Dying days of a former superpower
Southside’s closing fills them all with unspeakable sadness. Many walk around snapping photos of what is now an even dingier location, with the product stripped from the shelves, and various case lights no longer on. By the time they are even ready to begin moving into Central, the land baron/Harry Teet consortium, all but spitting in the face of the whole slowing down expansion joke the city official had foisted upon Duane, has already knocked down most of the former Southside strip mall. The last piece to remain, in fact, all the more striking as a solitary object in the middle of a construction zone, is the north facing wall, the one with their specially commissioned mural.
Yet things are progressing far too rapidly elsewhere to dwell upon this. To properly kick off their Slingshot integration, a representative from that company, Aubrey, drives down from Boone to meet with Edgar and Melissa. A fair-skinned, freckly, auburn haired, but more importantly pleasant and soft-spoken female, of roughly the same age as they, she does a great job explaining what is needed from them, on a database (Edgar) and tech related (Melissa) standpoint. They are all three shoehorned in a row along the tiny shelf that now passes for Edgar’s desk, as she also demonstrates for mostly his exclusive benefit how to upload information, download reports, and accomplish many of the other standard basics in that system.
Though he feels like he already grasps this well enough to do so, Aubrey insists that he send her their entire item database, so that she can get the ball rolling for them. Also an employee list, for those discounts, and yet another for the local vendors they are not only hooking up to the tune of 10% off, but many of which also have a tax-free certificate on file due to their (allegedly) using the purchased product in the creation of their own wares.
They haven’t even gotten going yet, but it’s pretty obvious things will run much smoother with this program. One of but a litany of problems with Orchestra was that you couldn’t define two price points for the same UPC. The most common issue with this applies to soft drink and beer cans, which are just hanging there on their plastic tabs. No separate number exists to distinguish between buying a six pack versus a single. In the olden days cashiers were expected to just punch in a price; when Edgar came aboard, he at least created PLU numbers for single cans at various price points, but this still required either the cashier to punch in the correct number, or, for the more industrious and conscientious stock persons, for them to print off stickers and apply them to the cans.
A number of similar points also apply to the sale signs. While the ones Park designs are legions better, visually, than the homemade jobs everyone else was cranking out, they suffer many of the same issues, none of which are his fault. Park is reliant on people to bring him accurate information, which, well, good luck with that. Edgar has at least sent him files every month, the exact same flyer items he’s uploading to the system — so if there’s some error here, it’s at least a consistent one, i.e. if Edgar put the wrong item on sale, the sign would nonetheless match and ring at that price. They have far more problems with employees bringing random projects to Park, telling him they need a new sign for something which isn’t on sale any longer, or else they’re identifying the wrong product entirely. Even with the correct pricing and end dates on there, the largest hurdle remains people taking the batch of sale signs they are given, finding the closest match, and hanging it there. Then if there are any discrepancies, complaining that the sale price “isn’t working,” which almost without fail continues to be them having picked the wrong item. Instead of going through the list of sale items ahead of time, which again includes the UPC number for comparison, and making sure they have all the correct ones on hand.
But this Slingshot program should eliminate all of that, not to mention make Park’s job tremendously easier. They just have to upload his sign templates into the system. When Edgar enters the sale batches to the system, and deploys them to the store, he can then print the batch as a bunch of sale signs — which have the barcode and UPC on them, at the bottom. With the barcode on the signs themselves, this annihilates the last little loophole certain repeat offenders were wiggling through, claiming something wasn’t working. Park can still custom craft other signage, but this process should wipe out a ton of unnecessary headaches.
Following this training, Melissa gets to work installing the main server, on the back dock at Central. It will eventually communicate to a store specific one up front, in the manager’s office, as well as to the other three locations. They’ve also hired a Latino woman named Pattie to act as their first ever receiver, for the Central location. As far as Edgar’s concerned, this is a huge step in the right direction. He has worked at a few different places where he considered the receiver the most valuable employee in the store, and at the very least, it’s a necessary position.
As far as his work goes, apart from communicating constantly with Aubrey, and ironing out any issues, they’ve also begun to at least start settling into Central. The store itself is nowhere near open, but they’re now getting into their offices if nothing else. One day Valerie and Barbara visit the Chesboro IKEA and load up on matching, sturdy but cheap white desks for everyone save Duane. He alone has brought his majestic, dark wooden, heavy duty command post from Southside. Most of the others were headed straight for the trash heap anyway, although the conference room table and a few scattered pieces of furniture have also made the transition.
