Comic Strip / Retail

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/retail_6960.jpg
"Yeah, I couldn't possibly be right about anything. I'm wearing a nametag."
Marla Masters

Retail is a comic strip created by Norm Feuti (also the creator of Gil). Set in a fictional store called Grumbel's, it's a satire of the world of minimum-wage department store jobs.

The strip centers around an assistant manager (later promoted to store manager) named Marla Masters. While she's a good boss, she can't stand the bureaucratic nonsense set by the corporate offices, the intolerant and abusive customers, the ditzy and spaced-out employees, and the stigmas associated with retail workers. Other than that, she likes her job.

Marla is most often seen working alongside Cooper, a stock boy with a sarcastic wit, geeky tastes and a dim outlook about his job; Val, an aspiring writer and encouraging friend of Marla's who wants her to move onto bigger and better things; and Stuart, the store manager (later District Manager) who sucks up to his superiors, follows every rule to the letter, and is a generally ineffectual boss.

Feuti has written a book based around Retail, called Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook. "This Is So Bogus My Head Hurts", a collection of the strip's first year, is available here.

Provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: A Halloween storyline in 2008 took a break from the strip proper to feature a horror story written by Val. The story abruptly ended a few days in without resolution and the comic returned to its normal hijinks without comment until a 2010 strip had Val getting ribbed for the quality of the story.
  • Accidental Misnaming: One of the running gags was that the district manager Jerry could never remember Marla's name, often calling her "Darla." Eventually it was revealed that he only pretended to not know her name. After that he started calling her by her real name.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Marla Masters, Cooper Costello, Stuart Suchet
  • Art Evolution: The strip's art was more cartoonish in the early years, which got toned down as time went by. Stuart in particular had a longer head, which got more rounded in recent years; Cooper's nickname for him, "Zucchini Head," makes much more sense when you look at the early strips.
  • Author Filibuster: The "Cooper gets an appendectomy, then gets hit with the bill" arc (August-September 2008) is transparently Feuti's two cents on the issue of healthcare (a hot topic back then, considering that a certain presidential candidate was promising to do something about it...).
  • Babies Ever After: Marla gives birth to daughter Fiona in the strips from Easter weekend of 2012.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Poor Marla. Anyone who has to deal with Stuart all day has to be beleaguered.
  • Benevolent Boss: Marla is shown as a very competent, level-headed manager who is consistently frustrated by her higher-ups.
    • In a way, Cooper and Lunker's boss at the convenience store, even saying that the two are the best employees the store ever had (for not stealing anything). But that may be because of his low standards.
  • Blackmail: Cooper once blackmailed Stuart into giving him extra hours on the job after discovering that he will lose his job if the inventory goes poorly. He also blackmailed Stuart on another occasion to protect Marla's job.
    • Courtney begins blackmailing Marla on overhearing that she's planning to open her own store. Her demands are to have all Friday nights and Saturday mornings off, a demand which Marla points out to Val is worth accepting since Courtney always calls in sick for those shifts anyway. Marla eventually ends up firing Courtney. Last time we saw her, she was working at a coffee place in the mall.
  • Bland-Name Product: The store name is a play on the now-defunct Gimbels department store chain. The font used for the logo is similar as well.
    • The new girl Amber comes from Abersnobby and Finch, and frequently mentions how shallow and demeaning the place is.
    • One strip mentions a supermarket with even worse employee care called Big W Mart.
  • Bonus Material: Cooper's Retail Blog
    • The number used in the barcode of the logo used to be an actual phone number. People could call it, and leave their retail stories on the answer phone. Unfortunately as newspapers didn't always display the logo, the idea was eventually dropped due to lack of interest.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The health care subplot ended with Cooper conveniently winning the $20,000 he needed to pay off his hospital bill, along with a note that he had a benevolent cartoonist that looked out for him.
    • Cooper leaves Donnie in charge of the stockroom even though Lunker has seniority. Donnie asks why Lunker declined the opportunity:
    Lunker: Lunker not want to be focus of next week storyline.
