At the very beginning of her tenure as Palmyra’s receiver, Sharon has already latched onto a bunch of changes she wishes to make to the process. Which Edgar is mostly fine with. Even if she’s more than a little high-strung, it’s great that she’s tackling the role with such relish, and he for one doesn’t have any problems working with her. One of the first aspects she wants to completely revamp is the process for submitting new items to Edgar.
It’s no surprise that this is of course a tag team event, the brainchild of not just Sharon but fellow co-author Karen Hatley. The difference is that Karen sets these wheels into motion, then backs away from the concept entirely, leaving Sharon alone to approach him about it. This reminds Edgar a great deal of this recent bulk bin label saga, which Karen also just couldn’t resist chiming in about.
The bulk bin label saga reminds him of that flap over the damn plastic covers, but much more involved and convoluted. Once again Pete, the bulk manager at Liberty, got this ball rolling, and once again seemed determined to keep asking Edgar until he received a different answer. Although in this instance, Edgar will admit that as this ball was swatted around so many times that it wound up in his lap, they accidentally would up in a potentially better place.
Pete’s seemingly innocuous question concerns from where they reorder their bulk bin labels. As Edgar explains to the guy, there’s a tiny 1–800 number at the bottom of each label, and this is basically all he needs, for they have the HSM’s information on file and all he needs to do is give them a list of the PLU numbers he wishes to reorder. From there, they have a few basic templates to pick from, of which Pete probably wants the full color ones, without the price printed upon them, simply because these retails change so often.
Considering that Pete’s whole point was that the bulk section looks like hell, with so many mismatched, bedraggled, and often hand created signs, stemming back to the days that Russian Robert was running this place, if not earlier, this would appear a cut and dried case. He probably wants to order as many of the full color ones as necessary, to convert his department to a more consistent look — a conversation which began well before the store closing was announced, it’s worth noting, for afterwards it’s unlikely anyone would have bothered — and Pete nods, appearing to accept this answer. Until the next time Edgar’s in the store, a month later, and he asks again. And again.
It becomes obvious that this isn’t a simple stall tactic, because Pete is the one who continually mentions such. What he’s actually hoping for is that Edgar will walk this department and order all the signs himself. Edgar’s drawing the line at this, though, because there are only so many concepts so you can hold someone’s hand through in the course of an 8 hour day. How hard is it to pick up a phone and place an order? They do it all the time for the products they’re selling, actually, even though phone orders are supposed to be outlawed at this point.
Edgar’s purview extends not much farther than the pricing. These he cranks out on the shelf tags anyway, which show supplier, SKU number, retail, and have a handy barcode for ordering. That’s the extent of his involvement. Of course, some are arguing that as database coordinator, it’s also his responsibility to make sure that the ingredients on these bulk bin labels are correct, too. Except how this is handled is by delivering this very sign company an updated database, with all their ingredients on file, which Edgar is simply handing off from Bellwether and Universal and few other companies with similar zipped files to pass along, once a year or whatever. And anyway, if this is officially becoming his responsibility, then his compromise is that he wants it in writing, then, that if anyone ever makes a homemade bulk bin label again, then that person is written up for the infraction. Quite naturally nobody’s going there, so this stalemate continues.
But then Johnny at Palmyra starts harping on the same point, asking where to reorder these bulk bin labels. He too does not appear satisfied with Edgar’s answer about there being a 1–800 number on the bottom of every label, and that this is who you call. It’s gotten so that Edgar’s beginning to wonder if he’s not losing his mind, that this is somehow way more complicated than it seems, and maybe he is overlooking a simple point. But no, Jimmy for example at Central has experienced no trouble reordering these. And Marita at Arcadia is one of the shining lights for this entire company, in Edgar’s opinion, as she keeps possibly the best looking department out of anyone, at any store. They have a tremendous rapport despite a huge language barrier, one which basically requires that they wait to communicate in person rather than through email. So if she can pull this off, there are no obstacles holding back anyone.
But at least Johnny is a lot more proactive about this situation than Pete has been. Johnny’s flash of insight is to wonder why their in-house graphic designer, Park, couldn’t just create these puppies for everyone, which they can have on file, making life easier and cheaper in this process. And Edgar has to admit, that is an excellent idea, for they can just keep this information in the shared drive, for everyone to access.
Edgar considers his involvement with this project as finished at this point. Johnny has contacted Park, who has apparently agreed to make the signs. Though seldom making store visits, apart from possibly drifting over to Central to shop, Park agrees to come up to Palmyra the next day, and spends the better part of his shift with Johnny. Walking the bulk department, taking notes of what is needed, making sketches.
