We've seen the storefronts. The gaudy red and white stickers, the tape, the t-shirts, the YOLO SWAG SALE.
We've made the jokes. The same ones every year: "Gee I wonder if EB Games is having a sale?". You walk into the store, crack some funnies with the staff. Good times.
But there's an untold story.
We've gone behind the scenes of these bizarre sales. How does it all get put together? What are the instructions? What does it take out of EB's long-suffering staff, and what happens when you have to rip it all down?
We spoke to numerous current and ex-EB Games employees to find out what it takes to set-up an EB Games sale.
Buckle in people.
Some names have been changed to protect anonymity.
The Prep Work
We would pull every game off every shelves, even the shelves themselves would come off the walls. We would wallpaper the walls, the roof, the counter, everything we could with giant red "SALE" signs. Then we would put everything back together again - the whole store. The games would be un-stickered and re-stickered. The windows filled with flyers. I spent more time setting up and packing down sales than any other task while working at EB Games. It was taken very seriously.
I remember I spent a whole day's working in the backroom gutting games and their instruction manuals out of boxes in preparation of the upcoming sale, never stepping foot outside or making a single sale that day.
I actually enjoyed setting up the sales.
I heard some murmurings of a "sale" coming up from the full-time staff. The software we used back then started dropping hints of the horrors to come. Merchandise prices were no longer ending with 0.95, but started ending with 0.20, 0.30, 0.50, and other bizarre values...
I remember the managers always made it a big deal, even though it was literally "make tables and shelves out of cardboard and cover the shit out of it in this red plastic wrap stuff that smelt like melted skin".
What I find amazing is that I left in Feb 2005 and it is exactly the same.
There is a guide that needs to be followed on what goes where and how it should be set up.
We were given a guide to go by, for the 'bare minimum' type approach, but I remember the Area/State managers were always like, "make it MORE red", which seemed like a fun joke at the time, until you realised they were serious.
There was an event on after hours one night where every manager from that district is expected to attend. They set up this one store using the guide. The idea is that everyone can see what level is expected of them. The guide is very specific about the shelving layout, promo locations, counter displays, everything. If you go to two different EB Games during the sales period you should see the exact same layout.
Setting up one of these sales takes a lot of effort and had to be done after hours. We were expected to come in after hours - with no pay - to set it up.
For the first time in my experience, we were being sent packs of large cardboard boxes - diligently wrapped with plastic tape in bundles of 10. We were lucky to have some off-site storage within the shopping centre, for the box bundles just kept coming... and coming... and coming...
The most intense part was wrapping the ceiling with rolls of 'sale' plastic.
Setting up those sales was basically hanging out with friends, you just happened to be at your workplace. You would come in after close, plug in someones iPod, crank music and proceed to trash the store. We'd get pizza delivered and just have fun. Sure, it was unpaid after hours work, but it was surprisingly fun.
""Just put more on!" - Area manager, multiple instances.
"Where?" was often our response. The roof, the floor, no surface was safe.
"People have to walk there," we'd say. "They'll fit, just do it" the managers would say."
The goal is to always make it look like the shop is having a closing down sale.
Cardboard Box makeshift tables, Red sale wrap and endless rolls of sale stickers was all that we saw for days on end.
We were never forced into helping set-up the store. Our managers were grateful for those that could spare the time and rewarded us by buying us dinner (mostly pizza) from their own money in a way of saying thank you.
Now reality was starting to hit. We self-formed groups to set up the store, focusing on the product placement, the banner hanging, STICKER ALL THE THINGS, and so on. The plastic sale banners come in giant rolls, and we unrolled it like a massive Hollywood red carpet and let our scissors and our creative minds get to work with wreaking havoc on the store. We kept to our brief: paint the town red.
I was quite sick at the time of my one big sale so I said I'd come in for an hour or two to help but couldn't promise much more.
No-one else but the two managers showed up. So it was the three of us trying to get it done before security kicked us out at midnight. Our only direction from regional managers was "as over the top as possible". Just go nuts, they said. The three of us had to work our ass off.