    Donnie: Oh... Wait, what?
  • Butt Monkey: Cooper is typically on the receiving end of most of management's dumb ideas.
  • Call Back: The Goofy Grumbel costume, which Cooper wore in a 2006 strip, reappeared 10 years later when they received a new shipment. In both strips, Cooper volunteered to wear it because it means he doesn't have to deal with customers all day.
  • Cassandra Truth: Josh becomes this in the storyline where he overhears Val and Marla discussing Val's plans to go to Disney World with Cooper. Because their relationship is against Grumbel's policy, he goes over Marla's head to report them all to Stuart, but Amber catches wind of it and alerts Cooper in time. Cooper then pulls off a clever stunt to make it look like Josh is Crying Wolf (see Token Shipping, below).
  • Catapult Nightmare: Happened to Cooper a few times (pretty much a Running Gag, really). Including one instance where he dreamt that Stuart wished everyone a Happy Easter, while naked inside a giant plastic Easter egg. Eeew...
  • Character Blog: The now-defunct Cooper's Retail Blog, which sadly was discontinued due to time constraints - and according to Feuti, he lost the original material.
  • Character Filibuster: Marla rants about the insanity of retail life a lot. She even has a long manifesto on the subject.
  • Cheated Angle: There was an inventory supervisor in 2010 who wore an eye-patch that changed sides depending on what angle he was facing.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Mina, who was set up to be Marla's rival at Delman's, made several appearances throughout 2013 and 2014, but she eventually disappeared, not making any appearances in 2015. She appeared in one 2016 strip, however.
  • Conservation of Competence: The low-level employees are almost all smart. The managers and corporate suits are almost all idiots. Marla, once she becomes store manager, averts the trope, as did the short-lived district manager Connie.
  • Cool Big Sis: Cooper regards Marla as one of these, in his own words when speaking to Scott.
  • Curse Cut Short: When Marla found out that Josh lied about getting a job offer from another store in order to get himself a raise, she only managed to say "that son of a -" before another character interrupted her.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Stuart, believe it or not, when he saw Marla's baby.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: How Lana describes working for Grumbel's:
    Working here has truly invigorated my desire to achieve my goals.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marla, Cooper, and Val.
  • Delegation Relay: "Did they want a manager, or the manager?"
  • Demoted to Extra: Stuart still appears in the strip, but after being promoted to district manager he doesn't show up as much.
    • This trope no longer applies as of late, as he's been showing up at least once a week in the strip, whether through a phone call to Marl or during a store inspection.
  • Deus ex Machina: Lampshaded by the last strip of the "Cooper gets an appendectomy" arc. "Cooper has a benevolent cartoonist who can write a convenient solution for his health care woes."
  • The Ditz: Courtney, who is meant to parody all the incompetent people behind the register.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Cooper frequently refers to Stuart as "Zucchini Head" behind his back...and sometimes directly to him.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: After a fashion. In a 2008 strip, Stuart just can't understand why Connie (the new District Manager) would want to help them with inventory pre-counts.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Retail is a strip about... retail.
  • Exact Words: After Cooper is busted for parking his electric car in the stockroom, he specifically tells Marla that she won't see it there again.
    • Genre Savvy: Marla's response is to note that the phrasing is suspicious, but she's going to choose to ignore it.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: No matter what the workers at Grumbel's do, someone won't be happy. And rest assured, they're going to hear about it.
    • Cooper will never win the Halloween costume contest (legitimately). Furthermore, no one will ever appreciate his costumes. One year had a plot in which he dressed as a "normal" character instead of as a geek icon... everyone except him dressed as geeky characters instead. It turned out to be All Just a Dream.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Type 1, where anyone who works in retail long enough becomes jaded and cynical.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: Attempted, but abandoned - the number in the barcode in the comic's logo was once a real number where readers could submit their retail stories, but as most Sunday papers omitted the title panel, nobody ever called the number and it was eventually disconnected.
  • Gentle Giant: Lunker, unless he's flipping out on Stuart.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: One strip featured Val telling Cooper about her friend's online business. When asked what she sold, Val replied, "her dignity and self-respect." It's pretty clear from the context what she really meant...
