Healthy Shopper Market back door

"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - I13

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 12 Oct 2023

but one of the many new war zones


The next step is a day long conference up in Boone, near the Slingshot headquarters, where they’ve rented out some space in a nearby hotel. For this outing it’s the somewhat unusual crew of Duane, Karen, Destiny, her husband, and Edgar driving up there, from the Healthy Shopper Market contingent. Destiny’s husband, Jerry, obviously doesn’t even work for the company, but figures it’s a cool town to kick around in all day while he waits for her to be done.

The day before, Edgar emails everyone suggesting he could drive if anyone wanted to carpool, explaining where he lived, or they might save on gas money if someone else wanted to take the wheel, et cetera. To which the only person replying was Karen, taking the perhaps totally expected line of asking what way are you going? We don’t go that way.

It is nearly a mini-disaster that they don’t all ride together, at least for some of them. Edgar arrives in town with plenty of time to spare, so much time that he sets up camp at this charming local coffee shop, with his laptop, and checks his emails for any five alarm fires that absolutely require handling at the moment. Then drifts up the road to the hotel, only to wander around for a second, unable to find the conference listed on his instructions.

Fortunately, upon reentering the lobby, he bumps into Destiny and Jerry arriving from the other direction, who explain that the meeting had been moved to a different hotel at the last minute, they just figured this out themselves. Climbing back into their vehicles, he follows them, as Destiny and Edgar enter to join Duane and Karen, now a handful of minutes late.

Maybe this isn’t the greatest look for the company — Slingshot, that is — but Edgar believes that by and large, they have their act together, and that this seems like a viable product. Joining them here, too, are various representatives in similar roles from all sorts of mom and pop operations, scattered all over the country, which always provides a tremendous opportunity for picking brains and developing a few new ideas. It’s also extremely reassuring when you discover that some random person doing your job a handful of states away is having the same issue, or maybe even asks the same question you were about to.

Conference tables are arranged into a connected rectangle, lining the perimeter of this smallish room, as a range of Slingshot experts stand in the middle, holding court on various topics, with a Q & A to follow. The most informative of these is the head of the software division, Ray Silver, who dispenses one of the best quotes Edgar has ever heard. It’s in response to some whiny dude from a small health store in Jersey, continually grilling Ray with a series of increasingly outlandish scenarios, seemingly on a mission to just get the software guru to admit his company sucks. In general the “question” asker seems like precisely the kind of employee Healthy Shopper Market is positively overrun with. The next thing out of his mouth, Edgar expects, could very well be okay but what if a meteor crashes through the roof and wipes out every single shopper lined up at register 5, do you mean to tell me the inventory is going to be correct on those products then?

Silver chuckles at the latest preposterous what-if, finally telling his prosecutor. “Look, I’m gonna tell you what I always tell people, which is this: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Edgar loves this one, which is apparently a common slogan that he’s somehow never heard before. It totally sums up the opposition they’re already running into with rolling out some of these concepts. The complainers will constantly use some fluke scenario and use that as a springboard to “prove” that because of this glitch, this entire program is garbage and will therefore never work — like Ralph Hedges, with that one vitamins electrolite drink that is listed in the catalog half the time as a casepack of 1, half the time as a casepack of 30.

Whether or not this complaint lands depends upon the store management. It’s pretty obvious that, despite whatever Rob thinks Edgar can pull off with getting these people in line, that it’s not going anywhere without the store management’s backing. So having Karen and Destiny attend this conference in Boone is awesome, as they network and shake hands, collect business cards and the occasional free sample. They are the store managers for the busiest two locations, so this makes total sense. But will they get behind it?

As Edgar makes the long drive home, he considers that, once again, you have four completely different dynamics, from store to store. The only place totally on board with this perpetual inventory stuff is Palmyra, with Karen running the show, and Craig’s brother-in-law Michael as the assistant. Trudy and some of the others might be diehard technophobes, but you’ll basically run into that anywhere.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the perpetual lost cause of Liberty. Everyone still expects this location to fold any day, which is why it’s almost exclusively propped up by the most bottom tier riffraff imaginable. Even the most sensible cashier of the bunch, Jim, was recently fired for unspecified reasons. Store manager Leroy, it’s eventually become apparent, falls more into the Corey Brown category of talking a great game but not actually doing anything. He is an intelligent and extremely knowledgeable guy with a ton of experience, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into results. Particularly when the guy in question seems to have figured out he can just talk that wonderful game and call it a day, without anyone saying boo. And as far as his second in command, Pierre O’Brien…well, the name says everything at this point.

