coffee stained paper notes

"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - C13

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 5 Oct 2023

paper notes are still surprisingly useful in this day and age — assuming you can make sense of them


The twelfth and final column in the new items spreadsheet concerns case quantity. This has never truly mattered before, but is a nice convenience when employees go to reorder a product. Considering that most suppliers list such information in their price guides, it only makes sense to add it, and print such on their shelf tags. Knowing whether 12 or 24 of something would show up the next time around was surely helpful, but nothing more. That is all about to change, however, as Healthy Shopper Market takes another fitful lurch toward modernization.

Rob Drake has gotten rightfully concerned about the downturn in fortunes here of late. After a nice little three year hot streak or so, they haven’t enjoyed a ton of victories to rally around. The Arcadia opening was two years ago, and they’ve slammed the brakes on expansion ever since. According to Duane, this is mostly due to Rob being far more cautious than Mr. Locke ever was. He’s not going to just roll the dice on a new location every twelve months and see if it works or not.

Still, it’s not hard to see where this caution is justified. Arcadia has performed well if not quite up to expectations. Walnut has closed, Liberty continues its steep downhill trajectory, while even Palmyra and Southside have retreated slightly from their all-time highs. Though nobody is saying as much, Edgar has long suspected that while, yes, they’ve had some great people doing tremendous work, to help elevate this company, another big part of their success is that the timing was just right for a store like this. It was a really trendy retail segment there for a while. The gluten free hysteria alone would have kept them afloat for a solid year.

And he can’t be alone in thinking this. The question is, how do they not just weather this light storm, but regain some momentum, now that this category has cooled? One potential answer, which more and more people are coming around to, as still others are dragged kicking and screaming out of the hippie era, is that they must get their house in order around here. They’ve weeded out many of the disorganized, freewheeling holdouts, though there are still plenty others who resist these changes, usually found railing against technology or becoming too corporate, or both.

Well, one character who is never going to gripe about the corporate moves aspect is Rob. His latest idea catches them all off guard, although Edgar’s pretty impressed by it. After conferring at great length with various members of the Organic Retailers Association, in part fueled by whatever knowledge Rob already possessed about the inner workings of the much greater Bellwether Snacks wholesale operation, he’s now determined to switch out the Orchestra software for something better, and to get the stores on board with an accurate perpetual inventory.

The Healthy Shopper Market, in any of its guises, has never attempted this before.

Most employees have come from different retail outlets, however, which did keep ongoing track of its inventory, so they are familiar with this concept. And it’s really quite surprising that the HSM could have blown up to five locations without doing so. It might be a stretch to say that anyone is stoked about this, outside of Edgar and maybe a couple other nerds, but there’s at least a solid handful who recognize that this is much needed. One curiously nonplussed individual is Duane, which Edgar wouldn’t necessarily have expected. But without reading too much into this, he thinks Duane’s basic mindset seems to be one of sheer weariness, and realism. Not that he doubts this is a good idea and necessary, more that he can’t even being to imagine how they’ll get this technologically, philosophically antiquated bunch onboard with these concepts.

After asking around and scouting out a number of potential options, Rob eventually settles upon a company/software package named Slingshot. They’re not only one of the best at what they do, but are based relatively nearby, in Boone, which is convenient for training and support both. Rob has had his ear to the ground — or at least the organic retailers’ forum — and now entertains visions of this software, despite the considerable cash outlay, saving them exponential buckets more of the same down the road. In this he’s surely not wrong. Outright employee scamming has to be less than it was just a few years ago, but even so, the processes around here remain mighty uneven.

As is expected, before they’ve even hosted their first meeting with Slingshot, complainers far outnumber the enthused. Though most verbalize their beefs no better than to dismiss this program with the meaningless, all purpose word “bullshit,” some go as far as to insist that this will “never work.” Yet either way, this calls up the question of in what way do they mean, exactly, and which primitive tropic isle did they just paddle in from? He remembers Dolly telling him how they once discovered a homeless guy was living in the storage space above Palmyra, lying low during the daytime, climbing down to help himself to some goodies after everyone had left. For some reason this is the image that such dismissals bring forth in Edgar’s mind, concerning the people who are making these claims. That they have been living as such themselves, but were instead descending to ground level themselves during the daytime, to work here rather than steal.

