vitamin objects on a shelf

"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - J13

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 13 Oct 2023

counting objects on a shelf: time consuming but not exactly complicated


One of the central complaints right out of the gate is that the inventory is wrong. His explanation is what would seem on the surface a thoroughly obvious one: of course it is. We didn’t take a starting inventory before launching Slingshot. That wasn’t my call, but in the end it’s not going to make a ton of difference anyway. This is why we’re telling you to take a four foot section at a time, count and adjust the inventory within it, then move on to the next. For the unconvinced, however, which even a conservative estimate would probably peg at 80%, this explanation is met with responses that, while varied (disbelief, befuddlement, exasperation) all pretty much amount to the same thing, and makes the rest of them wonder if these people have ever worked in this industry before.

There are other pieces remaining to snap in place, too, though this is no reason to hold up the inventory taking aspect. One of these, which Glenda, Edgar and Reece are excited about, which everyone else who works with these numbers should be, also, whether they know it or not, is that the Slingshot program integrates fully with Great Plains. All that is needed is for Felix to make this connection happen. He says he is working on it, and when that goes live, they will no longer need to break down and code their invoices by department, because these numbers will automatically get dumped into Glenda’s end over at the Bellwether HQ. In the meantime, however, things are still much easier than they used to be — or make that, things could be much easier than before — in that the employees no longer need to tally up invoices themselves. The departmental breakdown is shown within Slingshot, for every invoice, they just need to flip over a few tabs from the one the receiver uses for checking things in, and everything is shown right there. Of course, these suggestions are often met with about the same enthusiasm as the ones about copying and pasting, which means you’re still dealing with wacky math and incorrect splits from those who refuse to play ball.

On Edgar’s end, now that the database is uploaded and in mostly accurate shape, his greatest concern is getting companies added for automated ordering. No longer will they need to call, email, or walk around toting clipboards and notebooks to manually jot down their orders. A couple of vendors did have online portals for entering information, although this Slingshot scan gun is far easier than that, even.

The most complex situation involves companies that have an actual true EDI system in place (electronic data interchange) so that both sides can communicate with one another. However, out of over 200 suppliers that Healthy Shopper Market is using, only 12 have this capability. For these, he has basically just reached out to the supplier in question, given their account numbers to Slingshot, as those two parties worked out the kinks on this connection. Even if taking those 12 suppliers and multiplying them by anywhere from four to a dozen account numbers (depending upon such things as whether the store has a deli account, whether anyone even uses this supplier at that store, or whether, say, the bulk manager has always just added to a grocery order, instead of creating his own account, et cetera), this is still a mighty small percentage of their overall accounts.

The remaining majority, meanwhile, are much easier to set up, and are something Edgar can knock out on his own. These look the same, and function the same, to anyone else. But for the non-EDI vendors, all he needs is a destination email address. When the orders are sent, they are fired off as email attachments instead, which show the correct store right in the purchase order itself. Among the first he creates in this fashion, actually, is for Bellwether Snacks, entering Tracy’s email address as the destination. Tracy herself seems not too pleased initially to receive them in this manner, although it’s hard to bellyache about such when your company’s owner is the one who initiated and paid for this program. And anyway after she settles down a little bit, she too can see that they are easier to deal with, with much fewer errors, and cutting down on who knows how much time and effort — assuming the bulk managers do what they’re supposed to, that is — in the form of no longer fielding a bunch of phone calls and typed-into-the-body style email orders. The Bellwether Snacks example is also a useful one for helping people visualize how this works, especially as ammunition against the holdouts still whining about this process, some of which insist it “doesn’t work” or even will “never work.”

“You were emailing Tracy your orders before, right?”


“Well, now you don’t have to. Hit the send button, and it automatically shoots her an email with your order.”