A few days later, Edgar is coincidentally standing behind the customer service counter up there, looking through some invoices, when the first wave begins spewing out of the copier machine. Johnny knew they were coming, and has gotten the heads up to load the machine with cardstock. He grabs the first few sheets and holds them up for inspection, which affords both of them a good view of these. These are in Park’s favorite template of a wood grain background, with dark green and purple trim, so they look really consistent and nice from an aesthetic standpoint. Except that all they have on them are the name, PLU number, and price.
“Are you kidding me? Those aren’t gonna cut it,” Edgar blurts out, before Johnny has even said anything.
“I was just thinkin’ the same thing…,” he agrees, in his drawn out Southern drawl.
Johnny jumps onto the phone and calls Park, as production is halted at a handful. Next thing Edgar knows, he’s drawn back into the fold as Park emails him instead and asks for a detailed explanation of what is needed. Edgar responds with a couple of scanned images, and explaining that they need this little nutrition info grid that is technically required by law, as well as a broken down list of all the ingredients. Maybe a half hour later, Park replies, with a simple, unambiguous message:
I’m not going to be able to help Johnny with this.
Which is certainly understandable. Even if the dude’s email address is [email protected], he presumably has justifiable reasons for tapping out. It would be a colossal project, from a time and effort standpoint, and he is probably swamped with work as it is. Yet, just out of curiosity’s sake if nothing else, but also seeing Johnny’s point about how it would make more sense to have all their own templates on file, long term, Edgar begins tinkering around with this himself.
He briefly considers what options they have. The most obvious and immediately flashy option is to simply scan the existing bin labels. But this thought is immediately besieged with a slew of problems. For one, this would require finding real life specimens, in good shape, out on the floor, taking those down to make a copy, and putting them back. Itself this isn’t a huge difficulty, and is for example what stores will often do in a pinch, to send one to another location in need. Yet the labels are often in sorry shape already, which is the whole point of this exercise, plus they don’t have any decent modern document scanners. All they have is the monolithic old school office copiers, with the flip top lid to set a single item upon. You could in theory maybe fit four to a page, but even then would spend an eternity cropping those down to save to individual images. Taking pictures, which might theoretically work if you could get the lighting and cropping size exactly right, has some of the same problems in finding a good specimen to begin with, and probably wouldn’t save much time, either.
It would also leave these images to where you couldn’t truly edit them, beyond Photoshop-type maneuvers. And to him this is the bigger point. If you’re going to the trouble of creating these labels, it would seem to make more sense to have them saved in editable form. Which leads him to puttering around in Word for a few minutes, until realizing that this column formatting business and in some cases even predictive auto filling of cells…yes, this could be done a whole lot easier in Excel.
So here you go again with this Excel business. He’s thinking that people can laugh all they want, but that is a mighty handy program for just about anything. There are artists who create stunning digital works in Excel, even. And after spending not even an hour getting the first one sized just right, with all the necessary information needed, and even a perfectly measured blank spot to fit a shelf tag in the middle, password locked to prevent anyone else’s meddling with these, he has the first prototype in place, and excitedly emails Park. He could show Park how to do this in a snap, and he would be off to the races.
You da man! Park nearly instantly replies, from across the office. But then affixes the other-shoe-dropping type comment of, but I don’t work with Excel. Sorry.
Well, whatever. This is still not even remotely Edgar’s job, yet he can see the value in this, for the entire company. It would save a ton of time alone in fielding a bunch of inane, repetitive questions. And look more consistent, and keep those who are ordering the bin labels from doing whatever they like. For instance reordering ones with the current prices on them, even though they’re continually advised not to. Because this then leads to either writing over top of those with a Sharpie or else cutting out the new price from the shelf tags, sometimes just a single digit from one, to stick it over top of the old price. All of which looks like hell. And this is without even getting into the homemade sign nonsense, usually hand drawn and with the aesthetic value of hot garbage, missing all the pertinent ingredient and nutrition facts — which he has a feeling is going to somehow going to end up being his fault somewhere along the line, as the culprits themselves play dumb or outright deny having done so.
I didn’t make that crudely drawn sign! It must have been someone else! Someone broke into the store overnight and drew that! Maybe it was aliens! No, wait, I remember, Edgar drew that and then emailed it to me! He said this was cool! He specifically told me we don’t need ingredients on these labels!
So no. In his free time, he starts hammering away at this project, beginning with Johnny’s list of the most desperately needed ones, and then moving on down the line to replacing all of them. While the current ones are mostly white with black type on them, the scheme Edgar has settled upon is a light orange and green trim, mostly because these are Bellwether’s logo colors. At Johnny’s suggestion, he’s also making the word organic pop, by typing those in bright yellow. It comes as no surprise, however, that Karen waits days upon days, until he’s about halfway through the bulk section, before she can no longer bear not to weigh in with her highly informed opinion.
