Workwith Blog – Ride Two

26 11 2008

 

My next ride along, I was much better prepared for. I soaked my Lance shirt in Downy the day before and while it was no longer so bright and vibrant a red, it certainly was no longer itchy. My rep had decided to pick me up at a gas station down the road at 4:30 in the morning, so I crawled out of bed at 3:30 instead. I had meant to bring a throw pillow for my butt, however I had forgotten. Luckily though, this seat was slightly different than the previous one and had evidently been overly stuffed. I was thankful. Because of the history of this rep, I had brought with me his customer route sheet, complete with last service days; and my log of all of his customer calls for service.

Our first stop was at a hospital cafeteria in the center of town. We pulled up to the receiving dock and we were waved inside. My rep explained to me that this account was very trusting of him and allowed him fairly free reign of what he brought in; they never checked his load, he would simply stock the cafeteria and bring them the receipt. In the cafeteria I saw a display for the Cape Cod single-serve bag chips unlike any I had ever seen. It was a nifty little lighthouse on a spinner with clip strips affixed and we spent about five minutes moving the chips in an assorted fashion to count our space. We moved over to the rack next and we discussed putting in pecan pies since it was almost Thanksgiving. I had never actually seen a pecan pie of ours in any store, I only knew about them from the product lists. He said he was pretty sure we had some on the truck and agreed to put some out.
Once out to his truck, I noticed a huge difference between his style of working and that of the first rep I had worked with. The first rep’s truck had been neatly lined out, plain chips here, flavours grouped with each other here, crackers sorted by flavour here – everything had its own place. But this rep, well it was strikingly different. This rep made use of his chip trays and had each loaded down with product and nicely labeled each tray; however none of the trays actually had the type of chip they were labeled for in them. In fact, many trays had multiple flavours of chips in each. He had a unique process though that he had learned early on in his Lance career from one of our account managers, Max. He had a wooden TV dinner tray that could be easily collapsed and slid into storage, and he would erect the makeshift table to load up his carrying trays. It was a novel idea and worked out wonderfully! He loaded up the trays with crackers, cookies, chips and yes – the pies, and a few honey buns and we went back in and began stocking the shelves and rack. And true to his word, the receiver looked over his receipt, wished us both a happy Thanksgiving, and signed the invoice, before sending us on our way.

We next went over to a grocery store that was behind our old zone office. We maneuvered the truck into position between a few other trucks and ran inside to the warmth. The receiver at this store was a guy named Jean, that I had always thought was a husky-voiced female when he had called in for service in the past. He was extremely friendly and made small talk with us and the other vendors while we waited for our turns to dex. The Pepperidge Farm guy was surely earning enough that day in commission to pay for college for his kids and grandkids, judging by all of the bags of stuffing mix he was bringing in. Two pallets later he was going out for more, for back stock. Our rep and I went to the chips together first and I watched him fluff out the bags and punch in a few numbers on the handheld; so I felt duty bound to intervene. I shoved the top row big bags this way and that and called out that he needed 9 bags of one and a 5 of the other. Next row. I repeated this for each row, pulling out the stales he had overlooked; all in all, seven bags of stales had been unnoticed. We moved on to the registers and condensed down nuts and seeds at each, making room for a few more boxes here and there. Next though was the crackers and I thought he was going to drop me off at the gas station by the time we got done. After moving the packages this way and that, we had four entirely open rows and several which were only half full.