The inventory struggles are another matter entirely, however. Again it seems about a 50/50 split between people who understand what’s going on, and those who do not. The difference here however is that the confused, or the unwilling (or the playing dumb yet willfully sabotaging things, of which there are surely a few), have the ability to wreak much greater havoc. The ones who might be termed Team Ralph Hedges continually lodge a few basic beefs, committing their obscure left field examples to memory so they can hereby prove this inventory will never be perfect, therefore they trust none of these new processes. These continually set off endless loops of arguments that are never won regarding the naysayers. Ralph is at least smart enough to get that the starting inventory was never taken, therefore yes the starting inventory could not possibly be correct. Others fail to grasp even this basic point. Either way, though, the answer is the same: scan a four foot section, piece by piece, entering the quantities. Commit. Move onto the next. If you’re really paranoid, you could even do it shelf by shelf within the four foot section. Before you bring out any backstock from your backstock room, you’ll have to add that as well. Once this system is in place, it’s going to be highly accurate, and a whole lot easier to maintain.

But what if the receiver just checked something in, and it’s still sitting on the back dock, huh, huh? Also, look, here’s this one shampoo I found that’s in the system as a case pack of six, but it comes as a single! And how are we supposed to know if someone already scanned a section or not before we bring out any backstock?

“I appreciate you running interference for these Slingshot people, I do,” Ralph croaks to Edgar, after airing variations of the above complaints for the umpteenth time, “but I just don’t trust any of this! Sorry, but I don’t. I just don’t.”

“Well…I mean…the case pack size stuff, that really doesn’t have anything to do with Slingshot. That’s on me to find, and correct. And of course if you guys stumble across any, you can send me those, too. Or like that one electrolite drink packet that’s listed as a 30 count one month, a single the next month…”

“Yeah,” Ralph cackles, nodding and then shaking his head a few times each, eyes gleaming behind his thin, sawed off reading glasses, as though this confirms exactly what he’s talking about.

“…I mean, I did contact the vendor about correcting that, but if not, we’ll just have to watch out for stuff like that. But either way…that has nothing to do with Slingshot, really.”

“Yes, well, I understand all that. But somebody’s gonna have to get them over here and prove to me that this works, before I go committing a bunch of man hours to these types of projects. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is!”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Edgar shrugs, “they want everyone on board with this. And I think it will be better — actually it already is better — than what we were doing before. Like as far as your other questions, you guys are just gonna have to come up with a system, and stay organized. I mean, nobody’s gonna know your own department better than you do. If it were me, you know, you guys don’t even have a receiver here at this store. So I would just have someone in vitamins checking in your deliveries if at all possible…”

“Oh, we do, trust me. We do,” Ralph says, eyebrows shooting upward to emphasize this point.

“Well then, there you go. It should be pretty easy to figure out where you’re at, then.”

Ralph laughs and says, “I see,” shakes his head in the manner of someone who would really like to add, “wow, that’s a good one.”

small displays are easy to miss — try not to suffer a complete meltdown if doing so


This stuff just really isn’t all that complicated. Is it perfect? No, of course not. Will it take multiple passes to get things just about dialed in? Most likely. Yet it’s hard to escape the conclusion that these otherwise bright people, for the most part, really just don’t want to mess with this newfangled inventory concept, and this is the actual major stumbling block, just about the only stumbling block. That Ray guy up in Boone said don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, but Edgar would phrase it more as, this is already better than what we were doing before; we’re not going to stop doing it because you think there might theoretically be something even better out there in the universe somewhere.

Most of the other stores and departments are just hanging a small colored flag or sticker or scrap of paper, to designate that this section has been counted. The observant shopper might notice other companies often do the same, too, even when they already have entrenched systems that have existed for years. There are also other ramifications of Ralph dragging his feet, additional reasons why he might wish to get his crew in gear, among these being the shelf tag onslaught.