“You know, a lot of people consider orange to be a very off-putting color. A very off-putting color.”
He feels like replying with, you know, a lot of people consider a smug contrarian’s voice to be a very off-putting sound. A very off-putting sound. But forces himself to say instead, “eh, I figured we could tweak these as we went along. The reason I picked these colors, though, is because they’re the same ones Bellwether uses. It seemed to make sense.”
“I don’t like the orange. Can we change this?”
Annoying or not, this is nonetheless a great example of why you can’t turn everything over to a committee vote. You would never get anywhere. Because it’s apparently okay to have this horrific mélange of color labels, black and white labels, hand drawn labels, the occasional professional looking Park crafted label, missing labels, and crumbling, half ripped labels, any of the above with magic marker and/or cut out sticker digits atop them…but the instant you raised a motion to vote on one specific look for replacing all of them, you’d have a riot on your hands.
At least this is progress, however. It’s been established that yes, we are doing this. The labels are saved on the hard drive, you just have to print them. You jump in and get the ball rolling and then field the inevitable bitching as you go. And while on Edgar’s end it’s the kind of thing that sucks mightily when first getting started, to where he rues ever volunteering, the clouds begin to part somewhat with every tiny bit accomplished. Basically around the time somebody first has to reprint one, this is the turning point where it has begun to make a great deal of sense. Or for him, the moment where he’s going in and swapping out the color scheme on the first hundred or so, after Karen officially approves a dark green and purple trim combo instead — Healthy Shopper Market’s color scheme, although as far as Edgar ever heard, there were far more complaints that this was a stupid and ugly combination — and from there the matter is settled, this is the look we are adopting.
So yeah, he’s not the least bit surprised to hear that Karen collaborated with Sharon on this new items entry theory. The two of them were discussing the matter, and decided that it would make a ton of sense for everyone in the store to instead bring their new items to Sharon, and for her to compile a daily file to send to Edgar. While he doesn’t really care either way, so long as he receives the information, he chuckles in speaking to Sharon on the phone, and tells her he doesn’t think this is going to work.
“Can we just try it?” she says.
This experiment lasts about a month. Before Sharon concedes defeat, telling Edgar she doesn’t have the time for this and they just need to go back to what they were doing before — the department managers emailing him their files. “I told you guys this wasn’t going to work,” he says with a laugh.
“Well, I’m just trying to figure out a better way to handle this.”
“We have a better way to do this. It’s what we’ve been doing for…at least the last eight years that I know of. Some of your department managers just don’t feel like doing it.”
He believes this is a straightforward process made ridiculous by a handful of repeat offenders, even after all this time. All Larry Luddite has to do, 90 to 95% of the time, is copy and paste a line in an Excel spreadsheet, from the major vendor file that Edgar still assembles, rearranges, cleans up and sends out once a month. That’s it. The rest of the time, yes, they might have to actually type something, but this is just too bad. They are now well within the 21st century, it’s time for some of these department managers to deal with their technophobic hangups. And if you should suggest that some of them get organized enough to send you the info before it arrives in the store, they would likely claw out your eyeballs.
Adding a receiver to the process has further complicated matters, making these shuck and jive routines exponentially more time consuming and problematic. Now, if a receiver can’t find something in their system, to check it in electronically, she scans the invoice over to Edgar, so he can see what the problem is. Receivers check in items mostly by SKU number, which is listed on the invoice. So Edgar has to investigate whether it’s just a case of needing to add/change the SKU number (due to the item being listed under an alternate vendor, or the number being incorrect, or having changed), or whether this is genuinely a new item.
If it is a new item, which is increasingly the case as time goes by and they get their database more fully fleshed out, then he commonly forwards the invoice to the department manager at the store, asking them to send him the necessary information on a new items spreadsheet. This is done mostly because you don’t always get all the required information on an invoice, and it has to be completed by someone with the actual product in hand. Should he actually have all the necessary facts in his possession, then he often just adds the damn thing himself anyway, though not exactly broadcasting this fact. Tammy Technophobe would use one instance of this as an example of why she “thought he was doing this all the time,” that this was the expected procedure. No. It’s been established for years now what is expected of them — and far more crucial now because, if they are properly following procedures, they can’t even order something new, not from the scan guns, not without having it added to the system first. So how this stuff continually shows up, and them swearing they didn’t call in or email an order, is indeed a giant mystery.