He feels like asking — and will, in fact, given enough time battling these folks — if they realize that every, literally just about every, retail enterprise on this fair planet checks in its deliveries, and keeps track of its inventory. He has worked for single proprietor businesses that were checking their deliveries, logging the inventory. Guaranteed that whatever funky and trendy little hippie operation they cared to just randomly stroll into, whether in Chesboro’s art district or clear up in Boone, if they really started to ask questions, they would discover that these people were on top of deliveries and kept track of inventory.

The drive from home to Chesboro has always been ridiculous, eating up a reliable hour, mostly on the interstate, to make it 27 miles. As he’s shaking his head and found muttering this morning, though, of course it only makes some sort of twisted sense that this totally random Wednesday would feature the worst traffic jam in eons, on the day that they are having their first ever group meeting with the Slingshot crew. By jumping off the interstate, and getting creative zigzagging with some alternate routes, Edgar’s able to clock in at just six minutes after eight, yet this still feels majorly late, and he’s already a bit frazzled on top of it.

Yet this sensation will soon evaporate, giving way to borderline euphoria. Naturally, some coworkers are looking at him somewhat strangely at times, wondering what kind of weirdo would actually get excited over concepts like these. But if you are by some fluke able to find such a person, he’s thinking that you probably don’t want to discourage this individual from getting into it.

Whatever the case, Slingshot’s representative is projecting from this laptop to a screen in the darkened community room, as those present, gathered around the conference table, take notes and attempt to get a handle on this foreign landscape. It’s a mixed bag of seemingly whomever they could rustle up, as store managers Karen and Destiny are here, for example, but Leroy and Isabel are not. Melissa as the lone representative for IT, whose expertise is needed from an infrastructure standpoint. Yet as the guy from Slingshot, Mark, occasionally asks questions about who will be handling this and that aspect of the setup and the database, everyone keeps laughing and pointing their fingers at Edgar, to the extent that this has turned into somewhat of a joke.

“I’m gonna keep you busy for the next little while!” Karen taunts.

“That’s cool, that’s cool,” Edgar says, chuckling as he has been throughout — although wondering in what specific fashion she could possibly supply him with projects. This database stuff arrives in his lap from all directions, and applies to everyone. Projects that just are, and will require his knocking out, with or without a suggestion or a prod from anyone. But he knows she has something of a Corey Brown mindset, picturing herself at the center of every piece of action — although in Corey’s case, that eventually became at least partially true — even in situations where she is not.

In the aftermath of this meeting, Rob signs a contract to get this ball rolling with Slingshot, as he and Duane and Edgar sit down and discuss how to deploy it. Though the Slingshot folks themselves are not advising this strategy — they suggest a gradual deployment — Rob is adamant that as soon as he begins paying for this, he wants to go live at every store all at once. They’ve already informed Jacques from Orchestra of the proposed switch, though months upon months away from happening. The contract on that software is expiring soon, anyway, so the timing could not be better on this.

One other curious aspect Rob continually harps on is that he expects Edgar to get the troops in line, so to speak, to get them on board with this perpetual inventory and its assorted related concepts. And Edgar’s thinking that this isn’t a situation where you argue with your boss about your lack of authority over these people, or that you’ve been advised never to confront anyone ever again, or that you’re only allowed to email some people, never email others. Those sound like weak excuses. So instead you say yes sir and vow to make that happen. Duane is sitting here as his witness, that Rob is insisting Edgar takes the reins on this project, which would seem to imply he does have some authority to do so after all. It should be interesting to see how this shakes out, however, although it sure is fun to dream about.

Some may already have an inkling, though, and aren’t sticking around to find out. One such individual is deli merchandiser Pat DiStazio, who turns in his notice. For the record, virtually everyone agrees Pat is a nice guy, and a highly amusing personality…if viewed from afar, that is, or perhaps under a microscope.

