Shop staff show mental maths skills

MENTAL arithmetic, like learning times tables, seems to have all but disappeared - thanks to the pocket calculator.Today these handy-sized gadgets have the power of a small computer, able to do all sorts of complex sums.

MENTAL arithmetic, like learning times tables, seems to have all but disappeared - thanks to the pocket calculator.

Today these handy-sized gadgets have the power of a small computer, able to do all sorts of complex sums.

There's no need to know formulas or fractions, the difference between a quadratic equation and vector, cosines and logarithms, as long as you know in which order to punch the buttons.

But at one Felixstowe shop staff still have to be as good with numbers as they were back in their school days - and nine out of ten potential employees are turned away because they cannot add up.

Fashion fabrics and haberdashery store the Remnant Shop, in Hamilton Road, has a company rule that staff must be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide in their heads. Adding machines or calculators are out.

Robert Bamberger, boss of the family firm, which employs 28 at its branches in Colchester and Felixstowe, said: “This dates from when the company began 65 years ago.

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“My grandfather Sydney Bamberger could add up a column of 50 figures in old pounds, shillings and pennies - including ha'pennies and farthings - in a matter of seconds.

“He used to insist that any staff we took on could do the same - and we have carried on that practice.

“Nowadays this means we turn away more than nine in ten people who come to us for a job who would otherwise be suitable.

“They could be massive at marketing, super at sales or even Alan Sugar's next apprentice - but if they can't add up quickly in their head we won't have them.”

Mr Bamberger said his shops did have calculators - but were only used to confirm staff's mental arithmetic, especially when amazed customers ask: “Can you check that?”

Felixstowe manager Val Crampin said: “With our staff mental maths must come first.

“If we did it the other way round, how would they know they had pressed the wrong button?”

What old practices does your shop still use? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

TRY THE TEST: Are you as fast as the Remnant Shop team?

Question A: Yards into metres,

Customer: I want 5 1/2 yards of red ribbon, please.

Shop assistant: We have to give the length in metric: that will be . . . metres.

Question B: Pretty cake, thanks to pi.

Customer: I'd like a pink ribbon for my daughter's birthday cake. The cake is 12" across. How much ribbon do I need - in metric? Shop assistant: To work out the circumference from a diameter we use the formula 2?R. For this customer it works to 2 x 3 x 6 (where 6 is the radius of cake, taking ? to be 3 as the other figures are so small) so the customer needs . . . of ribbon.

Question C: Total cost of transaction

Work out the total: pins �1.05, thread �1.30, needles, �1.25, fabric �5.50.

Question D: Quick budgeting

When buying material, team members have to quickly work out a total price and add on VAT.

Fabric firm rep: I can sell you 20 metres of material at �2.50 a metre.

Shop assistant: The price including 15pc VAT is . . .

Answers: A 5 metres (one yard is 0.92cm). B 36ins of ribbon, though in practice a few inches are added to allow for ? being 3.142: in this case we would sell 1m of ribbon. C The total cost of the transaction is �9.10. D The total cost of the material is �57.50.