The other two stores fall somewhere in between. At Arcadia, with Isabel in charge and her trusty sidekick Shad, it’s as though they want to get behind this stuff, they have great attitudes, but are often quite confused about what’s going on. As such they get the benefit of the doubt. But then there’s the current golden child, Central, which presents the least unified front of all. On one hand you have Craig, who fully blesses these concepts and understands why they’re a good thing; directly above him, however, is Destiny, who is going to become extremely unpleasant over anything that causes her more work, which might also include the process of learning something new that might lead to the added work. She’s in good spirits up in Boone, probably because this is a hippie outpost planted directly in her alley, which she no doubt toured with Jerry as soon as he picked her up. As far as implementing what she has learned? With gritted teeth, and only if necessary. Much more likely to leap at the chance to defend anyone whatsoever who takes issue with Slingshot. Which leads to frequent conversations along these lines, as when Edgar questions why someone called in an order instead of using their new scan guns for placing it electronically.

“Tammy Technophobe says the guns don’t work.”

“Really? Like how? Because all the other departments are using them, at all the other stores.”

“I don’t know. That’s just what she says. So…yeah, she’s not gonna be using them.”

Edgar’s opinion of these types of complaints is generally the same thing he could tell Ray was thinking up there at the Slingshot conference, but couldn’t come right out and say, not to one of his clients: do you think maybe this person just doesn’t want to do it? But of course, the primary, obvious reason that this line of reasoning falls on deaf ears with the likes of Destiny is because she doesn’t want to do it, either.

Healthy Shopper Market back door

The irony here, which he continually attempts stressing to people, whenever this subject comes up, is that getting your inventory straight and then letting the computer assisted ordering do its thing, this is actually much easier than the current method. And much more efficient. It takes some effort on the front end to get these numbers set the way you want them, but it saves you untold hours on the back end. Yet if these are the same folks regarding him with skepticism every time he suggests they, for example, copy and paste something instead of typing it out by hand — which they pretty much are, identical sets of holdouts — then is it really so surprising they’re balking at something as mind-blowing as, gasp, allowing a computer to suggest orders, based on inventory and sales history? Not especially.

None of which would especially bother him, however, were it not for Rob breathing down his neck to make it happen. Yes you wish for the company to succeed, so he cares on those grounds, but again it’s a situation where he’s doing his job, by making things right in the system and teaching them what he can. And if the holdouts are unpleasant enough then you kind of wish they would fail, so they can move onto somewhere else and a replacement can be found.

The next step in this process is when another Slingshot representative, John Arthur, conducts a two day training course at their Central office, for all department managers and whomever else might care to attend. That none of the merchandisers are sitting in is probably telling, another indication of the battles lying in wait ahead, just as Craig is the only assistant manager and there are no store captains. Aside from every department head and him and Edgar, the only other attendee is this employee onboarding girl they’ve recently hired, Tosha, a really sweet young black woman whose position never existed before. These concepts have nothing to do with anything she’s involved in, but they admire that she’s curious enough to sit here for two days of this.

Edgar thinks this John Arthur guy is one of the best instructors he’s ever witnessed, in any realm. With his laptop projecting onto a screen, he patiently explains everything in easy to comprehend language that makes a ton of sense. He says his son runs a pair of grocery stores that do over $300K a week apiece, and that it takes him 45 minutes combined to do all the ordering himself, for both stores, every week. Because he has his inventory dialed in, the reordering triggers set just the way he wants them — and if anything looks out of whack, you can always adjust it. This is legions upon legions easier than walking the store every time out, which is itself likely more error prone anyway than any “mistake” that a CAO suggestion would ever make. That some of the help gathered here are oohing and ahhing and seem impressed with this, are turning and nodding to make approving faces at one another, this is an encouraging sign, but…much work remains to be done.

