Abraham Mahshie – Contributing Writer
Milbern Clouse has greeted Walmart customers for 13 years, spreading joy, customer loyalty and even packing the ranks of his own church and raising more than $100,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network. All that will come to an end April 26, when the greeter position officially ends nationwide.
“It’s been very exciting, it’s been my calling,” Clouse said in a telephone interview. “It’s not like a job, even though it is.”
Clouse spoke of the many friends made greeting customers as they left the store, even inviting those looking for a church to attend his own Franklin Church of God. Twice retired at 74 and already a local celebrity for the “magic hat,” a broad-rimmed straw hat with a bow and corsage worn when collecting donations for Walmart’s chosen charity, the Children’s Miracle Network, Macon County’s only polio survivor was reluctantly ready to go home anyway to care for his wife.
“They really seemed like they bent over backwards to be good to us, but corporate had decided that that position was gone,” Clouse said of his Walmart supervisors who offered to train him for any position he thought he might like.
Clouse estimates that corporate decision-makers who ended the position do not realize the full extent of its customer-service impact.
“Sam Walton knew what he was doing, and this is just something to make people feel good,” he said. Clouse said the Franklin Walmart has never had more than three greeters covering all shifts, to his knowledge, and his fellow greeter, Ron, accepted an offer to retrain and has already transitioned to work in the self-check area.
That leaves the Walmart store entrance quiet, and without a friendly, familiar smile for customers.
“They’ve been trying to love me to death,” Clouse said of customers and fellow associates, who call him “Grandpa.” He said some customers told him, “‘You know we ain’t gonna come back, that’s why we come over here.’ But you know, that’s not really true, but they make you feel good.”
In a February 28 letter from Walmart president and CEO Greg Foran to all stores, Walmart told associates it would be investing more in training, technology and systems in a more competitive retail industry. This required “tougher choices related to the roles our associates play and how we staff our stores.”
The “People Greeter” position was changed to “Customer Host,” a position that requires a different skill set including handling customer refunds, scanning receipts and checking shopping carts. Many of Walmart’s disabled employees were in the people greeter position and cannot meet some of the new requirements such as standing for long periods of time or lifting up to 25 pounds of weight, according to media reports.
Walmart’s corporate office in Bentonville, Ark., did not respond to an interview request.
Walmart is providing greeters with a 60-day window to apply for other roles within the store. In Clouse’s case, he accepted a severance package from Walmart and will stay in his position until the last day of the program, April 26.
Until then, Franklin Walmart shoppers can visit Milbern between 12:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday through Tuesday for one last smile.