t play sports…but other than that, I’ve lived without any major discomfort due to my Chinese background.

This doesn’t mean that I’m not sensitive to it.  I am well aware of some Asian stereotypes, and I still do fight them today.  But most recently I had a brief stint working as a seasonal sales staff at Bath and Body Works.  And it was one of the worst employment experiences I’ve ever had.  I wanted to work in the cosmetics industry because it is my interest, so I went in for an interview, even though I had my reservations to work for such a big box company.  It was a group interview involving me, a busty redhead from the UK and a BBW manager that shall remain nameless.  So as I battled it out with the Brit, answering questions for this position, I realized that with my superior knowledge of the make-up industry and my retail sales experience in general, I kind of blew her out of the water.  But at the end of the interview, we both got the position.  That’s fine or is it?  It turns out that that there were only so many hours that could be doled out, so it would mean that me and the Brit would be splitting the little shifts that there was.  I worked 3 hours a week during the brief stint, barely worth getting out of bed for.

Luckily, two weeks and miserably into the position at BBW, I got a call from another make-up company ready to take me on!  I went for the interview, and it was immediate click.  They knew I knew my stuff.  And I knew I wanted to be with them.  No jumping over hurdles, battling it out with a red head, fighting over three hours shifts.  I could relax and know I got the position, because I was qualified.  I decided however to finish one more day at BBW before letting them know I was quitting.  Big mistake.  On this day, they didn’t let me talk to customers, I was put on bag duty, which is double bagging bags.  😦 Then I was sent to the back room to cut box trays.  I know this was prep for Black Friday, but I couldn’t help but feel that they didn’t appreciate me, and I finally noticed that all the front line staff that day were white.  When I looked at the next weeks’ schedule, I had only 1 on-call shift, while the new hire UK girl had gotten 2 shifts.  It had nothing to do with me being a new hire then.  What else could it have been other than race?  Hmm, I can’t prove it, but I sure felt it.  To make matters worse, they gave me a shotty knife to cut the boxes with and I ended up straining my two fore fingers, and they ended up turning numb!  For one week my fingers were numb and were not the same and even as I’m typing now, my index finger is still weird.  BBW, I truly hate thou.  The next day, I phoned in my resignation, and danced for joy, having a way better job to fall back on!  I will write more about my new job in another entry soon!

As a side note, despite what BBW did to me, don’t shop there anyways.  They could be possibly racist, but also, their products suck.  They all smell the same, and are loaded with synthetic chemicals that are junky.  You heard it from me first!

Check out the following video.  It shows that racism in the retail workplace does totally exist.