Why anyone would be just made-up to work at Boots
Boots was the first of the leading UK chain stores to come to Belfast. The iconic brand arrived in Cornmarket in 1966, trading successfully in the best and the worst of times throughout Northern Ireland. To celebrate Boots' 50th birthday, we talk to three of its sales women from different eras who have worked in its largest branch - Donegall Place, Belfast.
'There's a great camaraderie among staff and we are obsessed by beauty'
Game of Thrones make-up artist Katrina Doran also works part-time at Boots in Donegall Place. A beauty writer/blogger at Sugahfix.com, Katrina (42) lives in Newry with her husband Peter Forster, who works in multimedia. She says:
Working at Boots is completely feeding my beauty product addiction.
I went to work for Dior at Boots because of their Skin Nude foundation in 010. Being very pale, it’s almost impossible to get a good skin colour match that doesn’t make me look like death, but 010 has a peachiness to it that gives a glow to the skin but is still my perfect match.
Now, I’m a convert to the brand’s Forever in 012 for its long lasting power and high SPF. On the other counters, I love Lancome Genefique Eye Pearl, Clarins Super Restorative Remodelling Serum, YSL vinyl couture mascara, Estee Lauder ‘witty peach’ blush, Chanel’s universal bronzer, Smashbox photo finish primer and Benefit’s new Goof Proof brow pencil in Light and No7 Silky Leg Oil — I can’t be without it.
A lot of tourists visiting Belfast on a cruise pop in to Boots to stock up. I’ve seen Asian ladies spend over £400 on skincare at Dior.
There’s great camaraderie with all the staff who work here and we are all obsessed with beauty products, so break times are filled with chat about new product launches and the offers in store. There’s a real buzz when the store is busy and when it’s manic everyone helps out — it’s a great team.
Boots is all about delivering excellent customer service so everyone who works in Boots is well-trained. The friendly approach is genuine, too.
The best-selling products during my time at Boots this year have been Dreamskin, the new serum/moisturiser and primer in one, Lipglow in 001 Pink, a hydrating and plumping lipstick that adjusts with each person’s own lip colour and Diorskin Forever foundation with 16hr wear, adjustable coverage and SPF35.
While it’s fun to shop online nothing beats getting advice from counter staff who really know their stuff and give added value every day with advice and tips.”
'A Swedish man who looked like Omar Sharif used to spend a fortune on beauty products'
Maureen Laverty (64), started work at Boots' first store in Northern Ireland, which was in Cornmarket, in 1966, and has been with the company ever since. One of their best ever salespeople, Maureen always ensured her customers got their essentials, whether they could make it to the shop or not. The popular fragrance expert is single and lives on Belfast's Glen Road. She says:
My parents thought I was too young to go to work at Boots, but it's what I always wanted. The manager, Mr McGowan, was a real gentleman and he met them and explained the good training Boots could offer me as a 15 year-old girl, and that was that.
The uniform back then was a good quality, royal blue kimono with Velcro at the side and a fresh white collar insert every day, which clicked in. The skirts had to be under the knee and you weren't allowed to wear stilettos - your toes had to be covered, in case something dropped on them. A couple of the older staff stood me up on a chair to pin the uniform and fix the hem.
On my first day, I came in half an hour early as I was so excited. I started working on the make-up counter in Boots' first store, in Cornmarket, before we moved to the big one in Donegall Place. It was the first big chain; it was there before Marks & Spencer and BHS. I'm semi-retired now and only work for promotional events, like Mother's and Father's Day, but I still love going in and out of the store.
When I started, I was fascinated by all the different eye shadows and perfumes. I still remember the smell of that store as though it were yesterday. I made so many good friends and was at the 60th birthday barbecue for one of them the other day.
The career ladder meant you moved on from senior assistant to supervisor and then department manager, with responsibility for your own stock-taking. I worked with the Boots beauty brands, promoting No7 and 17 products. I find they're less expensive, but just as good as the dearer brands.
People love the No7 Protect and Perfect serums. When my sister in New Jersey heard about it, I had to send her some, and she has stuck to it ever since. No7 self tans, eye shadows and nail varnishes are popular, too. I've tried more expensive ones, but they don't last as long. I can buy my favourite Boots products for a staff price, plus 10% discount.
We've had lots of famous faces through the doors, including Daniel O'Donnell and Louis Walsh - he buys beauty products. The men's No7 range is very good, too, and the big stars from the Grand Opera House buy cleansers here to take off their stage make-up.
When I became a fragrance consultant, brands such as Georgio Armani and Calvin Klein provided training, so we were really knowledgeable about their products. We often went away for training and met some nice men, too.
