Healthy Hippie organic peeled garlic

"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - J7

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 8 Sep 2023

The invisible discount fairies were powerless to sprinkle pixie dust on these


“Well, I’m engaged!” Chef Anthony announces with a broad grin, in Edgar’s office just a few days later.

“Oh wow. Congratulations! Who is it? Anyone I know?”

Anthony tilts his head slightly to the left, in the manner of someone cocking their chin because they can’t quite believe what was just said. “You don’t know who I’ve been seeing?”

Edgar shakes his head and shrugs, because he genuinely has no clue. Although based upon the way the chef is acting, it almost certainly has to be someone who works here. If that’s the case, then he’s guessing it must be Valerie — it seems like every time he dips into the merchandisers’ office, Anthony has a chair pulled up right beside her, and is muttering something to her in a low voice.

“You seriously don’t know? She thinks you know,” Anthony says, and when Edgar reiterates not having a clue, the chef extracts a phone from his baggy kitchen pants and begins scrolling through some photos, trying to find a good one of the mystery fiancé.

One peculiarity of workplace culture, Edgar has noticed before, which may explain why he’s never heard about this, is that it’s apparently been confirmed as true. People have no interest in gossiping about certified facts. Oh, employees might bitch about a policy recently handed down from up top, for example when Doris, the human resources lady, recently circulated an email informing everyone that they are no longer permitted to smoke on company premises, that they must get in their cars and drive around to do so. Safe to say this topic eats up a healthy portion of the current break room conversation. But as far as gossip is concerned, only vaguely substantiated speculation will suffice. Like he’s heard from multiple people that Anthony allegedly has been known to snort certain illicit substances in the men’s room here — that is the sort of tidbit which gets passed around, because it’s a rumor.

Anthony flips his phone around now to display a photo of him and Christie together. Which isn’t at all who Edgar expected, and thus a startled cackle escapes him, though he quickly recovers to issue another earnest congratulations. And Anthony soon exits the room, leaving Edgar to feel, as these revelations do, like at least a smidgen more of a normal human, in the loop and having somewhat real conversations with actual people.

Valerie made a passing comment the other day that Edgar seems to be “really into his job,” and he supposes this is true, he’s definitely enjoying himself more in this role than in any other. Otherwise, though these facets are greatly intertwined, it’s much truer to state that this job is so involved that he has no choice but to knuckle down and pay attention, pretty much nonstop. As he has mentioned to more than one person, there has not yet been a single dull moment in a year and a half now at the Healthy Hippie/Shopper Market, which is incredible. But it’s also true that, as he was telling his mom last week, part of the reason for this is the totally off the wall cast of characters continually surrounding them.

“It’s not that people are lazy here, that’s not it,” he’s telling her, after work one night, at his parents’ house, “it’s that we have so many people who go out of their way with these really bizarre methods, that take a ton of time and effort and don’t even work as well…but then they want to argue with you all day about the way you’re doing things…except also then complain how swamped they are and that they can’t seem to get caught up…”

Everything is a matter of perception, he supposes. Except you’re not only fighting a constant battle with people eventually forgetting about the improvements you’ve brought to the table — which is especially problematic if you’re talking about management, the ones appraising your performance — but then also endless waves of new hires who have no way of knowing this, beyond word of mouth. Which, again, everyone has already forgotten about anyway.

You also have no control over how people are going to interpret things. It occurred to him the other day while driving home that he could host a meeting of every available employee, in the conference room, and give a tutorial on computer basics. Yet he would have 90 if not 95% of the people rolling their eyes and muttering snide remarks that he should stop being such a condescending dickhead, of course they know how to copy and paste; the remainder would be jotting this down, finding such information useful. Complaining as they already are if you didn’t host such a meeting, because they aren’t “tech wizards.” Stop being such a condescending dickhead, expecting them to know this.

This is how he winds up with the newly hired, oldish woman in vitamins, Marian, in his office maybe two or three weeks after she’s hired. Returning the barcode scanner to its charger base, as she picks up a few price tags she’s cranked out. Flopping into the chair across from him at the desk, smirking over it at him.

“Man, you’ve got it made,” she tells him, “I want your job. You’ve got the easiest job in this place!”

