In our regular #MyFirstMcjob series, industry high fliers remember when they were still soaring low
Hi, Ian! Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Ian Storrar. I'm co-founder and CEO of thisspace, a marketplace to find and share space in your community. We all went through, are going through, a pandemic of loneliness. My mission is to help people build community connections in local spaces. It turns out there are billions of square feet of unused real estate in churches and other faith properties around the world. Sadly, increasingly in places like pubs too. We’re on a journey to reimagine third spaces and community.
What was your #MyFirstMcJob?
Working at Safeway in the Gyle Shopping Centre in Edinburgh.
How did you get that job?
I went round shops looking for advertisements and handed in my CV. I was rejected from McColls for a £2.15 an hour job first. Safeway paid over £3!
What did you have to do?
I was a shelf stacker in the fresh food department, so the food that's in the fridge and on the adjacent shelves like bread, butter, milk, fresh juice, and yoghurt. Most of my shifts were spent, as we called it, “beasting it”, going into the fridges, pulling out massive pallets of butter or yogurt and trying to whack them on the shelves as fast as possible to keep things moving during peak hours.
How long did you work there?
Every Friday and Saturday during my final year of school.
Did anything funny happen or go wrong?
There were some real characters, especially the people who worked full time, while I was just the local schoolboy working on weekends. There was this dolly cart stacked maybe 15 or 20 boxes high with 100s of pots of yogurt. Somebody took one out too fast, which led to this slow tsunami of yogurt pots coming over the side. You can imagine the mess. We tried to desperately salvage what we could, but most had to go in the bin. The manager was this big guy called James, I think, who was pink and round in the cheeks, so it was just a matter of time before he found out and went bright red. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I can remember dreading the anticipation of him turning up and telling us off.
What were the perks of the job?
Nothing particularly exciting. There was a subsidised canteen or snack machine. I think I got a family discount. I definitely have a memory of my mum doing the shop on a Friday night and waving me over so she could use my staff discount card to get 10% off.
What skills did you learn at Safeway that you might still use today?
Working under pressure. There was limited time with busy periods, so you had to keep the shelves stocked. Being on your toes. We had to get the food out as quickly possible. Some was quite heavy, like putting 24 tubs of lard on the shelves, each weighing a kilo. There was a very disciplined customer-facing work ethic. If somebody was looking for something, you’d walk them over rather than just pointing them, so you’d end up helping a lot of confused old ladies when something was moved to a different aisle. Those skills are very much applicable in my start-up today.
Are you in contact with anyone you worked with?
This was 1999, 2000. There was no Facebook or LinkedIn so we didn’t have a way to connect as alumni. When I sold Orange mobile phones on the high street at uni, there were people I would also have liked to stay in touch with. So, I'm not in touch. I’d like to I think they all moved on and had interesting careers.
Why is alumni important?
You build relationships, help each other out, or can just be sounding boards or references. I probably don't need a reference from Safeway anymore! But things are much easier when you have those bonds and a way of building communities, even if it’s decades later. Being able to reactivate those bonds in a natural way is important.
What would happen if you went back and did a shift at Safeway today?
It’s now a Morrison's because Safeway was sold off about 20 years ago. I’d have a better sense now having done a lot of different jobs and put in more shifts in various places. But I think it would be hard work!
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?
I used to walk a long journey to Safeway that was disparaging in the cold winter nights. I would've rather been with my friends. So, I’d try to live in the moment, and appreciate that the skills that you learn you can apply to the next job, because, no matter what you're doing, there's always something that will set you up for the next thing.