One Swedish man used to come in and spend a fortune. He looked like Oman Sharif and owned a chocolate factory - he bought lots of beauty products. I don't know who for. He used to look into my eyes and say he'd send me some of his chocolates.
Then we had the bomb scares. When you're young, you just get on with it. We would be evacuated from the store in the afternoon and head on out to Caproni's in Bangor that night. One time, the Cornmarket store was quite badly damaged by an incendiary device and there was an awful mess to clear up. The fire brigade would come and we'd all be at the door saying, 'Here comes the fellas in their yellow hats and big hoses', teasing them. The situation was serious, yes, but there was always a funny side.
My first pay packet was £4.09, after tax. That was a lot to me in those days and when M&S opened some of the staff talked about going there to work, but I was always happy at Boots. The company looked after me and paid for staff trips to see shows at the London Palladium at the height of the Troubles. I enjoyed those and it was good for morale.
Boots continues to be successful as the staff have a good rapport with customers. Also, the Advantage Card offers genuinely good deals, especially at Christmas."
‘We got our wages on Saturday and then most of it was spent in the store’
Radio host Cate Conway (40) worked in Boots Donegall Place store in Belfast while she was a student at Queen’s University, Belfast in the mid-Nineties. From Carryduff originally, Cate now lives in Dunmurry with her husband Damien, who works in IT for the health service. She says:
Brad Pitt passed through Boots when I worked there. It was December 1996 when he popped in — the store was holding a special Christmas event for health service staff who received special passes with 10% discount. The store was opened just for them and we held a party with Boots staff in fancy dress and lots of biscuits.
Brad was in Belfast learning his Northern Ireland accent with dialect coach Brendan Gunn for a movie. He was in the store around 5.45pm and went to a till on the top floor. The woman who served him asked him for his health service pass — everyone else was swooning — but she had no idea who he was.
The store closed again for a couple of hours when Bill Clinton made his first Presidential visit here in 1995 to allow staff to go out and see him at the City Hall.
I’d started in ‘633’ — the big Boots on Donegall Place — in August of 1995. I was a student who needed a part time job and saw the job advertised on the boards in the Training and Employment Agency in Chichester Street.
They were looking for part-time assistants and luckily I got in just before they started hiring Christmas staff, which meant I got to stay on all year round.
I don’t recall being asked for any particular qualifications, although I think having GCSE English and maths was a requirement. The interview was quite tough, though and I wasn’t confident afterwards.
The woman who interviewed me was very keen to know if I had a washing machine at my student house, as my uniform needed to be clean for every shift.
We had to wear a long navy pencil-skirt and a white blouse with navy trim. The best bit was the name badge — it was a gold-coloured badge with your name added using a label maker. Mine said Miss C McDermott, my name then, and I remember working with a Miss MR Hughes and a Miss E Moss — Missy Moss as she was always called.
My job was manning a till on the ground floor for £3.75 per hour. As I worked on Thursday and Friday nights and all day Saturday, I earned about £50. We picked up our wages from the personnel office on Saturday morning in a small brown envelope. Most of the money went right back into Boots, though.
Working at Boots was one of the most fun times of my life. There were a lot of people around the same age as me — 18-20 somethings. We planned nights out and trips together. Saturdays were usually buzzing because the store was busy and we’d head to the pub after work. We’d all be chatting about what make-up we were going to buy when we got our brown envelopes, and maybe a lunchtime trip into Topshop to buy something to wear, which was next door then.
I also worked in the Electric Personal Care department and it was my job to demonstrate hairdryers and tongs.
One of the most in-demand products I sold was Braun curling tong gas refills. I don’t think those are around now but I have some plug in ‘air-stylers’ that I still use from those days.
Because it was the mid-Nineties, there were a lot of shoppers from the Republic as they didn’t have Boots or Argos there then. They would always buy the Boots own-brand products, like the cucumber skincare range or No7 make up, and ask for extra carrier bags.
Sometimes they would spend £100 on make-up which seemed like a fortune to me then.
One particularly busy Christmas an assistant, who was pregnant, passed out in the heat.
As I was ringing for a first aider to come and help a man shouted at me ‘Are you going to serve me or not?’.
Some of my best friendships were made at Boots including Marie Rose Klotz. She and I went on holidays to Tenerife while we worked there and after we got back, we would get our photos printed upstairs.
I also see Joe Rea a lot, he’s an actor/producer now. He does a lot of voiceovers and he and I are often in ads together. He was one of the going-out gang back in the Nineties.
Back then Frizz Ease was new and it was flying off the shelves. I couldn’t afford it at £6 a bottle, so I had the Natural Collection version, which was half the price. To this day I still use a lot of No7 make-up.
The secret to Boots success is the great customer service and massive range of products.”