Barbara appears inordinately stoked about the prospects of sharing an office with Edgar. He isn’t quite sure what to make of this. She seems nice and all, but a little wacky, the kind of wackiness that can make a complete 180 mood swing in seconds. This is surely what Valerie meant by the Barbara experience. She’s really pumped up about these storage boxes she hand selected herself for Edgar, to house his reams of paperwork, and he’s thankful and everything. But man, these are close quarters, he feels like she’s going to want to talk constantly, and has furthermore insisted upon bringing over her weird art installation which looks like a bunch of twigs erupting out of an empty fish tank.
In one corner, they also have a mess of cables and electronic boxes hanging from the wall, as this is where the internet technology is clustered. While Melissa alone is dealing with the Slingshot installation, from an equipment standpoint, Felix is pretty much heading up everything else, concerning the internet to the cash registers and so on. Edgar assumes the guy mostly knows what he’s doing, though Felix remains as cryptic as ever. The store opening is progressing smoothly enough, but even so, Edgar finds himself wishing once more that people would ask more questions around this place.
Yet again the deli scale issue is already proving to be a small scale disaster — despite what already went down on this front in Walnut, and Arcadia, and what happened when Liberty decided to start using Walnut’s old scale, what’s the situation here? Well, it turns out that Felix asked nobody anything, just went and ripped the old scales out of the wall at Southside and brought them to Central. He was completely unaware of the ScaleMonster box housed up in the merchandiser’s office. Edgar sent him back to retrieve it, but Felix claims he can’t figure out how to get the remote connection working again. Though Edgar likes the guy and all and is certain he mentioned this before Felix took it upon himself to move the scales, you can’t really seem to pin him down by admitting much, and it’s already a frustrating situation. Edgar isn’t really the type to go complaining to management, but he’s absolutely going to mention this, in as neutral a fashion as he can, the first time they have a group meeting or email chain roundup discussing the outstanding issues.
He has also begun to wonder again at just how much Felix really knows. This is something that first became lodged in his head back when he was still working in the AP role, and might explain this evasiveness, the ducking and weaving, answering questions vaguely or with still more questions. The incident which made him wonder was a day where, absentmindedly enough, he clicked on an email from some lotion company to receive a free sample. It seemed like something his wife might like, and he figured why not. Unbeknownst to Edgar, it took him straight to the company’s Facebook page, where he was expected to give a thumbs up to receive the free sample. Which was cool and all, except that…as far as anyone knew, Facebook had been blocked for years on site, you shouldn’t have been able to access this.
At the time, Edgar just chuckled and kept this little glitch to himself. But then he began to wonder about the nature of this apparent loophole, because it didn’t make any sense. What, was facebook.com/naturallypurelotioncompany just some magical combination of letters that evaded detection? That seemed highly unlikely. So after playing around awhile, days later, he discovered that any legit destination after the backslash whatsoever would work. All Felix had done was block the homepage — facebook.com. That was it. Most employees who clicked on the icon on their desktops or phones would indeed discover that the site/app had been blocked, sure, but typing in the destination address works fine. So the ban is mostly somewhat effective, though it does call into question how much the head of IT can possibly know about his job.
He still doesn’t mention this, as the tiny tidbit remains lodged under Edgar’s hat. It does explain quite a bit, however. Like this day that Felix, who has roped some dude in from the internet company under a paid “consultant” role, invites Edgar and the consultant to lunch. This guy steps into Edgar’s new office, as they wait for Felix to walk over, sees the mess of cables and boxes hanging on the wall and exclaims, “whoa! Who set up Spaghetti Junction, over here?” while he drifts over to inspect this work of art in greater detail, as though unable to believe this tangled mess exists.
When Felix appears, the three of them walk over, at his suggestion, to Central Smokehouse. It’s located across the street from the new location, and Felix, who admits to going out for lunch just about every day, has eaten here before. At his suggestion, Edgar tries the bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers, which are indeed incredible. Considering that they don’t really know a ton about one another, and also that this double shot of a store opening and Slingshot installation has them swamped, it’s only inevitable that they would pretty much exclusively discuss work. Waiting for the right moment, Edgar manages to insert a mention of the deli scales, that they need to get the ScaleMonster program up and running again, or something similar. The timing might be as good as it gets, in fact, considering they have some sort of internet expert with them.
“Ah yes — explain to me again what the situation is?” Felix replies.
“Okay, well, so anytime I update something on one of the scales, that program would let me send it remotely from there down to the stores.”
