Workwith Blog – Ride Three

17 12 2008

 

Let me first start by saying that I have a newfound respect for these reps crawling out of bed when the rest of the world is finally nodding off. I started this day a mess, crawling out of bed a little after 3 in the morning. I had forgotten to lay out my clothes the night before and so I stumbled through my closet trying to find them in a hazy daze. I finally located my clothes and had almost gotten dressed when it dawned on my that I had not yet even showered. So back out of the getup and into the shower. You would think that would have helped wake me up a bit, but no such luck. I put the outfit on once again and trudged into the kitchen in search of the miracle we call coffee. No coffee. No instant coffee. I stared at the tea bags for a few seconds, debating if I could possibly make it strong enough to kick my ass into gear – but this was just ‘front-porch-Southern-style-sippin’tea’. Yeah, at best I would nod off while drinking that. So I opted for a smoke and the morning news. I killed about twenty minutes trying to wake up and it half worked. I spent another ten minutes frantically checking my jacket pockets, the desk, my purses, my bags, my car, my fiancé’s car, my bedroom, my kitchen counters, my purses again all in vain to find my damned ID badge. Then I put my shoes on only to find I had somehow gained a hole in the tippy toe of the left one that my bright white sock was peeking merrily out of. I fished through my fiancé’s tool box for electrical tape and did a patch job that would make a cobbler nod with approval – at least at 4:30 am.

By 4:45 I was driving down the road and realized I had left behind my jacket – hope there won’t be any ‘better-get-your-coat’ receivers today. I had also forgotten to eat or even grab a granola bar, which my stomach was loudly reminding me of already. So I cranked the local Christmas music station, rolled down the windows and serenaded the serene outdoors as I drove in to meet the rep. I was to meet him in the parking lot of a local grocery store by 5:15. It would take me fifteen minutes to hit the paved roads of the city. And I still desperately needed coffee – and yes, food, my growling stomach yelled. After a quick dash into a gas station for both I was on my way again and I finally pulled up right at quarter after. He advised me that we were going to kill about twenty minutes or so because he had been in the store yesterday, and they didn’t need much. Damn.

We made small talk for about ten minutes and then moved the truck from the front parking lot around to the back of the store. The first difference I noticed about this rep over the others was that rather than using his hand held to create a pick list or doing it from memory; he brought in a notepad to jot down the needed product. I also noticed that like the others, he wasn’t extremely big on following planograms or packing out the product. In this particular store, the chips are on sale 2 bags for six dollars, which is a fairly good deal, saving you about fifty cents a bag. And in this particular store, he had eight feet of space across, which is huge. I began shoving the bags about but he advised me that he had too much space in this store and thus I watched him space out the bags and front them a bit. We had one bag of ranch chips in the store – and it was stale. We didn’t bring in any more though, just the plain chips and the sea salt varieties by the case. There wasn’t really room for a full case of each, but he used the sea salt and pepper bags to fill in the holes behind the other flavours and stacked the rest on top. The crackers didn’t move well here either, but it’s a new store he explained, so people haven’t really started shopping it yet. We went back to the loading dock and he introduced me to the receiver, Nancy, who he later explained had been with this store for only a short while, coming first from a different chain, where she had worked for over twenty years. She offered me a cup of coffee and a warm smile before we moved on to our next stop.

We drove across the street for our next stop while the rep told me about his early planning for retirement some day. He was in the process of closing on thirty acres up in Alabama that he and his brother had already went up and checked out. He planned to set aside parts of his paycheck for the next several years to work on paying it off before he would begin thinking of building on it. He shared more about this with me as we worked this second stop, packing in the chips in a not-so-to-par layout. I watched him more than anything; I wanted to get an idea of how he ran his route before I started pitching much of a hand. Like the prior store, he spaced out his bags with a rather wide gap and then we moved on to crackers. I asked him how well our crackers actually sold in this store due to the unique shelf layout and I was surprised when he said fairly well. Most stores sell products by brand – Nabisco crackers are all here, Austin here, Lance here, private here…you get the idea. But this store sold them by flavor. Cream cheese crackers were set with ours right next to the private label, which was almost a dollar cheaper. So on through the cheese on wheat, peanut butter on cheese and so on.