When it was clear we weren't going to get it done in time, my husband offered to come in and help, with another friend with whom he was having dinner. So not only was I giving away my unpaid labour but now people who didn't even work there were coming to help us out.
Let me tell you, there is a lot of plastic going up over lights and ventilation. Going up on ladders with no air and melting plastic in your face does not good OH & S make.
Some people really get into it and go above and beyond, making all sorts of giant ornaments out of the excessive sale wrap and dummy boxes you are given. My favourite part was always how it covered up the fluro lighting making it cave like and way easier on the eyes for a month.
Sometimes a few of us staff would you know, try and be creative and make something fun out of all the wrap and cardboard — a fire breathing sale dragon, for example — but that was often quashed for a more sensible 'cover literally fucking everything in this red stuff that says sale'.
There was a daily bulletin in the system that would show stores that had gone all out the hardest as a sort of competition for managers to make their store look as crazy as possible.
Pushing The Limits
Every EB would get complaints from centre management because the store front looked so messy.
We'd often get into verbal scraps with the Westfield concierge for having things protruding from the front of the store, or being an 'eye sore'. This was encouraged though — EB wanted to dominate that stretch of the shopping center.
We were also instructed to push that main sale table at the front out a little further each day until centre management complains to you.
"A Red-Hued Sweaty Discount Dungeon"
The worst thing about working with them is the temp increase in the store.
Our clean, white, semi-minimalist store had been transformed into some blood-stained, suffocating, and hot sweatbox - the heat from the inefficient lighting bounced off the plastic banners, making the air condition struggle to perform. The smell of the plastic never leaves you.
All that plastic just radiates heat. We removed the [sales signs] blocking the heater in our old store to make the store habitable to humans. Our regional manager made us put them back up.
They definitely prioritised the sale signs. If one was being wrecked by an air-conditioner, they would move it but it would take it falling down on its own to free them up.
I never had someone say "wow, this glowing crimson sauna really makes a lovely shopping environment".
It's the actual sales period that makes you or breaks you.
People flooded into our store.
Customers would get snappy, with each other, and us. It was like the church scene from Kingsmen.
The best case scenarios were a neutral reaction, no one came in saying "I love what you've done with the place!" Some people hated it but they were fairly few and far between.
The worst thing about the sale was you got to see how desperate people would get and try and steal things.
The Guy Who Shoved A PSP Down His Pants
One year we had a demo PSP in-store before its release in September of that year. We kept it on a red lanyard that we tied around our wrist when handing it over to customers to demo in hopes their interest would have them pre-order one. I was on the floor talking to customers with a line-of-sight on the counter and the entrance and spotted a guy just casually walk behind our counter, pick it up from between our two cash tills and shove it down the front of his pants.
I approached him. Never touching him, put out my hand and kindly asked him for the PSP back. He was shocked he had been caught and said, "I just wanted one and can't afford it". I took it back (holding it by the lanyard that hadn't entered his pants of course) and told him to wait right and asked my manager to call the centre security, but when I turned my back he pushed pass me and bolted.
I left the PSP with my manager to spray and wipe with disinfectant.
The Tear Down
The worst part was peeling the stickers off once the sale was over.
Sticker, sticker, sticker product until your fingers bleed out with paper cuts.
Every year on the final day of the sale, we celebrated — tearing down boxes and sale wrap. We were always surprised by how big our tiny store was once the piles of red sale wrap and boxes were removed.
Every employee would always get sore underneath their fingernails from peeling off all the darn stickers. Taking down the sale was kind of a silly affair most of the time, tearing it down in a rage, jumping into the sales tables made of boxes, that sort of thing.
Yeah there was some demons being exorcised in the tear down for sure. It was literally rip and tear.
It was cult like, how zealous the area managers were about it all. I feel like I learned alot from my time there.
About people. About cults.
I'm glad I never have to do it again!
Now that I'm out I mostly feel bad for the staff.
I often mouth "G E T O U T" to them.
They're the ones who suffer.