He didn’t leave me for dead at the corner of any cross roads though and we instead made our way to our next stop, a grocery store on the river front that reeked of being too good for the likes of us to shop there. It was just now nearing seven in the morning and I was surprised how much we had accomplished in less time than my first ride along – but then we weren’t stuck with a hard headed receiver. Yeah, she was still on my list. Since it wasn’t yet seven exactly, we were allowed to move in through the front doors and my rep was the total noble gentleman, prying the automatic doors apart and holding them open for me to come in. He moved to do the chips and I did the crackers. He was already on the registers when I finished the crackers, so I moved over to the chips. As expected, there was plenty of wasted space and I pushed and moved items about, noting how many bags of each we actually needed. By the time I got done, he was no where in sight, so I began counting at the registers. I met him outside at the truck and mentally ran through my list, comparing it to his pick list. I wondered again silently to myself, as I would do a few times on this day, if reps knew we expected them to sell. I decided not to tell him what amounts I thought we needed and instead wanted to see what he did with the holes I had made. It was now almost 7:20, so we had to use the back door and we were greeted by a pert young receiver who let us know that the following week would be inventory and no loads to come in. December 4th, to be specific. Great, the kick off of our BOGO. We asked her if she was accepting any deliveries that week – no luck. I went to pack out the registers while he did the chips. There wasn’t nearly enough for each of the registers, so I spread the product around thinly and moved on to the chips. He had finished there and I found precisely what I expected, the bags were spaced out fairly wide with a good deal of space when I looked up from below the shelf. I met him at the crackers and he explained that because of inventory coming up he didn’t want to put out too much product. Funny – we had only learned of the inventory after coming in with the product – but okay.

I want to pause from my harping a bit because I think I may be giving a poor image of this rep and I want to say, he is probably one of the sweetest men we have in that district for certain. Friendly and charming in his own way, though he is not a salesman; he is certainly very kind. At one store on our stop, the receiver and he were speaking about the coming holiday and she mentioned as an aside that due to the economy she wouldn’t be having much of a dinner, just her and her kids with probably a small meal. No turkey, he asked her. She said no, she couldn’t really afford one, but no biggie. This rep promptly, without even thinking about it, told her to go pick out a big turkey and whatever she needed and he would pay for it – you can’t have a Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey! She politely refused and despite his protests, she didn’t take him up on the offer. But it spoke volumes to me about his selfless generosity that he would offer such a thing with no thought. I retold this later to my fiancé who presumed the rep was doing it to sweeten the girl up, maybe get some more shelf space. I had to laugh, not to be offensive, but this rep wouldn’t know what to do with more shelf space – he was just simply being a sensitive human and I will never again be able to think of him the same for it.

We hit another grocery store and the jolly conversations between him and the other vendors that had surprised me a week prior continued. I really had always just assumed that competing reps likely gave each other the hairy eyeball and dagger spitting sideways glances – I had never thought for a moment that they would joke around and pal around like old friends. Again a competing vendor asked who I was and how our rep got the extra hand; he explained that I was his manager and there to supervise. I didn’t correct him.

The first receiver who was even bordering on rude was at a small grocery store near my home, one I actually frequent weekly. We went to the crackers first, which didn’t take long as we didn’t have much space in this store, but I still managed to convince him to change what he had first put into the handheld to a slight bit more. On to the chips, I found numerous bags of stales and several that were within a week of staling out. I suggested that we pull those as well, but the rep was convinced they would sell within the week, so I did not protest. After moving all of the product this way and that we found room for easily three cases of chips and at least two cases of popcorn. The rep explained he didn’t keep popcorn on his truck. No popcorn at all? Well, well, just not today. Oh, okay. It was fairly evident we had not serviced the popcorn section in a while as another vendor had shoved his extras into the vacant space. I laid the remaining bags of popcorn out as spaced out as I could to retain our space and we went out to the truck. I grabbed a smoke break while he loaded up the hand cart. It was pushing on nine and we were already at our fifth store – what progress! We headed back inside and as the receiver counted up each box, she asked where the popcorn was. Ahhh, she had noticed the vacancy in the store too. He explained that we were out but he would be back the next day with plenty. (I checked the following day and the one after that, no popcorn went in.) She gave him a bit of an exasperated sigh and I got the impression she had had this conversation before. I couldn’t really blame her for her attitude. She tsk’d him a bit as she gave him back his paperwork, but our rep was fairly oblivious to her demeanor and gave her a great big smile like a small child who had just been handed one of those oversized lollipops. She looked at me as if to ask if I got her drift. I got it lady, trust me.