He glances from his computer screen over at her, smiling himself because he initially assumes she must be joking. Yet one look at her face reveals that she is entirely serious, knee-slapping zinger though it is.

“Well…it’s not quite as easy as it looks. Actually I’ve probably made it look a little easier than it is…”

Hearing this, she claps her hands together and tilts her face skyward, a face that turns beet red in the process, as she erupts with thunderous laughter. Laughter so forceful that tears are streaming from her eyes, as she occasionally glances at him, wondering if he is for real, which kicks off another laughter peal. Though this is seriously the first interaction he’s had with this woman since the day she was brought around the store for introductions.


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You sometimes get the feeling that instead of creating processes to streamline an operation, you would be better off keeping the same inefficient old ones in place, or maybe even moving in the opposite direction, making them slower and shoddier. And then making a gigantic production out of how difficult this task is, how much time it takes, announcing it loudly and clearly so that everybody knows. Like for example, Ralph Hedges over at Liberty is constantly telling Edgar, “someone needs to go into the system and scrub the data,” specifically as it pertains to updating vendor information, the preferred supplier and discontinued items and so on with their five major vendors..

“Yeah, I already do that. That’s what I do. I do that every month,” Edgar always tells him.

Ralph usually just nods once, lips pursed, clearly not buying this. Even though Edgar’s cranking out hundreds of tags a month for vitamins/health and beauty which are nothing but vendor updates, where the price doesn’t change at all. Ralph will inevitably stumble upon one item that was just discontinued, in the middle of the month, and use this as a springboard into his entire worldview that Edgar isn’t properly “scrubbing” the data. And the main reason for this, Edgar suspects, is that every month he’s comparing, say, the entire Universal Foods database to the Harmony Hill database to their existing Orchestra database, and on down the line, in a few minutes, tops, even though these are 20K-50K items deep, by inserting a few IF formulas here and a VLOOKUP there. Whereas he knows damn well that even Ralph himself, if for some bizarre reason thrust into this role, would spend an entire month, at least, comparing 20,000 items line by line. Flipping back and forth, one line at a time, making miserable little notations somewhere about what was different. And complaining to no end about the burden of this task, which would, if nothing else, probably eliminate the type of weird comments like the one Marian just issued.

If they don’t already, the bosses are going to have to trust that they have the right people in place to perform a task, until results prove otherwise. The presence of this fourth store, so far away from the other ones, has made each of them that much more autonomous. Those who are constantly in motion are relying on emails more than ever, the occasional phone call after that, with actual face to face encounters exponentially more unpredictable, random, almost surreal as a result.

Edgar shows up in Walnut one day and Corey’s the only other person there, it’s just the two of them until some young part-timer girl arrives at 4pm to close the place alone. A day where the indoor market’s owner, who is swiftly proving himself a cantankerous jackass, jumps their case — literally — over the fact that this one refrigerated upright is extending a couple of inches over the line from their allotted space. Out there with a tape measure and acting as though Corey and Edgar were the masterminds who decided to plant this thing there, unsatisfied until they move the product to a different cooler inside, then drag this cooler itself off the floor. Where it will wait for Harry or Duane or Karen to diffuse this situation, tomorrow or the next day.

This is an extreme example, but not by much. It’s not just that he continues checking his emails from the coffee shop across the street there, because Felix still hasn’t done anything about the internet connection, it’s that everything is exceedingly loose up here, even by Healthy Shopper Market standards. For example another afternoon where it’s just Edgar and one cashier on hand, because Karen and the other girl working here decided to go sit over at the gourmet water guy’s stall while he conducted some sort of two hour demonstration about the benefits of his product.

When everything about your operation is vague, the introduction of another store, itself unlike anything else they’ve attempted, only compounds this tendency. Multiplies it by a factor of two or three. Because very little is documented, he has been known to jokingly observe that training and policies are passed along here by urban legend, which isn’t too far removed from the truth. If at all.

Harry bumps into him one day and helpfully observes, “hey, I happened to see the mileage sheet you turned in. I thought I should mention that you’re doing it wrong.”

“I’m doing it wrong?” Edgar questions.

Harry must have glimpsed it in the manila envelope, earmarked for Kathy Ames’s desk at Bellwether, with everyone’s monthly mileage sheets. But it says right at the top of the sheet that they’re supposed to get 38 cents a mile, and the distance between each store is well known, so he’s not sure what Harry might mean. Unless Edgar’s math is off, somehow?