I noticed throughout the day that this rep snagged a step-ladder at every stop; something I hadn’t seen any of the reps do yet. Now, in defense, the first rep I road with is probably six feet tall, but the second rep is shorter than I am and this rep is about my height…5’9″. But he grabbed a ladder while I stood on my tippy toes in my electrical tape patched shoes. This rep, I would learn throughout the day, knew his route by heart and the employees and their history. Each store called him out by name and each time he told me their life story – where they had worked before, where they were from, how long they had been there. Gregg had worked for one chain for years, started at the bottom and moved his way up to the top; Evelyn had just finally had her dream home built and while she had finally finished unpacking, she wasn’t going to be doing Christmas this year; this store owner’s wife had worked for another chain for twenty plus years and then they both quit their jobs and invested in this little shop on the island to retire – he knew them all and they all liked him. And he is certainly an easy guy to like, with a laid-back demeanor that could almost portray lackadaisical from some views.

Our next stop was one of the oldest stores of its kind in the entire county, he had lived here most of his life and told me how this area had been all fields and poorly paved roads when he remembered coming to this store in his youth. We pulled up out back and met other vendors, who all knew him by name, and we chatted together for a while about nonsensical topics before moving to the loading dock and continuing the conversation there. There I listened as the rep talked about the old days with the receiver and as we made our way to our aisles he explained how the receiver had worked for another company for several years before being let go and only recently had came to this store. He was very casual as he checked the shelves and even when packing them out, not rushed like the other reps I had ridden with before. We grabbed another smoke and I was very grateful to be riding with a smoker. The milkman, Alan, stopped by and introduced himself, and the rep introduced me as the administrative secretary – the closest yet. We loaded up and the rep and I got to chatting as we road along. Why exactly did I want to ride along with everyone? I told him how I really wanted to get a better picture of what they go through in a day as reps and we joked about selecting a poor sap to experience what I go through in a day – he wasn’t interested in being that sap.
One thing I had yet to experience was the angry receiver or customer; at least on the delivery end. I mean they certainly spare no words with me on the phone when they call in for service, but I had really been anxious to see how these stores acted in person when they didn’t get their way. And I got my first real glimpse at our next stop. Granted, the receiver wasn’t angry at our rep, but I got the front stage seating minus the popcorn nonetheless. We pulled around to the back door and we were first greeted by an overzealous little driver for a liquor company. He had been ringing the receiver bell he said, for the past ten minutes. On top of that, the loading doors were blocked he could see, from peeking in the window and he had twenty-two cases of champagne alone to deliver. She had best hurry up, he barked to no one in particular and our rep took the time to grab a smoke with me and explain how some of his receivers worked. This one, he shared, typically worked from 6 til 8, and then took her break for about ten minutes, and then back again until 10. If you were late, you wouldn’t be getting in. And this particular lady also called on who she was ready for, no matter the order of arrival. Good thing was that she liked him. He said sometimes he had had to wait a while to deliver, but not often. Usually on the days he had to wait though, he would leave unless it was his pre-weekend delivery day. He doesn’t double back to catch stores either, either he gets in on the first try or he’ll do them later in the week. The door finally clicked open and the other driver, who had all the while been pacing and muttering and peering in the windows anxiously hollered over to us to hurry in while the door was still open. By the time we got to the door, she and the driver were already sharing words. Those 22 cases, yeah, she hadn’t ordered them, had no room for them, and wouldn’t be receiving them. While he carried on about her having to deal with it anyhow, she checked us in, giving him no mind. We went out to the floor and walked through our section, but by the time we came back, he was still huffing about and she was firm and loud about how he was not getting those 22 cases in. He argued that the cases blocked the rest of the shipments for the day, how her manager had ordered it and it was getting dropped. It was almost like a loud tennis match to witness, he would serve the ball and you watch it bounce across the net and she would backhand it across once more. He huffed and made those Agassi grunts as he slammed it back with force and she, in a single stroke would bounce it back once more. I gave up trying to appear like I wasn’t watching, as neither of them seemed to notice much outside of their showdown. She won in the end and as we were about to leave I watched him re-arranging his truck, slamming cases here and there.