Our worst stop of all was next. It wasn’t the worst for the employees by any means; they couldn’t have been any kinder. But if I had received the service they had obviously gotten, he would have been out on his ear. The store was a small little shop that could probably fit inside most single car garages and it was in the heart of a neighbourhood that would have sent the hairs on the nape of my neck into hiding. The grandson of the store owner met us outside, explaining as we walked in together that he had quite a few stales. He handed the rep a brown paper bag of honey buns that had staled out a few months prior. I was aghast. The rep explained to me that this particular shop keeper shipped the product to Puerto Rico and then shipped back the honey buns for credit when they didn’t sell over there. Right. I looked at the remaining honey buns on display, most were set to stale within the week. I shoved them in our pile of product that would need to be credited back. Salted peanuts in the bag – staled out in early October. Bags of chips, mostly Cape Cod, which were a few weeks out of date. I decided not to go through the box of saltines, which I had never seen in a store before and I honestly believed they were for restaurants only. But the rep explained to me that they sold very well here and they would go through about a box a month. Why would anyone buy individually packaged saltines I wondered. But then I overheard the conversation between a middle aged woman and the shop keeper’s grandson. The customer asked if the boy could wake his grandmother up as she desperately needed a fix. I thought I was watching a drug deal go down initially. The boy said he couldn’t wake her up, but asked what she needed. She needed the special formula that would make her rich. Come again? But the lad went to a shelf and brought back a canary yellow canister and told her that it would be 14.99. Who was getting rich off of this again? The lady bought it and I stopped wondering why anyone would purchase individually wrapped saltines and began wondering if I was in the wrong line of work.

The rep offered to buy me a drink, a sandwich, a snack – whatever I needed, but I told him I was good with my water. He waited patiently on the grandson to finish up with customers and receive us. For all of the stales, he was really polite about it all and suggested that perhaps next time our rep check the dates better. The two shared a couple jokes and our rep explained that the boy had gone to college with his nephew. Our rep polished off his Shasta and I choked down a quick cigarette as I went over the list of stops. Only three more, he proclaimed. I looked at my watch and it was only just 10:00.

Now, although the cushion of this jump seat was at least cushiony, there was an obvious issue with the seatbelt. Unlike the vice in the prior truck, this one would not stay latched. You could lock it in, but lean forward at all and it would pop off. I fiddled with it almost every few minutes of the ride, which was probably a good thing as it seemed to remind the rep to buckle his seat belt, which he has a history of not doing. Because of him, there is a rumour in the district that I follow the guys around looking for them to mess up – which isn’t the case at all. This rep used to smoke in the truck and I had spied him doing as such quite a few times early in the morning on my way to work, so I would call his manager to give him the head’s up. Then about three months ago the operations manager, Gerald, was on his way in to the office and happened to pass this rep and noticed he wasn’t wearing his seat belt. Gerald called me and told me to call the rep’s cell and have him put on his seat belt, just to see his reaction. About two weeks later, my fiancé and I ran out for lunch and passed the same rep and I noticed he had no seat belt on. So I called him on my cell and giggled as I watched him in our rearview, darting his head around as he put on the safety belt, trying to figure out how I knew. Shortly after these incidents I heard from his manager that word had spread around to other reps and they advised him that ‘she won’t catch me’. Seven different times on this road trip I found him without his seatbelt and I noticed he must not be very accustomed with wearing it. Usually if you do something repeatedly, such as wear a seat belt, you just instinctively know where the hole is, but each time he would have to contort about to look down to find it.

Our next stop was a scummy little store that if it went out of business no one would likely notice. Our chip clips were being used in various fashions around the shop, but not for our product, so I set about stripping them down and collecting up the clips. The crackers had a film of dirt and dust on them and I wiped it clean before putting them back on the shelf. We put some pecan pies in this shop as well; at least the rodents might have a nice holiday feast. We also pulled forty-four stales out of this little hole in the wall!