“Yeah, like, I noticed you only have 25 miles down for going from Southside to Palmyra. It should be double that.”

“Double that?”

“Yeah, so, okay, Southside’s your home store, right?”


“Well, alright then, whatever other store you go to, you’re supposed to be getting paid for the distance from Southside to that store and back again.”

“Oh yeah,” Harry nods, his impressive hair helmet budging ever so microscopically as he does, “you should look it up in the handbook. That’s what everyone else is doing.”

Well, the grizzled, veteran grocery merchandiser seems serious enough, and Edgar can believe that’s what he’s doing, and apparently getting away with it. But this isn’t how the mileage program was explained to him by Duane, upon starting here, and what Harry’s saying flies in the face of common sense.

He’s got greater concerns than this, anyway. For the upcoming Customer Appreciation Day at Palmyra, they’ve decided that — while Harry’s mystery pricing strategy had worked surprisingly well the first time — they are going with a more conventional concept this time around: 20% off the entire store, Saturday only, for just eight hours. The only problem with this is that, apparently, nothing of the sort has ever been attempted at HHM, at least not since the Orchestra software was introduced. Also, it just so happens to coincide with the start of a weeklong vacation that Edgar turned in months ago.

So it sounds like a straightforward enough concept, but as Edgar investigates, he can’t find any way to turn this on for just one store, for just one day. And just to ensure that he’s not losing his mind or overlooking the obvious, he enlists Teri’s support to try and figure this out, although she was the one who initially confirmed they had never attempted anything like this.

Quite naturally, this was only announced with a week and a day to spare. So it isn’t until the Monday directly before the event that they’re able to get Jacques, the program’s developer, involved in creating some sort of workaround. Which he finally delivers late Wednesday afternoon, even testing a few items just to make sure.

High fives all around! Or…maybe not so fast. Because somehow it isn’t until Thursday morning, when Edgar gets to work, and he’s going through a bunch of emails concerning entirely different topics, when a thought suddenly pops into his head, immediately followed by a lead weight of dread dropping from his chest to his stomach. He should have maybe thought of this much sooner, although in his defense, it never occurred to Teri or Jacques, either: what about the price embedded barcodes?

These so-called Type 2 barcodes are in their system at a base price of 0.00, because that’s just how those work. Scanning those flips a switch that picks up the retail, mostly used on tray packed, random weight stuff. Edgar has a sneaking suspicion that Jacques’s solution isn’t going to work for those puppies, of which they have hundreds if not thousands of packages, already priced around the store. Furthermore, if his suspicions are correct, this in fact creates a pair of problems, in that they wouldn’t just have to reapply every sticker generated from a Hobart scale, in the entire store, but he would also have to figure out a way to make every sticker they’re printing at the moment, in real time, that day — which would mostly apply to the customer service counters in deli and meat — crank out at 20% off.

“Oh…my…god……,” he mumbles, rubbing his chin and shaking his head, wondering yet again if there’s something about this that maybe he missed, hoping that he is wrong. He fires off another email to Teri, just to confirm once more that this concern isn’t way out of line, and she responds not even five minutes later:

Uh oh. I didn’t even think about that. But I believe you are correct.

They instantly go to work on this two headed monster, with Teri contacting Jacques to try and see if there’s anything that can be done about the mountain of existing Hobart stickers, already out there on the floor. Meanwhile, Edgar muddles through the patchy, antiquated ScaleMonster handbook, and also calls their one lifeboat out there in the ocean of bewilderment, that Andy guy in Ohio, to figure out how to take 20% off of everything Palmyra’s printing from their scales that day. Because manually adjusting every price in there, and then back again, is simply out of the question.

Well, he’s able to handle that part of the equation without too much difficulty, once learning how to do so. But it isn’t until late Friday afternoon, in other words with about an hour to spare before the beginning of Edgar’s vacation, before Jacques concedes defeat and throws in the towel, admits that there’s no way to take 20% off from these existing price embedded barcodes. Except it’s then left to Edgar to break the news to that store — although he copies Teri and Duane, for a little backup firepower — that they have one of two options: they can resticker all of the Hobart stuff, or they can just field any customer complaints at the register and credit people there.