It isn’t just the constantly missing invoices, which are causes themselves for alarm. The highly entertaining charts, with crude grids drawn in pencil, for proposed price changes. There are also the bizarre twinges, the way that he is constantly bringing in product for Arcadia or Liberty alone (itself a puzzling phenomenon, which can’t be even remotely justifiable with anything approaching rigorous scientific research) but then can’t seem to comprehend why Edgar isn’t able to add these numbers to the scales at those stores immediately. Even as he has continually explained to Pat that those two scales are not online and will have to wait until Edgar’s next visit. Of course, what happens in most instances is that the Miscellaneous Bulk PLU is employed, even though Edgar has also explained that these sales are going to the bulk department. It doesn’t matter that you hand wrote the name of a locally based pie upon the label. That is how these products are going to scan. Barring the miraculous intervention of an insanely dedicated cashier or something, hand punching the item into the correct deli sub-department because she really cares that much that Pat gets credit for this sale, he is only screwing himself.

Half the time Edgar almost considers volunteering to add a Miscellaneous Deli number, but then immediately suffers a change of heart, believing that this is one of those instances where, though it appears such a move is at least an inch long shuffle toward better organization, you are actually only encouraging more chaos, more of this last-minute-freakout type mayhem, and increasing disorganization. Because what would assuredly, immediately follow knowledge of this creation, is the failure to ever notify him about any new items ever again at these stores, as he arrives every time to find fresh waves of them all affixed with the Miscellaneous Deli sticker. Some handwritten with descriptions, some not, none of which would fly with the ingredients Nazi should she choose to appear again And subsequently must follow up with Pat to determine what these monstrosities are, after sifting through the expected arguments that Pat “knows for a fact” he already sent these items to Edgar.

No. The answer here is that…you plan ahead, and you let your database coordinator know well in advance that such an item is arriving, so that he can properly add it before it does. Still, all of these episodes pale in comparison to — though some can also be explained by, it’s true — what one might term Pat’s overarching mantra, broken out repeatedly: raising retails is never a bad idea.

You can always tell when someone is foisting a mantra upon you. The first time you hear such, more likely than not, but certainly if he constantly repeats it. The twinkle in his eye, the slight upturned corner of the mouth as he sizes you up, to gauge whether you even comprehend how clever this wry, unexpected piece of insight truly is. Often spoken with arms defiantly crossed, a slow, sage nod of the head meant to convey the weight of this decorated veteran’s years upon years of weathering storms in this turbulent industry. Aye, captain, indeed, indeed.

Of course, some might say this particular mantra is pretty fucking stupid. Without even engaging in discussions about other areas that a merchandiser might perchance better focus upon. Yet, one does hear such philosophical angles from time to time. It wasn’t just Pat jacking the retails on his in-house concoctions after every period’s inventory numbers came back soft, until Duane put a stop to it. Others have been known to espouse this viewpoint — and attempt to enact it — in relation to a seemingly disconnected topic such as the labor budget. The thinking here is that since a department’s labor budget is expressed as a percentage of a department’s sales, instead of slashing hours during a down stretch, they could just raise the prices on everything instead.

Well, they won’t have Pat’s highly entertaining spins on these concepts to while away the hours any longer. There is something almost sad about his departure, though, the total lack of fanfare over a fairly prominent employee. As though everyone is effectively saying, after being reminded that this was in fact his last day, oh yeah, that’s right, well…okay, dude, uh….good luck! We…worked together, didn’t we? Yep, we sure did. The lack of any major scandal was making his exit vaguely depressing, even.

He is immediately replaced by a seasoned veteran named Vicky Fisher, yet another sassy Southern lady, though with a ton of impressive experience. She arrives here directly from a similar position at Cost Merchant, where she became “tired of the politics.” While that is undoubtedly true — and shines a harsh light upon those who are complaining that this place is too political, most of which, Edgar feels, cannot possibly have worked anywhere bigger than Healthy Shopper Market — she has no qualms about applying an iron fist to this deli/meat operation at the outset. Which is precisely what that department needs.

“I think she’s doing a better job than the last four merchandisers combined,” Edgar is fond of telling people, pretty much right from the start.

So they have won this trade, it would seem. Only the ensuing months will tell how others shake out, however, as this Slingshot culture war proves a relatively minor one, by comparison to what comes next. Plenty of other noteworthy figures will hit the door in short order, though this isn’t the leading cause. Most express doubts about this company’s future, considering that, in a vicious blow that absolutely no one sees coming, they learn that what is still thought of as their flagship store, Southside, will soon be shutting down.

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I am a professional writer with 8 published books under my belt. And many other unpublished ones, in various stages of disarray.

Jason McGathey
Jason McGathey

Semi-Coherent Musings - from one of the leading masters of this questionable art form!

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