We scurried off to one of the stops I had been anxiously waiting on all day, a gas station I am in a few times a day that is a constant caller for service. Now, let me interrupt myself to say that I thought all we had in this gas station was an end cap, because it is a fairly healthy sized end cap. It wraps around a corner and thus could actually be called a J-cap. So we entered the store and I plopped down on all fours and began pulling the stales that I knew were there, because I had looked at them the day before when I came in for coffee. I called out products needed for refill to the rep row by row and he went off to check the crackers that I didn’t know we had, while I finished gathering the stales into a pile. We went out to the truck and while I snagged a smoke he printed off his pick list. He was still rummaging around through box after box trying to find product when I hopped onto the back of the truck. Hop is an operative expression here – it was more of a hoisted myself onto the truck type of ordeal. I noted that the chip trays would have worked beautifully here if they actually held the product they were labeled for, and because he had haphazardly loaded his truck, it took us a good deal of time to locate each case of flavour that we needed. Four chip trays and three cases later, we had the cart loaded down and the manager made her way over to receive us. Did you bring my crackers, she asked him directly. Oh, they’re full, he replied. No, they aren’t, said she. Well go look, he said. And the pair went over with me tailing behind and though by his expression I could tell he wasn’t fazed by being called out for not having product on the shelf that he had claimed was there, I was rather embarrassed for him. She explained the definition of empty to the rep and while he made a new pick list, I asked her if she could go ahead and check me in with the chips. She obliged and I counted out product to her while she checked it off in her hand held. I tell you, I was never so ready for a nice hot shower in my life, but it sure was a lot of fun getting down and dirty to stock the shelves. I had never had to do this on the vending route and certainly never in any of my desk jobs since; and the experience was a blast. I wouldn’t say I necessarily would want to do this every day – although my butt & gut problem would probably whittle itself down if I did – but it was a lively change. He stocked the crackers and I mentally noted to check those on my daily stops. This particular account had called in quite a few times due to lack of product and though it is a once a week stop, it could easily benefit from two to three times a week.

I went back out to the truck and began making some notes on my print outs of things I had noticed thus far. The rep was rather anxious as he watched me doing this when we got back in the truck and on the road, and quickly asked me if he had done anything wrong. I decided it wasn’t my place to discuss this and the purpose of the workwiths wasn’t for me to assess our rep’s efficiency, but rather take in what they go through – so I told him all was fine. He said we had one last stop for the day, and it was only a little after eleven. This struck me as odd because I had selected this day to ride with him so I could experience an inventory; but my only stipulation was that I needed to be back at my car by quarter ’til four. He had told me that there was no way we would make it back in time, so I would have to catch an audit on my other workwith. Now I was left wondering how a discount grocery store in the ‘hood, which was our next and final stop, would take so much time that we would not be able to complete the inventory and get me back to my car within four hours.

I was filthy and gritty but luckily the dark colours I had selected hid it well. We went into the last stop and I noticed that we had an amazing amount of space; easily eight feet wide and about three feet deep – for four shelves! And in this type of market, one would think that hot fries or popcorn would sell well, but we had the shelves aptly packed with stale Cape Cod instead; and no home pack. I reached my arms in to begin rearranging product and pulled them back out quickly! There was a slimy substance on my bare arms. Now, firstly, I am not a finicky type of person about much other than bugs. I have two kids so I have seen my share of ewws and yucks and oh my gods. But this startled me. I examined the shelving a bit but I couldn’t see anything dripping, so I wiped my arm on my pants, I was already filthy so why not? The rep worked the upper shelves and I worked the lower and after a few pulls and moves, once more there was slime on my arm. My lip curled, what was this crap? More importantly, what was it coming from? I was about to ask my rep when I looked up at him and saw his runny nose as plain as day. Now, I don’t know if it was his slime or something else, but I was done trying to figure it out and run the risk of knowing. So I stood up and complained of an aching back and let him finish the rest. (The following day, I checked the invoice for all of those stales I had pulled before getting slimed – not a one on the invoice.)

We went back out to the truck and I kept trying to erase the ick thought from my mind as he worked from his pick list. I grabbed a cigarette and was puffing along happily when my white knight arrived! My fiancé happened upon us as he was dashing out to a Chinese diner for lunch and I made introductions and Glenn asked if I had time for lunch. I verified with the rep that this was indeed our last stop and asked once more whether or not we would have time to do the inventory or not. He said we wouldn’t and I bid him a great day and thanked him for letting me spend the day with him before I rode off into the sunset with my hero.
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