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Post-Knoxville Report

Posted Aug 25 2008 6:48pm
I had a rough lead-in to the trip. Unexpectedly finding I'd only paid half of a necessary penalty led me to trouble with the DMV. Then I found out my father was admitted to the hospital. Then Ritalin, our beloved Cory , died the night before I left. I was driving and carrying two passengers, so I was a bit anxious that these were ill omens.

It can be an eye-opening experience seeing another store in our company, seeing how it operates and what it doesn't do well, getting a feel for the personality of the staff. The store we were sent to help was substantially larger than where I work, but all the typical elements are identical. When I walked in the first night, I couldn't see the problems on first glance, but they announced themselves before long. Ironically, the areas where our store needs help, namely organization in the storage and office areas and consistent friendliness of staff on the sales floor were areas where this store excelled. They instead had issues with cleanliness and organization on the sales floor and merchandising to maximum affect.

I was't sure why they were without a manager for 4 months, but I learned that the previous one took another store down the highway and the vacancy just wasn't filled quickly. The holiday season is a tough one to manage without leadership, and I'm sure they were even farther behind before the staff started to prepare for our visit. They did an admirable job preparing for the invasion.

I worried, initially, how we'd manage to achieve the goals established with only the 10 people we were bringing. The morning I was to leave, it finally sunk in that, you know, they might have help from other districts, too, huh? That they did. We came from North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia. At least a dozen people of their own staff members worked over those two nights, as well (one group appeared to work overnight normally). All totalled, I estimate there were 50 of us tackling this monstrous project. I may be guessing low.

So how did I spend these two nights from my normal bedtime until the time my alarm clock starts to ring most days? The same way many of these people did: organizing the shelves, putting books in alphabetical order, and wondering how on earth this book got into that section. Other people had specific projects, particularly the store's own inventory staff and supervisory staff, but in the end I think we all found ourselves verifying that Barry goes between Barnes and Bartlett and that books labelled for General Psychology don't belong in Self Help or even Mystery. Initially we each had our own row to work through. Eventually those whose sections were not so disorganized moved around to help, and by the end of the night small clusters of 3 and 4 people were in aisles working together to finish a smaller area than they'd each tackled alone when they were conscious.

Probably half the people in the store were smart and brought iPods. Admittedly, these were the younger members of the group--I didn't fit that category. (I guess I can't sit at the kids' table anymore, either.) Therefore, for the first three hours or so, all the rest of us could hear was the sounds of books hitting the floor, occasionally, and more often wooden shelves...again...and again. It was obvious when the batteries died--both those in the iPods and the people--because suddenly boisterous conversations picked up everywhere.

I did see a friend there, someone I didn't expect to see again. Her name is also Robin and she was our 37-year-old son's girlfriend while he lived with us. (Does that make her our former daughter-in-law? Huh...she is almost young enough to be my kid.) I used to cook dinner for her almost nightly back then, even making her eat vegetables. We got to be friends when he was ignoring her and she wanted company. While they were dating, she graduated high school; James and I attended her graduation and later took her out to dinner to celebrate, without her boyfriend who preferred not to come. (Do you see why they stopped dating?) Later I helped her get a job at my store where she earned the nickname "Little Robin." (Yes, she is shorter than me...though I never did ask if that was the origin of the name.) She's since moved to another city for college, but I was pleased to learn she still worked for the company. I am also grateful to learn that she's outgrown the wild lifestyle she developed after she broke up with our son. We talked a great deal both nights, and we sat next to each other at dinner at Calhoun's the second night.

By the way, if you ever get to Calhouns, beyond the ribs, which were delicious, I highly recommend the Hot White Microbrew Cheese Dip with soft pretzels. Yummy.

There was one character who stood out above all others. He worked for this store on their overnight crew. I hardly saw him the first night and when I did, I noted his leather jacket and what appeared to be a large bow in his hair. That morning my passengers commented on his odd dress and questionable gender. So the second night I paid more attention. Definitely male, though some effeminant mannerisms were evident. He wore a black scarf over his shirt, fingerless gloves with large metal links all down the back and....I kid you not...a headband with large leopard-print cat ears.

Now I'm a crazy cat lady, but I'm not interesting in dressing like one.

The trip wasn't all great, of course. More than once someone found a colleague had made a large mistake. I didn't correct the egregious errors in alphabetization I found on the reverse side of a row I'd done, but Sarah, one of my passengers, did correct someone who tried to blend General Animals and General Dogs together.

Say it with me: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. I can't tell you how many times I repeated parts of it that night. I know I found a few of my own books out of order, usually a signal that I needed to stand up and take a quick break.

At the hotel we had issues with the Breakfast Lady. The breakfast bar, included with the reservation, was supposed to be served promptly at 6:30. We had no shortage of food at the store--pizzas, candy, chips, cookies, not to mention soda and coffee--but a few of us didn't eat much of the proffered junk and wanted breakfast. My roommate Amanda and I went down the first morning at 6:40 and the door to the breakfast room was still locked. After several hungry, under-caffienated guests asked at the front lobby, we learned that the Breakfast Lady had overslept and was on her way. We finally got our breakfast after 7, a little at a time as she prepared things (cereal first, bagels second, then juice, doughnuts next, eggs and sausage eventually...we didn't wait for the waffle batter). The next morning, fortunately, we didn't have to fuss for our breakfast.

Oh, and the beds were not comfortable, especially the pillows. And guess which of us didn't think she'd need her special pillow? (Raises her hand.) Plus I drank too much coffee, so I slept poorly.

The other thing that got under my skin: inventory stickers. If you've worked in retail for long, you're familiar with the outside companies that come in to count every item you have to sell. Every store has different ways to keep track of which sections are which, but some of our local stores use small stickers with numbers to mark the different sections. These don't interfere with customers and they're convenient. For about a week before and a few weeks after inventory. Past about a month out they've lost their value. I know our company hasn't conducted inventories since before Thanksgiving. After asking an employee if it was okay, I started pulling yellow dots and white squares off bookcases all over the store. Hundreds of them! They'd been up so long they were barely adhesive anymore. I'm probably the only person in the world who'd notice them, but I think they make the place look unkempt, like nobody worried if the area was clean. Also I'm a detail freak, so my eyes zero in on these stickers that don't belong before I look at the book titles that do.

After a short nap Friday morning, we drove back to North Carolina--a 5 1/2 hour drive to my house. Somehow I was fine driving and stayed awake for our usual gaming night at a friend's, but I certainly did sleep a great deal Saturday and Sunday. Before we left I was worried that I'd overdo it and would return home in pain. I was sore afterwards, particularly my legs, but I took Aleve every 12 hours for a couple days and now I'm back to my usual constant dull aches.

Oh, yes, I did mention my father in the hospital, now, didn't I? Fortunately, although they kept him three days, he was fine. He'd gone in with an elevated heart rate, but the hospital staff, with the assistance of my sister and brother-in-law (the doctors), figured out that he'd taken the wrong dose of his blood pressure dieuretic for about three weeks. They took him off that medicine and released him. I learned this just after the dinner at Calhoun's when I saw I'd missed a call from him. I talked to him as we gathered at the store and got the update. Then he wanted to know what I was doing in Knoxville. Somehow from what he'd gleaned from my sister he had decided that this was a huge rescue mission--and that I was running the show.

Uh, no, Dad. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but thank FSM I wasn't in charge.
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