The person ordering the product is well aware that this is a new item, an exceptionally high percentage at the time. At any rate, they are without question the first person to realize that something they’ve gotten is new. They do receive some mispicks here and there, and it’s always possible that Vince or somebody ordered some crap at a trade show which then appears without warning, out of thin air. Even in this situation, however, who would be the first to recognize this, once it arrives at the store? The person stocking the stuff, most likely. Instead of this endless game of chicken, dodging the responsibility for doing so, the first person to realize this is new just needs to send the items over on a spreadsheet. End of story.
Of course he also still gets department managers scanning him the invoices themselves with no other information listed, aside from some handwritten note about “these need added to the system” and no matter how many times he mentions the freaking new item form to some people, they still act like they’ve never heard it before. Or, even more maddening, typing the same information into the body of an email that they could have just entered instead into the proper cells on an Excel file. But then if you were to go out onto the floor, you see they’ve slapped one of those price gun stickers onto the item, so they’re often fully aware that this item doesn’t ring up (sometimes a handwritten shelf tag as well; lately at Arcadia someone’s been writing them with a bright pink ink pen), they just didn’t feel like sending you the info. It’s this huge standoff where nobody wants to be the person taking the time to do this.
At still other times, it turns into this judgment call because someone did send him the new item info, but with incomplete information. Is it best to just enter the item into the system without all the info, and fill in the gaps later? Or fire it back to the person and tell them to finish this properly? Teri always opted for sending it back, but to him, if he has the UPC and how much to charge, he’s adding it to the system. Even though you then get the next wave of complaints soon afterwards, either the receivers scanning you invoices the next time the products come in, because the SKU number isn’t correct, or people at the other stores complaining about the same when they’re trying to order it, et cetera.
Edgar’s point with Sharon and Karen’s idea was that we are now going to a process where the receiver scans him an invoice, saying she can’t find the item in the system, he either adds the new SKU number to an existing product, or sends it back to Sharon, saying yep, this sure is a new item. So then she’s going out to find the item, which nine times out of ten has already been stickered with one of those hand prices, or with no price at all, a process that means the 2nd person to receive this information has sent it to the 3rd person to receive the information, who sent it back to the 2nd, all in an effort to skirt the person who ordered the freaking product, and was first to know it was new, for no other reason than they don’t feel like doing it.
So now Sharon and Karen have moved onto another bold theory. Or so they believe, although in reality, this one has been bandied about and shot down for years. The last time it came up, John Arthur from Slingshot, who seems like about the most knowledgeable guy on this topic that Edgar has ever met, he advised the complaining contingent that he really, really does not advise doing things this way.
“Why can’t we just add the entire catalog for every vendor to our system?” Sharon now suggests.
“That’s not happening,” Edgar tells her.
“Well why not!?” she demands.
The first and most obvious of these is the memory crush it would cause on the Slingshot program itself, the cash registers and so on. Yet even if you were to streamline this concept down to, say, “only” the five major vendors, this is a horrible idea because you would be doing maintenance every month on tens of thousands of items that nobody had ever carried. Coming up with departments for every new item added to each of them every month, tax rates, EBT settings, streamlining the brand names — and this said nothing of the already existing items. You would be updating prices on a mountain of items that didn’t exist in any of the stores, had never existed in any of the stores. The same went for updating discontinued ones, marking these as such, or switching the vendors. This would be bad enough just updating it on Edgar’s end, and mostly a colossal waste of time, without even getting into the shelf tags generated. Jacqueline over at Arcadia was complaining now about receiving all of them, because that’s the way Ralph wants it, because he doesn’t “trust” the technology nor Edgar’s methods and remains convinced that someone else needs to scrub the data. How would she feel about receiving five times as many, every month? Edgar can only imagine what kind of inane conversations he’d be having with Ralph, should this transpire:
“Now, see, I know you just printed out 200,000 shelf tags for me, and I appreciate that, I do. But look at this one bottle of shampoo! You’ve got it marked as a case pack of six, but it comes in as a single! My people don’t have time for this! This is why I don’t trust any of it, and I’m sorry, but we’re just not wasting a bunch of effort with this inventory business…”
Well, Edgar is at least able to convey these points to Sharon and make her see the light. She might get a little worked up at times, but is plenty rational and smart once she calms down. They’ve just quelled this situation and gone back to submitting new items the same old way at Palmyra, however, when a few people at Central start whispering that perhaps they should take a look at the receiving history there. Given Nigel’s flakeout and what they unearthed in his wake, are they really all that convinced Pattie is hitting it out of the park? This is the next potential crime to investigate.