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Marla has a moment after an encounter with a exceptionally clueless customer.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: After a fashion. Marla, whose pregnancy was revealed in August 2011, doesn't want it made public until she passes the 12-week mark; only she, Scott, and Val know about it. This leads to Stuart looking even more unreasonable than usual when she calls in sick, because he doesn't know what's causing it and thinks she's looking for another job. He's actually rather considerate once he knows the truth.
  • Hired for Their Looks: Courtney was hired solely for her looks and tends to take lots of "sick days" sometimes showing up at the mall to shop on said days looking perfectly healthy. But Stuart refuses to fire her.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: One storyline has Stuart passing on the job of doing presentation to Marla in order to get out of doing it. Marla gets even by doing the same thing and getting Cooper to do it (complete with costumes). The plan works and Stuart vows to never let her do any presentations again.
    • Wanting to get revenge on Marla for getting him in trouble with Connie (the district manager at the time), Stuart purposely doesn't tell her that they have a new D.M., wanting to make her look bad. It only half-works; while Marla does make a bad first impression, the new D.M. ended up blaming Stuart for it, saying that he should have told her that he'd be coming.
    • In a storyline where Marla takes a vacation, Josh takes over for her and Stuart abuses his Yes-Man mentality to the point of even having him wash his hubcaps. When Marla comes back, Stuart lords it over her that he intends to fire her and replace her with Josh... only to learn that Josh can't work management hours, and thus Stuart is forced to wash Marla's hubcaps to keep her from quitting.
      • Gets turned around on her later, when she fires Josh after learning about some shenanigans he pulled to secure a raise. He's already put in notice, but they aren't scheduled to hire a replacement for a few weeks. Stuart won't let her move up the time frame, chiding her for letting her temper get the better of her and forcing her to deal with the increased workload for the interim.
  • Identical Stranger: Zoe, the barista, who looks exactly like Marla with blonde hair. Marla swears she doesn't see the resemblance, but at the same time is unnerved when Cooper starts dating the other woman.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Grumbel's tends to promote based on lack of competence; its executives are prone to make arbitrary changes for their own aggrandizement at the expense of its workers and write draconian policies that make no logical sense. Just like a REAL retail shop!
  • Informed Ability: Val's writing. Cooper tells her father that it's better than a lot of published stuff, but the only instance of it we've seen is the above-mentioned Halloween story, and the other characters weren't too impressed by the quality.
  • Ironic Hell: Jasper Morley, in an obvious Shout-Out to Jacob Marley, is forced to walk the Earth wearing Grumbel's Policy and Procedure Manuals around his neck.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro-PAY: Stuart's last name, Suchet, is pronounced "soo-shay".
  • Jerkass: Stuart, often, but the (now former) district manager Jerry took the cake. In later strips, Josh fulfills the role. Sadly, admirably.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Stuart is a condescending and somewhat misogynistic district manager who always undermines his employees, but he was in the right when he chewed Marla out for letting her emotions get to her and firing Josh on the spot, rather than letting him work out the two weeks notice he originally gave her.
  • Karma Houdini: Stuart, often, although he gets his comeuppance once in a while (see Hoist by His Own Petard above).
    • Courtney certainly qualifies. Marla once tried to get her fired but Stuart refused, because she's so incompetent (and thus can be paid a lower wage). One strip showed Marla threatening to fire her, but Courtney was actually ecstatic because she saw it as an opportunity to collect unemployment checks. As Marla uttered, she's impossible to punish.
      • Averted as of June 2, 2013. Marla finally fired Courtney.
  • Liar Revealed: Josh turned out to be one after Marla found out that he fabricated the story about the competing store offering him a job with bigger salary.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Lampshaded hilariously in this strip.
  • Morning Sickness: Marla is shown to be suffering from extremely bad sickness all day long during the first several weeks of her pregnancy.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Val's dream is to get out of retail and write full-time.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Every time something won't scan a customer will say something along the lines of "it must be free then". Truth in television because cashiers often do hear that 'joke.'