With a couple of months now under their feet, they have sales history and inventory action galore under Slingshot. Therefore when it comes to massive tag updates, Edgar is able to drop sales history into his Excel sheet, then drop the inventory levels, and then only print the tags that show at least some activity in one field or the other, for every department, for every store. Basically anything that isn’t a zero in both fields get printed. The only exception remains again Ralph Hedges, who insists he wants every single vitamins/HBA update tag printed out at Arcadia. While, yes, there’s always the off chance that a handful of longshot scenarios might cause an item to slip past the goalie, virtually everyone else agrees that this is far better than sorting through thousands of items that they don’t even carry. When Edgar explains his method to Ralph, though, the response is pretty much as expected.

“Well, I wouldn’t trust that!” the seasoned vitamin manager with the “tech” background scoffs. And Edgar might be mistaken, but he’s pretty much certain this is verbatim the same phrase Ralph used when Edgar explained, many moons ago, his method for using formulas to determine changes in the Universal Foods catalog, almost instantly, from one month to the next.

“Well I trust it a lot more than a human comparing 20,000 items line by line. Are you kidding me?” Edgar had replied then. This time around, he doesn’t even waste his breath.

Days later he’s up in Palmyra, though, and printing out some tags for another little project of his own, when a light bulb goes off. As to how he might get these inventory numbers in a little bit better order, to help quell some of these riots. The freakout factor remains high, because there are so many negative inventory numbers showing in their system, again due to items scanning out at the cash register, though the inventory counting project remains only halfway complete. As is the case with their location codes — in both Orchestra and here — he realizes that you can use a print batch for something it wasn’t even intended for, necessarily.

Though the location codes in Orchestra were something that neither Pierre nor Melissa trifled with at all, during Edgar’s year and a half sabbatical, they were in reasonably decent shape still. And he was able to chip away here and there at resuming that project upon his return. Slingshot in fact has a dedicated location code space in their system, allowing for entering more than one location per store, even, and he was able to import those fields over from Orchestra. They have a dedicated menu on their scan guns for entering that information directly, too, as well as quite obviously a dedicated inventory one.

But while Edgar isn’t about to start counting their product for them, it occurs to him that his print batches can again kill multiple birds with one medium sized rock. By leaving the batches in there until he can process them, he can not only print out the tags by four foot section and enter the location code, he can also do something about this inventory. It’s not perfect, but is at least a step in the right direction, and in many instances would actually wind up being correct. If it’s out on the floor, they obviously have at least one of the item. So for every item in these print batches that is showing a negative inventory, he can go into the system and mass edit it to an on hand quantity of 1. Bam. He doesn’t mess with the zeroes, because there’s a chance that it was in fact purchased since he scanned it, but with the negatives, something was obviously out of alignment there.

As for the Palmyra crew themselves, they are soon confronting him with their own set of wacky notions. Although the key difference here, as opposed to Ralph Hedges, is that this team’s ideas at least involve a theory for doing the work. So clearly this is light years removed from someone’s wild stabs in the dark about not doing the work. Edgar feels like he would entertain many a farfetched notion that actually involved doing the work, which is why he listens with an attentive ear when Palmyra’s airing their latest zany scheme.

This isn’t to say he necessarily agrees with it. In this situation, the unlikely brain trust of Karen (no surprise there — she always takes issue with the way Edgar and most everyone else has been doing anything whatsoever), Shelly, and vitamins employee Sharon Tolliver have cooked up their own proposal, and approached him with it. They are ready to tackle this entire store, beginning with the frozen section. They really are. Edgar’s already not sure how a vitamins employee has been drafted into scanning the freezer, in place of anyone from the grocery department, and is less sure that Dale’s aware of this, but that’s beside the point. If Sharon’s game for doing so, Edgar surely isn’t going to talk her out of it. And so the only thing holding this trio back from beginning is that, they claim, it’s way too confusing to start with the current quantities that the system is showing. This would require them to either add or subtract from the current level, instead of zero. Karen takes co-authorship of this theory, but drops out of the discussion early on, as Shelly and Sharon are instead left arguing their case.

“It would just be a whole lot easier, mentally, if everything showed an on-hand of zero. Can that be done?”