“Ah ha. And you’re doing this from your office?”
“Yes. I can enter my updates there and send them down to the store. Well, it’s what we were doing at Southside, and are still doing at Palmyra. The other stores don’t have anything like that set up. Although it would be nice.”
“This is a separate database from the Orchestra or now what you might call the Slingshot one?”
“Yeah, this is totally separate,” Edgar says, waving one hand to provide a little visual confirmation as well.
“I see, I see,” Felix nods, looking above and over Edgar as though pondering a matter of great complexity. Meanwhile, the internet consultant remains silent, as he has throughout this topic. “And this is more work? Going to the store to enter the information?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, at Central it might not be too horrible, because I can just walk right over there. Of course even then, it’s extremely time consuming to stand there and make changes or enter new items directly on the scales. Plus I would imagine it’s not as accurate.”
“Okay, well, let me see what I can do. I should be able to figure something out. You have a contact number for this ScaleMonster?”
a blank canvas with endless possibilities
This conversation leaves Edgar feeling well enough that Felix will at least patch together some sort of solution. Enough for Edgar to concentrate on his other considerable tasks, which claim top priority right now anyway. He does have a moment to reflect, though, that Felix taking people out to lunch every so often is a brilliant idea. You’re a lot less likely to complain to management — not that Edgar would — about somebody who is picking up the tab on your meals. Someone who is perfectly affable to be around while doing so, too. Even if continually evasive with the answers, or why things are flawed in the first place. Like how the internet at Palmyra continues to suck just as the internet at Arcadia continues to suck. They can only hope that Central offers an improvement on this puzzling phenomenon. He was tempted to bring this up at lunch, actually, but couldn’t figure out a tactful way to mention it to the internet consultant without throwing Felix to the wolves. This is just one of the many unresolved conundrums found within the modern work environment — is it better to find a way to mention this to the guy in private, or do so in front of Felix, or not worry about it at all, since it’s technically not your problem?
Though somewhat huge, this is a back burner issue right now anyway. Of greater consequence is that, now that Melissa and the Slingshot people have gotten the main server up and running, they can begin using this program. The Central store still is not quite open. However, within days they will start loading the shelves in there with product, with an eye toward a soft opening next week. Thus is hatched the next bold plan, which will allow them to become familiar with the software while at the same time start making some progress in this perpetual inventory concept: using the office itself as a staging area, as they begin checking in product here.
This gives them a great hands-on crash course, and allows Edgar to fix many potential problems before the system even technically goes live. Most of these pertain to case pack size, which, again, was nice to know but not essential up until now. Considering that Dale is really the only one who’s shown much interest in these concepts, and also that vitamins for the most part are commonly shipped in a quantity of one, it makes the most sense to start here. With a team consisting of Pablo, Willie, Pattie, Dale and Edgar, they go to work, cracking open, scanning, and moving each case of project, in a well-organized, strategic manner.
Deliveries are dropped near the door, as Pablo or Willie open the boxes, then carry them across the room to Pattie. She scans each item, which enters the quantity into their system, and if everything’s good, then Dale stacks this case against the far wall. If an item turns out to not be in their system, or has the wrong case pack quantity, then Edgar grabs the items in question, brings them into his office where he has a couple of tables going, one for each scenario.
This isn’t how things will run once they go live, of course, but it gives them a tremendous head start of over a week, at what they expect will be one of their busiest stores. And anything deployed here potentially benefits the other locations as well, as far as shoring up their database. A point that becomes considerably more crucial considering that, despite continued objections from everyone at Slingshot, Rob plans on going live with this program all at once, everywhere. Central’s lone advantage lies in not yet being open.
According to Duane, they have so far sunk $1.5 million into Central, however, which far exceeds even Southside’s cost. This is without having a hot bar up and running yet, or all the needed alcohol permits, both negligible expenses yet negatively impacting sales until they are a go. But they’ve got a patio out front, with tables and umbrellas and a brick parapet that doubles as flower planter, and they plan on hosting live music out there often, most likely of the soft spoken acoustic singer-songwriter variety. They have a modern looking juice bar directly in the middle of the store, near the cash registers, and crews boasting some bright red uniforms and hats, distinct from everyone else’s while still proudly featuring the company logo. As a whole they have a trendy looking, beautiful store, brighter than Southside ever was, with the popular stained concrete floors and amiable yellowish-white lighting.