This visiting guru is truly a wizard, yes, and Edgar learns a ton from him. Both on the major points, concerning not just Slingshot but general theories on maintaining a database and inventory, period, down to even smaller, totally random ones. Like the annoying “leading zero” quandary, in particular UPCs, and how to get around that by right clicking in Excel to format the numbers as General, format of twelve zeros. Totally something he never knew before, and is unlikely to have discovered on his own.

Hot on the heels of this, after casually discussing matters with Dale and Valerie one day, Edgar finally works up the nerve to approach Duane with a long simmering idea he’s never been inspired enough to act upon. Yet the John Arthur meeting only underscored the need for such, sending his mind off into another direction where it highlights in sharp detail why this is maybe an absolute necessity: the “office basics 101” class.

It started off as a kind of joke he would think about on the drive home, to keep himself entertained. Except the more he and his cronies discuss such, it’s really not that ridiculous at all. And of course Duane immediately signs off on this, he nods and says with a wave of a hand that this is fine, if Edgar wants to head up such over here in the conference room. For one thing, it is indeed absurd to think that employees shuddering in fear at the thought of copying and pasting one line of an Excel spreadsheet are going to pick up this automated ordering concept and run with it. There’s just no way. Beyond that, however, there’s also an added value in that anyone who subsequently complains about not knowing how to do some of these things, will have their metaphorical legs chopped out from under them, because they would then have to come up with an answer as to why they didn’t attend the class.

So he sends out an email blast and posts notices by the time clocks, some two weeks in advance of what is usually the slowest day of the week, a Wednesday afternoon, for which he has scheduled this tutorial. He didn’t expect an especially robust response to this, but some people have signed up for his little brainchild here, and that’s a start. If successful there’s no reason they couldn’t do this once a year down the road or something, too. Somebody else might even teach it, because these concepts are not exactly brain-shattering to most modern folk, who are also aware they can just Google and figure out any of it they didn’t already know.

Nobody is willing to drive down from Palmyra for this junk, which was totally expected. Also that those who otherwise might need this the most apparently have no interest in such — your Vince, your Barbara, your Pierre. At least a couple of those characters might overhear some of this however, and put it to good use, although Edgar does have occasion to marvel that Vince not only fails to perform any discernible work, apart from occasionally spending all day building an endcap display here and there, but he’s also extremely adept at tuning out the world around him entirely. To a degree that makes even Edgar blush, the old man’s skill at such.

Okay, though, on a positive note, he does have six attendees arriving, at least one from each of their three Chesboro stores. Even if two of these characters, Mitch from Liberty and Jimmy the Central bulk manager, who hang out together in the back, give a distinct vibe that they already know most of this stuff and it just sounded like a good opportunity for taking it easy on the clock. Yet their presence helps legitimize the clinic anyway, both from an attendance numbers standpoint, but also in beefing up the quality level of the attendees. So he’s thankful for their attendance, for multiple reasons.

Otherwise, it’s Ralph Hedges — who again, while he admires this dude’s spirit, may have perhaps merely shown up to complain about various things, not exactly learning a ton he didn’t already know, either — and Candace from Liberty, Sondra from Central. Come to think of it, though never explicitly telling Edgar such, it appears that Dale may have informed his three in-town vitamin managers that attendance was mandatory, because otherwise these seem a strange coincidence. And then Tosha, the onboarding girl. He gets the feeling that she doesn’t have a ton to do yet, but whatever the case, it’s great that she’s sitting in on all these meetings.

“People don’t like to learn anything new,” is how Dale explains this reluctance, the opposition and often outright hostility they’re facing when it comes to Slingshot and other related concepts. And Edgar’s certain that this is parcel of it, but a very small chunk at best. For the most part, they are convinced that it’s going to bring them more work, not less, and remain unshakeable in that belief.

Because how else to explain this endless nitpicking? That the employees bring so much concern about their precious orders being just so, down to the piece, and are terrified that some computer assisted ordering might upset that delicate house of cards? Please. It’s ninety percent that they are certain this is some gigantic hassle — and refusing to learn anything new might fall into that same hamper as well. Edgar does hold out a smidgen of sympathy for the remaining ten percent, however, who he believes are genuinely living in fear of new technology.