The jumper seat in this old truck was cushionier than the other two, either that or my butt and back had just finally grown accustomed to the agony. This truck was also much bigger than the other two and the rep had it very neatly organized. His chip trays were labeled and sorted with the appropriate product, his aisles clear of extra product and for once, a hand truck was properly tied down and not flopping about like a fish out of water. He was also the only rep I had yet seen remove his hand truck properly each time. There were no lose items and everything in his truck was just so. I also found out later had I arrived a few minutes earlier I would have caught him with the hood popped and fluids being checked. He was very proud of the care he gave to his truck. That was certainly the first time I had witness this in any rep, and the first time I had seen a truck that was kept clean inside and out.

As we drove along, something caught my eye – my bright white toe was poking up the damned tape! I studied it for a bit and grew really irritated at myself for not getting myself together enough to notice it sooner and grab a different pair of shoes. My stomach snarled a bit about this moment too, reminding me that I had neglected it as well in my rush. I became quickly aware of myself and I began thinking what a daze these guys must be in on a daily basis to be getting up at 3 in the morning five days a week. I pushed the tape down with my right foot and glanced over at my rep. He was still working on the small coffee he had purchased before 5 this morning – it was now almost 10. He had no munchies except a half empty container of Tic Tacs – that and a truck loaded with snacks. I’m not much of a snack person, though if you leave me alone with a bag of our new kettle style popcorn, I’ll be licking the bag clean after about fifteen minutes. But I wondered how tempting it was for him as a rep to sit that close to snacks and not snag one here or there. I tried to forget about my shoe and my stomach and asked him about the availability of snacks tempting his stomach. He laughed and said he was big on munching but he had to stay in control or else his truck would be empty. He said though that for a while he had to check all of his honey bun boxes because the rig drivers who would deliver product to his stockroom would often open a box and grab one or two out. After a few oops trips into a store to find that the case wasn’t actually a full case, he wound up learning to check every box each time.

We caught up with the liquor driver again at our next stop and his irritation from the refused delivery carried on to the next receiver, a short dwarf of a man who was taller sitting than standing. Our rep was quick to let me know that this receiver could go from hot to cold and back again in a flash and I readied myself for round two of the tennis match. This time the driver had unloaded his liquor pallet out of the back of his truck and just brought it to the receiving door. And in the middle of the door it sat, as stubborn and obstinate as the man pushing it. But that little man receiving the liquor outdid them both. He waved us in and loudly told the two of us how he had instructed the wine-o (I kind of chuckled at that one) to get there by 8 and it was now pushing on 10 am, and he had a good mind to show them the door (except his statements included a hell of a lot more of those words that only sailors use). Now, I don’t believe I recall an incident where our reps are refused when they try to deliver, but watching this receiver and the former one interacting with the same rep who was insistent that it would be done his way – I can see how lack of any rep showing up may go unnoticed in this hustle initially, but if you have customers bearing down on the clerks and thereby the managers and they all come back to this receiver who just had to threaten to call on a higher power to remove this pig-headed driver from the back door; it’s probably going to be the straw for the camel. I could see why, by the time they have called the driver, the manager, CRC and eventually get routed to me; these callers are aggravated and fuming.

I have said it before, just supposing, but to see this in action only validated my thoughts. I have long felt that the means available to me to handle customer calls are inadequate. As an often irate end user, when I call for help, I want it now. And then when the calls span days or weeks with no action, I expect that when I get transferred to the ‘zone office’ or equivalent that I am going to be talking to the person who will fix it all. Not just another glorified typist who is going to take a message and pass it along. And seeing this little man all flustered justified the angered callers I have spoken to in the past.