They also boast an impressive team, with not just this brand new receiver position, and everyone of substance transferring over from Southside, but a few key promotions as well. The head grocery position was up for grabs, and when Laurie from Liberty applied for it, Edgar was one of many giving the thumbs up to this pick, to the extent that nobody’s surprised that she wins it. Otherwise, Destiny and Craig are the management team here, Pablo continues running produce, Chef Mike the deli, this relatively younger, quiet Greek kid named Jimmy the bulk, as he had during the waning days at South. The lone question mark is Sondra, this argumentative, scatterbrained black woman who is taking over for Kenya in vitamins/HBC. Maybe she will get it to together, it’s too soon to tell. For now it’s as though they’re getting the combativeness of her predecessor without any of the positive results.
It’s surely to their advantage that they are breaking in Central with just one new department head in place. Everything feels different over here, somehow, better, tighter, more of a cohesive family unit than ever before. And while it’s possible that Duane might have latched onto this location anyway, in which case one can’t help salivating over where this company might be right now if they had this spot and Southside, daydreaming about these matters doesn’t help. Those that remain for the most part form a considerably strong core, those that are gone, well, are mostly not missed all that much — and leave it to Craig Willis to point out that many of the recent exits share something in common.
“You don’t wanna piss Edgar off!” Craig tells the others with a grin, shaking his head and marveling at Edgar as one would a museum specimen, having stopped by the Central office to see how things are going, before heading over to the store. Amid this flurry of activity, with the conference table pushed off the side, and cases stacked to the ceiling against the far wall, a handful of them running around, Craig counts off the names: Jimmy Ray. Ruth. Corey. Jake. Zaire. Possibly two or three more they’re forgetting. Even without knowing all the facts — or then again, perhaps he does, somehow — these are all figures with which Edgar has grappled, who no longer work for this company.
Craig’s comment is funny and all, but this roll call is precisely the point, proving what Edgar has felt all along: they aren’t gone because he scrapped with him, they are gone because they were not good fits for this company. They either didn’t do anything or were advancing some extremely nutty ideas in highly antagonistic fashion or were outright malicious, pick your percentages there. The only exception he might make would be for Zaire, who by any metric was at least performing well.
“No,” Valerie says, refuting this notion with some violent shakes of her own head, ponytail swishing in the wind, “part of doing your job well is getting along with people. If she couldn’t get along with people, then she wasn’t doing her job well. I mean I would say the same thing about her that I’d say about…,” Valerie catches herself, stops, shoots a furtive glance at Duane’s office, to confirm that it’s empty, then smirks at them as she halfway whispers, “Karen Hatley.”
Maybe some of these figures had their supporters, who knows, but none are present here. Though tucked away in their offices, silent and uninvolved, for example, it’s doubtful that the likes of Vince or Park or Barbara would have much to say refuting this, either. Rob would probably be the most likely character to defend Corey, Corey pretty much the only one defending the rest.
A great way to frame this is that, despite the chaos involved with switching stores at the same time they’re introducing a brand new, far more involved POS and database system, with accompanying more complex and sometimes foreign procedures, this has been far and away the smoothest opening so far, even though Central is probably bigger than Arcadia and both Walnut locations combined. This by virtue of Duane letting the specialists handle their areas of expertise essentially unfettered. Does anyone seriously believe that things would be better here with the likes of a Corey Brown or a Harry Redcrow calling all the shots, overriding everything to inject their off the wall viewpoints?
“Think one hundred thousand,” Rob has been saying, telling everyone this for weeks, “we need to do a hundred thousand a week here to turn a profit.”
To maximize this figure their very first week, Duane announces that soft opening, set for Monday, in the second week of September. The weekend prior, all hands are expected on deck, as the bulk of their deliveries will begin arriving on Friday. In consideration of this three day cram, he asks Edgar to take off a rare disconnected Tuesday, to work Saturday instead. As Edgar has finally given up that part time job, after a couple of years there, and was asked in reasonable fashion well in advance, he doesn’t have a problem with this.
In the middle of the week, just four days to spare before opening, they host an 85th birthday party for Mr. Locke, in the Central store itself. The group photo taken here displays a happy, borderline jubilant crew, featuring the office team and Central staff combined, jazzed about this terrific looking new location, a more efficient operation and a company, despite its considerable obstacles faced, that remains on the upswing.
The first week, they only hit $69K, albeit without their alcohol licenses and still in need of a hot bar for the deli. Week two lands at $87K as they now have these beer and wine permits, yet the hot bar remains under construction. Finally, the third time around, with this last outstanding piece in place, they crack the magical $100K barrier, and will never look back. At least not for as long as Duane is running this company.