Working with the public isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Kimberly Schrader could teach a master class in the task.
Schrader, 52, of Adna, has been working at Alderson’s Awards West-Printwares since she was 22. In those 30 years, she has spent the bulk of her time behind the front counter, soothsaying grumpy and indecisive customers with a warm smile and friendly demeanor.
Quick to laugh, or to reach out and relate on a personal level, she was store owner Tom Alderson’s answer to the tricky world of customer service.
“When I very first started here, I built trophies in the back,” Schrader said of one of the business’ many services. “And Tom took over a few years later. And he says, ‘Where do you see yourself in the future of this company?’ And I said, ‘Well, in the back, building trophies like I am.’ And he said, ‘Wrong answer,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re going out front.’”
Schrader began working at the store after a period of layoffs at her first job as a grocery store worker.
“That was an opportunity to move on,” she said. “There was an opening here and so I started in March (1992), and it’s definitely different.”
However, the change was largely positive, she said.
For one, she had a set day schedule with weekends off, whereas at the grocery store — Fuller’s — she was working any day of the week, sometimes not getting off until 10 p.m. or early in the morning on the worst days.
During her time working the front counter at Alderson’s, Schrader said she has forged friendships with many of her customers. She uses a personal touch that helps people get the best service, while keeping a smile on her face.
“It’s never a dull moment here,” Schrader said. “I mean, every order we do is completely custom.”
Alderson’s prints company and team decals on work and sports uniforms and prints all manner of custom signs and banners, in addition to other services.
Schrader is driven by being able to see a customer’s vision come to life in a final product that suits their needs, she said. She takes pride in seeing the work Alderson’s has done displayed throughout the community.
But sometimes, it’s not so easy to guide a customer to the right product because some customers walk in the door without a clue of what they want. That’s when Schrader puts on another cap — that of a detective who uses her extensive product knowledge and what she’s gleaned from indecisive customers to find a solution that works for them.
“Most of the time it’s great,” she said of working with the public. “You know, we always have those frustrating times once in a while, but 99% of the time, we’ll have some really awesome customers.”
Still, at other times, she soothes customers who walk through Alderson’s doors, not in their best moods.
“I’ve had some different customers that are a little older, and when they would come in, they would be a little bit crabby, but by the time they would leave, they would not be so crabby,” she said.
Schrader recalled one man, the late George Murdock of Toledo.
“He would come in, and he was kind of a gruff, old guy,” she said. “He had problems with his legs, so we would get him a chair, and he’d sit down. We’d go over all of his orders and everything. We’ve lost him — it’s been a few years since we lost him — but he went from a gruff, old guy to just like another grandpa, so it’s really cool.”
Over the years, Schrader has seen the business merge with a neighboring store and change in ownership, but she’s also witnessed a complete reorganization of how the inside of the store is displayed to the public.
She has also seen a number of coworkers come and go, many of whom she still keeps in touch with as friends.
Though her knack for making friends in the workplace extends even farther than her relationships with her peers.
“She’s well beyond an employee, definitely a friend,” Alderson told The Chronicle. “There’s been a large history over 30-some years. They’re experiences that I definitely cherish.”
For Alderson, Schrader’s contributions to the store cannot be overstated.
“She’s brought 30 great years, that’s for darn sure,” Alderson said. “She has a really pleasing personality. The work ethic is, you know, it’s old school. That’s something that you just don’t find anymore every day, and she’s continued with that through her whole career. She’s super reliable, a super hard worker.”
Some might want to hang up the towel after having so much longevity in a career, but Schrader said now is not the time.
“I’ll be here for a little while. We’re not getting rid of me that soon, but I’m going to be a grandma this year so, at some point, I’m going to want to be hanging out with my grandbabies. That’s my goal,” she said.
For Schrader, such a long career in one place comes with a secret sauce made from multiple ingredients.
“It’s really important to be able to get along with your fellow employees,” she said. “Just be open-minded and trainable, take instruction well. … If it’s possible, find something that you really think is going to interest you so you don’t get bored, something that you think is going to challenge you. Just enjoy what you do.”
Looking back on the last 30 years, Schrader had one simple thing to say: “All in all, it’s been a good ride.”