And he can only hope some of those are represented here. Hopefully they learn a little bit and maybe spread the gospel to the likeminded complainers who aren’t on hand. As far as addressing the fear, a little knowledge can go a long way. Perhaps he might inspire them to wonder at the nature of this terror — like, for example, what do they seriously think is going to happen, that they’re going to break something? There is after all the Undo button on most modern business applications. You try something and it doesn’t work, who cares? If you saved hundreds of hours letting the computer algorithm make suggestions for you, and it screws up one order, or misses something here and there, are we seriously crying about this? So what? You fix it and move on.

Not that he’s getting into all that right now. The whole point of this gathering was to take a step backwards and to address some possibly missing basics. It’s a free form discussion, for the most part, with Edgar just addressing questions as presented to him, demonstrating on his own laptop projecting to the screen, just as John Arthur had done weeks earlier. But he does have his own major points he wants to touch upon, each of which typically lead to an extended discussion on the matter.

Among these, perhaps the most controversial: just because the mouse is sitting there, that doesn’t mean it’s your friend. Experiment with the Enter button and the Tab button on your keyboard instead, and you might be pleasantly surprised. Or even the directional arrows. Get into the swing with this and it could even transform your life. Then you can maybe move onto related concepts such as the Home and the End and the Pg Up and the Pg Down, or even far-flung game changing combos such as Ctrl Home and Ctrl End.

Or possibly the greatest combo in history, a duo in the Hot Key Hall Of Fame, Ctrl C followed by Ctrl V. With their frequent collaborator Ctrl Tab there in the middle, if you’re flipping to another document. Edgar’s fond of saying that he tries not to even type his own name if he doesn’t have to, and there’s a great deal of truth to this. From a speed and an accuracy standpoint, it’s best to copy and paste as much as possible.

Behold the glorious majesty of the Ctrl A. Save often, but do so by shunning your enemy in sheep’s clothing, cast the mouse aside in favor of Ctrl S. Cut out the printing pop-up middlemen and go directly to the source with Ctrl P. Ctrl F is technically for finding information, but it’s also a handy box for storing information, like for example looking up something online. Drop it into the box, followed by Ctrl A and Ctrl C. Ctrl Tab to your preferred destination and Ctrl V it there. Really just mess around with Ctrl anything and see what it might do. You’re not going to break anything.

Got too many documents open? Hold down the windows icon and the letter D to magically transport back to the desktop screen. The overwhelming majority of the time, you don’t need to go blind attempting to checkmark tiny boxes — you can click the sentence next to the box instead. Hold down Shift and click the first and last item in a long list, like for example photos in a folder, if you want to do something with all of them. Hold down Ctrl and do the same, if you want to go through and cherry pick items in a long list instead. Don’t feel like typing today’s date ever again, in an Excel spreadsheet? Type =TODAY() into that cell and you will never have to worry about it for the rest of your life. Double click in the middle of a long number or word or whatever to highlight and then copy it, instead of attempting brain surgeon precision with the left click and the drag and the precise stopping point. Here’s how you double click on that little black plus sign to copy something, instantly, into every cell of a column. Here’s how you drag it down manually, if you like. If you keep consistent enough formatting and get rid of the unnecessary spaces, it will even begin to autopopulate cells for you, too, should you wish, thus saving you some unnecessary repetitive tasks. For the grand finale he saves his personal favorite combination, just in case anybody cares, which is of course quite naturally the Ctrl C, Ctrl Tab, Tab, Ctrl V, Ctrl Tab, down arrow superstar combo, permitting a user to positively fly in ways that clicking around with a clunky old mouse never could.

Though it might be of some use to them, he doesn’t seriously expect this charming little exercise to move mountains. Its value will almost surely come in the form of an excuse eliminator, particularly if people realize they will have future meetings, if necessary, because their antiquated attitudes aren’t going to fly any longer. Realistically, what they probably need is someone with some actual authority around here — store manager, assistant manager, preferably Duane and/or Rob — to explain that if they don’t get on board with this stuff, then bye bye. Instead those who are on the bus continue plugging away, and attempt to do what they can with those who are not.

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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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