He has been a long-serving employee at Robinsons and still enjoys coming to work serving the many generations of customers.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Mauricio V Soliano (his father is Filipino and his mother is Portuguese) started work when he was 22 and has since been with Robinsons department store (mainly at the Centrepoint outlet) for close to half a century! Through the years, he has seen customers return with their children and grandchildren, after being served by him in their youth!
At 71, now a senior sales associate at Robinsons, Soliano is the poster boy in the recent ad campaign (left) by the Ministry of Manpower, NTUC and SNEF (Singapore National Employers Federation) highlighting the value of older employees. He serves his customers with a smile and it is no wonder they keep coming back looking for him. And he is actively involved in guiding, training and instilling a positive customer service mindset to junior staff.
As a result of his hard work and dedication, he was awarded the Singapore Retailers Association Excellent Service Award (Silver) in 2001 and the Singapore Retailers Association Excellent Service Award (gold) in 2002. I am sure you will agree he makes a good choice as poster boy:
So you have been with Robinsons in your whole working career?
Yes, I have always been at Robinsons. In fact, Robinsons is my very first job. I started off as a temporary helper at the Luggage Department in November 1959. I then proceeded to join Robinsons in January 1961 as a permanent full-time employee after I completed my studies.
What made you decide to go into retail in the first place?
My father wanted me to pursue a music career when I was in my early 20s. However, I took time to convince him that what I wanted was to join the retail line – in particular, Robinsons.
I joined the retail line because I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and I love making connections and interacting with customers. Over the years, it has given me immense job satisfaction to be able to turn demanding customers into loyal customers. Recently, when my picture was published in the newspapers, some customers took the trouble to cut them out and presented them personally to me.
What made you decide to continue in the workforce even after reaching your retirement age?
I felt that working beyond retirement age is a more productive use of time. Robinsons re-employed me when I reached my retirement age, and it worked out well. I would get bored easily if I stayed at home. Moreover, all my friends who have been working with me for so many years are still working in Robinsons. To me, I look forward to reporting for work and be with my friends everyday! I also look forward to meeting my customers whom I have gotten to know on a personal basis.
I noticed at 60, you were a senior sales supervisor but now at 71, you are senior sales associate. I am assuming this means you are now on the floor and not at a desk. Did you want this change?
Regardless whether I was a senior sales supervisor or a senior sales associate at the Men’s Department now, I am hardly at my desk. A majority of my time is spent on the sales floor. I usually work in various different areas in the Men’s Department including sporting goods, men’s shoes, luggage, etc. It is important to know the different merchandise that Robinsons offers.
As for the change in job title, to me, it is a job that I have to perform at the end of the day. I embrace changes and I am able to adapt to a new position and work environment. Being a senior sales associate now, I do not feel embarrassed having to follow instructions from a sales manager (Anthony Lim, above right, who is 34 years old) who is much younger than me. What’s important is for me to stay alert and attentive at all times and perform well in any job that I undertake.
How many days per week do you work?
I work on a fixed shift pattern, which is five days a week, (42¾ hours per week) on the average including weekends and public holidays.
Besides servicing with a smile, there are a few special touches you do such as delivering packages to your customers. Can you share any others?
Many years back, there was a staff nurse from Cambodia who asked for a pair of thin swim trunks. However, this item was not available at Robinsons back then. So I recommended her to make a trip to a store on South Bridge Road, which was selling the item she wanted.
Being a tourist in Singapore for such a short trip, she did not know how to get to the South Bridge Road store. Thus, I proposed to bring her to that store after work and she agreed. She then met me at Robinsons after work and we took a cab to South Bridge Road where she managed to purchase the item she was looking for.
The customer was very grateful that I went beyond the call of duty to help her locate the item she wanted. Beyond this, I also help customers tend to their children so they can complete their shopping tasks. I also call regular customers to update them on new arrivals in our store.
How many older workers are working with?
I am currently working alongside with three other older workers at my department, who are over 50s.
Can you share a difficult customer and your secrets into turning him into a loyal customer?
I once had a customer asking for a full refund for a pair of shoes he purchased about two years ago. He had everything intact in a box and had not worn the shoes at all. When he asked one of my promoters for a refund, the promoter rejected his request. The promoter reasoned that even though the customer had never worn the shoes, keeping the shoes in a box for some two years would inevitably affect the condition of the shoes.
However, this customer insisted on a refund and the promoter came to me for help. By the time I approached the customer, he was already fuming and raised his voice at me on the sales floor. I knew then that this customer would not take “no” for an answer despite the fact that the explanation provided by the promoter was correct.
I then calmed the customer down and asked him to grant me a few minutes so that I could get the approval from my superior. After I obtained a greenlight from my superior, I gave this customer a full refund and persuaded him to buy a new pair of shoes at a special discount of 30 percent, which he did. Needless to say, this customer became my loyal customer since that day.
The young and old often complain of working together. How have you managed to work it out?
To me, age is only a figure. It’s how you feel inside that is important. Thus, I strive to be young-at-heart and use humour as an icebreaker whenever I am working with the young. Trust me, it works!
What advice would you give to a senior going back to work?
It’s important to keep an open mind. It would also mean that they might take on a smaller job scope and step down to a lower level. Thus, it’s important that they change their mindset and meet the demands of the new job scope.
How long do you plan to continue working?
I plan to work for as long as my health allows and as long as the company and customers need me.
** When he is not busy working, the single Soliano who is part of a large family of 12 children, tends to his 44 pots of plants which he affectionately calls “my children”, watches TV and does housework.
Valuing older workers at Robinsons
Agelessonline poses some questions to Chee Nian Tze, general manager, group human resources at Robinson Group:
What programmes does Robinsons have to value its older workers? Any upgrading of skills that the company offers?
The older workers will attend the same programme as any other younger staff would have attended. They will also be sent for refresher courses and any other training programmes that are relevant to their nature of work. When these older workers are in class, they are used as resource people, to cite and share examples for their lifelong working experience.
How many older workers (over 50) does Robinsons have in its current workforce and who is the oldest?
We have 221 of them in our current workforce and the oldest is Mavis D’ Cruz, who is 76 years old.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Robinsons introduced the 50-years Long Service Award in 2008 and celebrated with six 50-year long-service staff during Robinsons’ 150-year anniversary dinner.)