Understandably, the Palmyra staff unanimously opts for the latter. Although if he’s not mistaken, the bulk department does attempt to minimize damage by simply removing most of those products from the floor, only restocking as necessary. After that, he’s not just out of town for the next week, but a number of states away. And while he can’t seem to refrain from checking his email a couple of times on Saturday, and again on Sunday — though Teri, thank god, is willing and able to enter new items while he’s away, and everything else was either knocked out in advance or can pretty much wait — he responds to a couple of the most urgent ones, but otherwise has the attitude that, you know what, this stuff really isn’t my problem. Well, he will gladly and cheerfully help with figuring out solutions upon his return, sure, but doesn’t believe that any of these complications which are cropping up are really his fault.

The 20% off sale is a miniature debacle on a couple of different fronts. As expected, the cashiers and front end managers are swatting down a sizable amount of complaints about the Hobart-priced packages, although this isn’t the greatest concern. They issue a bunch of credits, maybe tie up the lines a little longer than expected as a result, but overall, any irate customers are kept a minimum and well placated before sent on their way. Of far greater concern is that the discount doesn’t seem to want to shut off, long after it was supposed to have ended.

By the time Edgar checks in on Sunday, Rob Drake has been drafted into the email loop, and is hopping mad about the situation. At this point Edgar feels that he basically has no choice but to join in the fun, and investigate. It being a weekend, they’ve not been able to reach Jacques in any capacity, although Teri has already attempted every trick she can think of to shut this thing down, to no avail. Somehow Edgar gets on a kick, after logging remotely into Palmyra’s office computer from his distant hotel room, of going through every cash register receipt, transaction by transaction in the journal, to see if he can spot anything whatsoever. It’s definitely an idle, zoned out, Hail Mary type desperation move, which is all the more surprising in that he actually discovers something. It’s not a remedy, but might ease a few minds, to have at least determined what is happening.

Bulk PLUs are ringing correctly now, and most of produce’s are too. I think it’s clicking off the discounted items one by one, in number order. And taking an eternity to do so.

So while the solution might have to wait until Jacques’s presumed intervention on Monday, at the very least, having this answer is one tiny beacon of light. Teri checks out his theory, and agrees that this is the case, which seems to calm Rob down considerably. Otherwise, by Edgar’s ballpark estimation, if they can’t get Jacques on the horn and/or he can’t find a killswitch, this is going to take until about mid-day Tuesday to cycle through the 25,000 items or so in their computer system. And while he has no doubt whatsoever that half the workforce at Palmyra is probably bitching up a storm, all in tremendous agreement of what an “idiot” he is, Edgar is feeling pretty good about the situation. It’s just another example of how you really can’t control people’s perception of you, particularly when they don’t even possess half of the facts.

Apart from the knowledge gained, his takeaway from this experience would rest on a couple of different points. One would be, which he’s been casually mentioning to various coworkers for months, is that they have got to find a way to get more organized around this place. They’ve made some tremendous strides, true, but much work remains on this front.

He really doesn’t see how you could assemble a pow-wow featuring just Duane, Harry, Corey but then also Vince Brancatto for some thoroughly baffling reason, a week before the sale is set to take place, when you’ve never done anything like this before, and agree on this massive promotion, yet fail to invite the person who’s actually responsible for entering said promotion — Edgar — which might or might not involve some input from the IT department as well. He and Teri find out about this sale the same way that everyone else does, in a mass email sent to all of them.

To varying degrees this omission might represent overconfidence, or not knowing how things work, but you can still tuck even those explanations under this all purpose rubric: disorganization. You can’t wait until the last week to roll this out and you can’t overlook inviting crucial figures to the discussion. A couple or more of these guys might consider themselves the greatest gift to this industry since the beginning of the gluten free hysteria, and Corey might be well known for inventing outlandish things off the top of his head and making them sound very believable, if not even remotely rooted in reality, but still, this is a glaring shortcoming in their game.

If they plan on taking this company to the next level, these processes are going to need some ironing out. That’s at the top of the list. Yet there’s one other concern which has become glaringly obvious with this high profile experiment: they’re going to need some better software as well. This charming little Orchestra package isn’t cutting the all-natural stoneground mustard.

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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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