After servicing the store, the rep and I had paused to grab a smoke and talk a bit more and I watched in awe as the ‘dumpster divers’ as he called them, descended onto the fly and bee infested metal containers. One husband and wife duo had stationed themselves over one of the dumpsters with a fairly impressive routine. She had a basket for carrying their finds, and he had a milk crate and a four-foot extend-a-arm grabber pole. We watched them sort through and the rep explained that he would usually give them the stales he pulled out the stores, usually crackers, as then they couldn’t take them back in for money. He put out his cigarette and went to create a box for them from the stales we had been finding in his stops. I wasn’t quite sure about the legality of it all, but anyone hungry enough to dive in a dumpster for a bite to eat probably wouldn’t sue us for giving them free outdated crackers. The lady’s face shown with appreciation as the rep gave her his care package and we set off for our next stop.

He knew every inch of the islands, from where to look for osprey nests to accounts that someday he would like to find a way to get into. We pulled into a restaurant that sat overlooking an inlet of the gulf and they ordered cracker meal and various food service items. Because of the loading area, the hand truck would not be an option here and we took turns seeing which boxes I could carry. I finally opted for two boxes of saltines and he loaded his arms up with his computer and printer and the two 25 pound boxes that I had shied away from. I am already (to the best of my knowledge unchallenged in this field) the only admin to be injured on the job by falling up the stairs at our office. I didn’t really have any desire to pop my knee cap or make an ass of our zone in any other fashion by adding on another injury. We already are known for having a rep hit a cow in broad day light. So the rep lugged them inside and I followed. He decided to go organize and rotate the large metal storage room, commenting to me later as we left that if he didn’t go in there and rotate the stock that the cooks never would and he would wind up staling out the product. He isn’t really required to go through all the trouble, but it is better than buying back stale cracker meal. I could see his point.

The next stop I wished I had avoided all together, it was a bait shop. Just faux flies in shiny packages and fishing line on a shelf right? Oh no. This particular ‘shop’ was complete with tubs for cleaning and sinks for filleting and gutting, and of course the best place to set these tubs and counters up at would be two feet from the front door. Right? But of course. I shuddered and quickly began trying to breathe through my mouth only. Of all of the damn days for my nose not to be stuffy. We went to the back of the shop, of course the tubs and counters had to go all the way back as well. I was rather surprised that I was finding any stales at all with this particular rep, and here again we pulled stales. The one unique thing I had noticed though in contrast to other reps, was this rep didn’t seem to stale out pastries. He had somehow found that happy balance of stores that actually sold bakery items and which ones merely decorated their shelves with the honey buns. We went back out to the truck and I begged off going back inside. Guts and fish smells just don’t make my already pissed off stomach very content.

While he went back inside, I took the time to briefly glance through his stack of papers in a clear pocket affixed to the truck body. Now, granted, many of these papers were so outdated they almost disintegrated between my fingertips, but unlike any of the reps I had yet ridden with, he had all of his sales fliers, print offs and general sales information right there. All of it. I cannot say that he read it, but to know that he had it with him and that it had made it out of the yellow envelope I mail them in and into his truck was impressive to me. On the dash were extra pens in a holder, a business card for his truck repair shop and tire shop, and a running tally of all of his damaged products. This rep was significantly better organized than I would have ever given him credit for.

He warned me that we had a hefty jaunt back to the next and final stop, so we both grabbed our smoke break while we had the chance. It was not yet even 11 am and we had only one stop remaining? I was excited though, because today I would finally get to see an inventory in action. It sounded like a bitch to do and it was often a hot-button topic in discussions about who faked it and who didn’t; why couldn’t the reps do a real one; didn’t they understand that it all would come out at some point – inventories were a conversation starter if you ever wanted to get a rise out of a manager. It’s one of those topics you check your watch before you begin talking to make sure you have enough hours left on the clock to finish the conversation. I was quick to be corrected though – there would be no inventory today. Wha?
Now, pause a moment.