  • Never My Fault: Probably Stuart's single most annoying trait is his pathological inability to take responsibility for anything bad, instead blaming Marla. This habit gets worse when he's promoted to DM. And of course he gets away with it, because he's always one step higher than Marla on the Grumbel's food chain.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Anybody who works on the floor at Grumbel's is typically nice to other retail workers.
    • This could also, arguably, be the point of the whole comic.
  • No Indoor Voice: Many of the customers communicate by shouting.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Stuart and Jerry, the district manager, always implement and follow corporate policy, no matter how ridiculous or obstructive, without question.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Lunker's real name, Mel, has only been mentioned twice throughout the strip.
    • A number of recurring customers are referred to only by nicknames coined by the staff based on their obnoxious habits, e.g. Creepy Guy.
  • Only Sane Man: Marla, but also any worker who isn't in management.
  • Only Six Faces: The main characters have distinct designs, but other people (customers, etc.) look very much alike. Jerry, for example, looks like Cooper if he was older.
  • Out Giving Birth, Back in Two Minutes: Marla's water breaks in the 4/5/2012 strip. She's holding her daughter in the 4/9/2012 strip.
  • Predatory Business: The employees are affected by their retail jobs even when they're not on the clock. The strips during one week in April 2013 illustrated different behaviors they exhibit outside of work which indicate that they're in retail.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss/Stupid Boss: Stuart, oh so much.
  • Poisonous Friend: Cooper is something of a mild version of this for Marla. He consistently keeps an ear out for any plotting by upper management which could have a detrimental effect on her career. He hasn't actually poisoned anyone over it, but hell will freeze over before he lets anything happen to her job.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: In a November 2013 storyline, Grumbel's flyers are listing the Christmas trees as "holiday trees". Marla and the staff immediately panic because they know the reactions they are going to get. Turns out that this wasn't even done deliberately; it was a proofreading error.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Quite literally.
  • Put on a Bus: Several early characters, such as Jerry (who left twice), Courtney, Keith Sanzen, and Josh, all left Grumbel's for various reasons and haven't appeared in years. Can be considered Truth in Television, since there generally is a high turnover rate in retail jobs.
    • Arthur, who replaced Josh in 2014, left the strip two years later when he got a new job.
    • The Bus Came Back: The first time Jerry left the strip, he came back about a year later. However, he left again when he retired from his job, and this time it stuck, as he hasn't appeared since 2012.
      • Keith returned as an inventory supervisor in 2014, six years after his last appearance. This was lampshaded when he revealed that his ban from the store was only for five years.
  • Put on a Bus to Hell: Arguably Josh. While he was always obnoxious and disliked by others, he was naive at best, and just wanted to be the best employee possible. However, after he was promoted assistant manager, he became more and more antagonistic, culminating with him lying about receiving a job offer from a rival store in order to secure a big raise. After some time, Marla and Stuart discovered that he lied about the offer, but opted not to fire him immediately due to it being the holiday season, and them needing all the help they can get. Josh eventually realized that they have discovered his scheme, so he quickly found a new job before they have a chance to fire him. After Josh turned his two weeks notice in, he admitted to lying about the job offer and bragged about it. Marla fired him on the spot, not letting him work out on his notice. He hasn't appeared since 2014, although he was mentioned in one 2016 strip.
  • Rank Up: In spring 2012, Stuart was offered a promotion to district manager, and urged corporate to promote Marla to store manager (so he wouldn't appear as misogynistic as Jerry). He even got them to time the promotion to coincide with her return from maternity leave. To Stuart's horror, Marla immediately promoted Cooper to stockroom supervisor.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: To some extent; the comic is based on Feuti's own real experiences in the retail world.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Marla; Connie, for her short stint as district manager
  • Right Behind Me: In one strip Marla says to Stuart that their district manager is a "mean-spirited jerk". Guess who was behind her.
  • Running Gag: "It must be free" and the ongoing hatred of that joke.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very, very deep on the cynicism side.
  • Snipe Hunt: One of the pranks Cooper likes to play on the new employees is to have them find a "wall stretcher".
