Published October 22, 1998
Volume 6, Number 10

Pam Chadwick Continues Her Teaching Career, Even as a Retail Manager

Pam Chadwick has only been with Borders since 1994, but she's not new to books. 

"I really, really like books," she says. "I like the way they look stacked, I like the way they smell. I like to unpack them and, most importantly, I like to read the insides of them." 

With that kind of affinity for the printed page, it's clear that books have played an important role throughout her life. After graduating from the University of Michigan, majoring in English, Chadwick taught high school English for eleven years. 

Pam Chadwick"I knew from age 15 or 16 on that I wanted to be an English teacher," she explains, "and to me it was the most worthwhile job I ever did." 

She notes that while she may have held the title of teacher, she may have been learning more than the students. 

"When I had to teach someone else how to read, how to critique writing, and how to write, I learned how to really read, critique, and write," she says. 

When she moved with her husband in the early eighties to Northern California, she decided it was time for a change. 

"After 26 years or so of being a student and a teacher, I really wanted to graduate and be out of the classroom," she says. 

After spotting an ad seeking an English major, she was hired as an assistant to the VP of marketing at Victoria's Secret. 

"It was really a glorified secretarial position, but it allowed me in 10 or 12 months' time to eventually do editing, publicity, and some of the writing for the catalog," she notes. 

After Victoria's Secret was bought out and moved to Columbus, Ohio, Chadwick started a retail business with a woman she had met at Victoria's Secret. The product line was similar, but the focus was exclusively on the corporate woman. The stores were successful, but when the leases to her Embarcadero and Rincon Center locations came up after eight years, she came back to books and was hired by Borders in 1994.

She sees a lot of similarities between teaching and her current job, in ways that might be surprising. 

"We have to teach staff how to connect customers with product," she explains. "Really, that's what I was doing in the classroom: connecting productwhich was an intangible at the time, literature and writingwith the customer, who was my student. 

"And," she continues, "I had to make it fun and interesting. That's what makes all good stores really work, when the customers have fun."

Training bookstore staff poses some unique challenges. In addition to customer service skills, Chadwick notes that her employees must possess knowledge of the current book market as well as books in the media and the store layout. That way, they can help customers with their sometimes sketchy descriptions of the books they seek.

"We have customers who come to the information desk and say, 'I heard about a book on the TV and it has something to do with sugar and I don't know the author or the whole title. Where is it?' That's kind of the treasure hunt that's fun for us."

The biggest change from the classroom is what Chadwick refers to as the "orchestrated commotion" of the book store. 

"Everything looks calm and peaceful on the floor, but when you see the back room We have to hand deliver and shelve and account for everything on the floor. It's very physical work."

She notes that the Pleasanton store's sales gives a certain insight into the community. 

"The number one section in the store is audio books," she says. "There are 240 stores and we are almost always in the top ten in audio books." With the number of commuters that pass the store on I-580 each day, it's little wonder. 

Computer and business books are also big sellers, to the degree that they'll be undergoing a retrofit on the store and enlarging those sections. Children's books are also extremely popular. 

"We've been very well received and we want to continue doing well," she adds.

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