A month ago I called this rep and said that I wanted to spend a day on the truck with him, preferably on a day he did his inventory. Two weeks ago we narrowed the day down to this day and I again let him know I wanted to see an inventory in action, which was the big thing I still had left on my personal list of things to experience. Tuesday it is. A week ago I verified the time and location to meet, and the inventory. He concurred. His manager did the same – with him; she wants to see an inventory, make sure you take her with you on a day you are doing an inventory. Now I don’t know if all of the reps are under some misguided notion that I am doing some secret shopper-esque ride along to catch their secrets or such and if that is why they won’t do an inventory in my presence; but damnit…

He explained he had went ahead and done his inventory the day prior so I could go and do my shopping or whatever it was I did after I got off work. Huh? But, he had been ever so thoughtful as to print out the copy of the inventory so that I could see it first hand. I was frustrated, but I bit my lip and looked it over. I see those all of the time on audits, big whoop. If I had any questions, he would gladly answer them. I had a question, but I couldn’t ask it; so instead I did the twenty questions prod dance. So, when you do your inventory, do you count even the things on your truck? Yes. Do you open the cases or do you assume the quantity? You’re supposed to open it. I wanted a cigarette but instead stared out the window and commented on the pretty trees.

The rep and I arrived at our final stop, a small gas station on the corner and he explained that they were sometimes hard to understand because they were from Sri Lanka or somewhere, somewhere not in the US. I had to chuckle at his simplicity, but also that he of all people had heard of Sri Lanka. You’d have to know him to know why I chuckled, but he just doesn’t strike you as the type who has heard of any places more than twenty miles away from the dirt fields of home. We went inside and the lady pounced on us pretty quickly. (She sounded Greek, for the record.) Her brother ran another such station in another area of town and he couldn’t get any product in his store; they had an established account, yes, but the rep and the rep’s manager didn’t think they would sell enough to make it worth the stop. But fear not! Her brother had kicked Little Debbie out and now they had plenty of room for us! Could I make it all better? I felt a bit like the mommy confronted with the sad puppy eyes and two young kids pleading can we keep him mommy huh huh huh? I swallowed and shot the rep a look that said thanks-a-lot before asking her for the address and information. She hurried back to her counter to get me the information and I tried to escape away to where our rep was checking out the shelves. He had all but finished, but I began checking the dates and found 17 stales he had overlooked. He seemed a bit surprised and complimented my ability to find stales he had missed. What can I say? While he went back to the truck, I got stuck smiling forcefully at the lady giving me her wish list for the holidays. I nodded absently along and then she offered up the little bit of information that her brother’s store was actually getting serviced, but could I make sure it continued. A strange gentleman followed me out to the truck to join the rep and I wasn’t really sure if the man worked there or loitered there. He lit a cigarette and stood next to our truck and I double checked my purse for the first time of the day. Tucking it safely out of sight, I went back to help the rep finish loading up the chip trays. We were almost finished and he realized he had forgotten her honey buns. He decided to make a whole new invoice because, he said, if he tried to add it on she would just be convinced he was trying to pull a fast one on her. We finally were ready and went back inside to stock her shelves. This account he could probably do without he shared, outside, as he typically put in twenty dollars and took out ten. But, it wasn’t as bad as another store on his route where he would take in ten dollars and take out fifteen. He said the employees would eat the product but then give him back the wrappers for damages. He had went ahead and let it pass a few times now, but he was ready to have them off of his route.

We road to his stockroom and he talked about something, but I really wasn’t listening, I was bummed about the inventory or lack thereof; my white sock peering out of my black shoe at me was irking me; my stomach was gnawing at my throat; and I was tired. It made my day feel like a total wash. His stockroom was in a rather residential neighbourhood and we threw back the doors to the most spotless stockroom I had seen. There were a few leaves under a table at the doorway, but that was it. He explained that the tables weren’t up to code, but he had no plans to get rid of them. He had told the operations manager he couldn’t find a place to unload them when he had been questioned about why they were in his stockroom. He loaded up his truck and said that he usually did that at the end of the day because he was already sweaty by that point. He didn’t really have any obvious pattern to loading, just filling the holes in his truck. Reduced fat here, salted there, cheddar jack and extra saltines and so on.
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