When Wendy Tom first took the floor as a Coles employee, she was a young, 16-year-old Warialda girl, unaware she was embarking on a career. Thirty-five years later, her face is now familiar and welcomed by generations within the Inverell district.
“I started working here in 1977. I was in fourth form in school,” Wendy said. “It was the only place to work, back in my days. I didn’t go anywhere, I just came here, from Warialda – I came up here and started working. I just stayed here. They offered me a permanent job, and that’s where I stayed.”
People that have left here, they still come and say hello to me. You stay as friends.Wendy Tom
She was taking time for lunch on Tuesday morning, sharing the break room table with a colleague, all the while, other team members came in and out, exchanging laughter with the comfortable familiarity of family or friends who have knows each other a very long time.
“They all are. I come to work, and I love coming to work because I see all my friends,” she said. “And people that have left here, they still come and say hello to me. You stay as friends.”
At 16, she started with one evening a week for the Thursday night shopping and Saturday morning. “I started on checkouts, and I was on the checkouts for two years as a casual, and I went permanent 1979. Ian Terry put me on permanent. And I went into apparel,” she said. “Back then they had everything.”
Coles operated more as a department store in those years, with areas including footwear, manchester, clothing, women’s underwear, kitchenwear, baby wear, a garden section, toys, stationery and groceries.
Now she is usually found up front as one of Coles’ faces to the community as a supervisor, service assistant and team member. She weathers the predictable difficult customer, part of the retail world, but said they aren’t the memorable ones.
“You get to talk to a lot of people and you get to talk to a lot of customers,” she said. “I had a customer come in the other day, and she said, ‘I was just thinking about you, I haven’t seen you for a long time’.
“And I said, ‘I’ve been here’, and she said, ‘Yes, but I haven’t seen you’.
“And it just makes your day when they say that.”