“Yyyyyyyeah, it can be, but…I mean, this would totally wipe out everything the receiver’s been doing for the past, what, two or three months. His job would have been a total waste of time, then,” Edgar tells them.

“Yeah but, do see our point? Like let’s say…okay, we count something and there’s five sitting there. It’s showing in the system at a negative three. So then we’re gonna make an adjustment of…adding eight? That just seems like a headache, like we’re way more likely to make a mistake. If we started with zero…”

“Okay but even then, alright, if I wipe out all the inventory, you would still have to make sure Nigel doesn’t check in anything the entire time, or that would bring it right back up again. So what, you’re gonna scan the entire store before he checks in another shipment?”

“It would just be the frozen,” Shelly says.

“Yeah, it would just be the frozen. We’ll do the frozen section first, then move onto another one. But we’d let you know before we did. And make sure Nigel doesn’t check anything in for that area,” Sharon insists.

“I don’t know about this…”

“Can’t we just try it?”

So they try it. He goes in and resets the entire frozen section inventory to zero, as those two get cracking. And doesn’t hear anything more about the project until three days later, when it suddenly occurs to him that things have been way too quiet on that front. So he shoots both of them an email, and they insist they are making great progress, although the wording in Shelly’s response sends off some alarm bells, because she’s saying something about scanning a little bit here and there whenever they have time, but they’ll let him know when “the batch” is closed.

This suspicion is confirmed when he connects into Palmyra’s server, and can see that there’s just one frozen inventory adjustment sheet open, created three days ago, and that it is still active. Mind-numbing. Totally mind-numbing. He doesn’t consider himself a know-it-all. He considers himself a know-the-normal-amount. And as such, really doesn’t see how you could spend so much time fretting and concocting such a complex argument for zeroing out inventory, but then claim you had no idea that you were supposed to scan and commit a small section at a time. Or at least, at the very barest of minimums, close out the batch before you left for the day. Especially when arguing you would definitely finish this before another frozen delivery was received.

He exhales slowly and shakes his head, enjoys a gallows humor type chuckle as he thinks how to construct this carefully worded email, sent to all three of them. Because they are going to take issue however he words this, rest assured. And do. The argument here being that they “didn’t know” you were supposed to scan and commit each freezer door before moving onto the next. Setting aside that he really suspects this answer is pure fiction anyway, it would be troublesome even if true, for numerous reasons. How are the three of them saying they collectively didn’t know this, that you had to commit your inventory for it to take? Have none of them worked in this industry prior to here? What has this entire store been doing, then, for the past three months, as they’re supposedly scanning and getting their sections in order? The reason going section by section is considered ideal is that a shopper would have to physically push you out of the way in order to grab something you are counting. And even then, unless knocked unconscious after they have done so, you would then be able to see and adjust whatever item they just grabbed, or recount it. You commit the order and move on, and it no longer matters if someone puts anything from that section in their shopping cart or not.

Well, one would think this would put an end to the kooky experiments. However, one would be mistaken. They say they get it now, but want him to zero out the frozen section again, and that this time they will do it right. While he would like to say, enough of this searching for a magic bullet, just get out there and start counting the crap…in reality, he doesn’t care, and doesn’t feel like arguing, if they’re dead set on doing it this way. Again, at least they are doing the work, so whatever.

January first, though, Rob is saying. January first. He has visions of everyone being onboard and in great shape by January first. Edgar just doesn’t see it. And this inability to corral a hundred different people with a hundred different outrageous theories on how to do things will probably be his fault somehow, as he is magically supposed to humor each of them without going off on anybody, or “throwing them under the bus” by mentioning these wacky theories and the constant mayhem to Rob or Duane.

Dale has one new all-purpose phrase he’s breaking out often, at least once a week, which pretty much sums up this situation as well: “killing it!” Followed by a weary shake of the head. Exactly. Dale just doesn’t get this place, and is not alone in that regard. You’re not trying to be condescending, but come on.

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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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