    • Cooper ended up being the receiving end of this when he briefly worked in the shoe department. During his training the shoe manager was telling him about the Brannock Device, but Cooper called him out, believing that it's one of the snipe hunts. As it turned out, the Brannock Device is a real thing (it measures shoe size). Cooper is so embarrassed that he doesn't think to question it when the manager then instructs him to go fetch the "shoelace repair kit" ...
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: Grumbel's appears to be this.
  • Spiritual Precursor: The British TV series, Are You Being Served?, is in many ways the 1970s British precursor to this strip and the contrast of retail styles from the 1970s and now is quite striking. This similarity has been acknowledged by one or two Shout Outs to Are You Being Served?, like Stuart spending his vacation at a "Power Management Retreat" run by a Mr. Rumbold.
  • Status Quo Is God: Grumbel's employees occasionally come up with great ideas to make the store run better... only to have them shot down by the management. Also, if any higher-ups turn out to be nice people, they typically don't last long; the old Jerkass managers come back all too quickly.
  • Straw Misogynist: As the strips went by the district manager Jerry displayed this trope more and more, especially evident in how he treats Marla. Became even more magnified when he told Stuart that if the inventory count went poorly, he'd be forced to replace him with Marla because, as a woman, they can get away with paying her less.
  • Take That, Critics!: While Retail was never actually a target of The Comics Curmudgeon, that didn't stop Feuti from devoting a Sunday strip to Cooper's reaction to "hateoncomics.com".
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Cooper finally wins the Halloween costume contest after several years. Although it turned out somebody else won, but Marla bribed him into letting her give the prize to Cooper.
  • Token Shipping: Averted with Val and Cooper, but played with in a sequence where Cooper is at risk of getting fired by Stuart because of a "no workplace romance" policy. Cooper solves this by introducing Stuart to Val's fake boyfriend, a black guy named Cooper.
  • Truth in Television: Series creator Norm Feuti worked in retail for fifteen years. Many of the things that happen to the employees at Grumbel's have actually happened to him. And if you start working in retail, they'll happen to you as well.
  • Tuckerization: Keith Sanzen was named after a real person, a fan of the strip who won a contest on Cooper's blog.
  • TV Tropes Wiki Drinking Game: The inventory service, EGRGIS, is a portmanteau of Real Life inventory service RGIS and Egregious.
  • Ultimate Job Security: Cooper seems to have this, despite being so being so openly insubordinate to the management and all his other antics, on account of the fact that he runs stock and builds displays better than anyone. Somewhat overlaps with Bunny-Ears Lawyer.
    • The one time Stuart actually tried to fire Cooper, Lunker practically threatened him. Stuart was visibly shaken.
    • Initially, Courtney was seen as this. She was rude to customers, incompetent, and always did her job improperly. She was finally fired after Marla got promoted.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Cooper's massive crush on Val, which even had him end another relationship in order to pursue her. He finally worked up the nerve to ask her out for Valentine's Day 2011, and the two are presently a couple.
  • Wedding Day: Scott and Marla had theirs in June 2011, followed by a honeymoon in Bermuda.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The exact location of Grumbel's is never given, but one strip describes a "three-hour drive to New Hampshire," suggesting it's somewhere on the east coast.
    • Based on other strips, evidence points to Massachusetts, which is where the cartoonist lives. Also, the district manager Jerry was mentioned to be in charge of the New England district. (Of course, a later strip says that Grumbel's added Georgia to the New England district...)
    • Massachusetts is likely, based on the mall name, or possibly Rhode Island. Also, an early strip indicates that they're close to Boston (the fifth panel is strongly suggestive of a view up the Charles from Boston Harbor).note  On the other hand, another strip mentions "D.C.Y.F.", standing for "Department of Children, Youth, and Families, which is what Rhode Island calls the department its New England neighbors all just call the "D.C.F." (same, but without "Youth").
    • The F.A.Q. confirmed it was in New England, but didn't go into more detail than that.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/ComicStrip/Retail?from=Main.Retail