Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Laborious Nights....My's fun, but not easy....

As you may have seen earlier today, I promised a post about what it is I do at night, working for the largest retail chain in the world. (If you didn't see the post on Facebook, check out my fan page, and like it, to be able to see those status updates.....the link is there in the sidebar.---->) I am officially a "Frozen/dairy stocker", but I also double as a "Dry food-Gm stocker", where the "Gm" stands for "general merchandise", which is what most of the other stockers are called. The reason there is a difference between the names is because in years past, there was a different, and slightly higher, rate of pay for those working in the "cold" areas, but now everyone is paid at the same level, but the name remains. There is also the difference because in some stores, if you are a frozen/dairy stocker, that is all you ever work, those two departments, but, in my store, that is not the case at all, as I will explain later.

So what's a typical night like for me? Two words can sum it up very nicely, and those are VERY BUSY lol. We clock in at 10 p.m., and proceed immediately to one of the price checker terminals situated throughout the store, but we're not out to check any prices. We scan the bar code on the back of our name badge, and a screen comes up with a list of the tasks we will have to perform that evening. They are touchscreens, so we just touch the word "start" to start the task, and touch "complete" when it's done. The first task on the list is always the "meeting". The meeting is where the entire crew comes together (usually in the back of the store, in "Site to Store") and the overnight assistant manager on duty tells us about any relevant information we need for that evening, and anything problems or issues that have come up that we need to address. Personally, I like the meeting, because it gives me a chance to find out who's at work that night, because with a crew the size that we have, you can tell a lot about how the night is going to go by how many people are there, and who they are. If that doesn't make any sense, allow me to elaborate.

Many stores in this gargantuan retail chain employ a crew of about 30 to 40 people to stock the store each night. Just ballparking a figure in my head, I'd have to say that there are about that many areas or departments that have new freight that comes in every night, so having one person for each DOES make sense. However, the amount of new freight varies widely for each area, some have a lot, like softlines (the clothing), where all the "departments" are grouped together as one, or in the case of MY usual department, dairy, a very large department in itself. Others are much smaller, such as the stationary department, which is only a few short aisles, or even, believe it or not, electronics, which is one of the departments in which much of the stocking is done during the day. What I'm getting at here is that in some stores, there is a system in place where the same person stocks the same area every night, and they are not asked or told to go to any other area(s) that they are not usually assigned to. This means that while they are very very good at stocking "their" area, it is pretty much all they know how to do. Send them to another department, and they could not do it nearly as quickly as the one who does it every day. If a department usually has more freight than one person can run in a normal shift, then there is a mini "crew" of 2 or even 3 people that have that department, every night, for the same reason, because they know it, and can get it done faster. Sounds like a great system, right? Well, let's just say there are pros and cons. Let me explain how it's done at my store, and you'll see what I mean.

What MY store does is to take a much smaller crew, probably half the size in fact, and do the same amount of stocking in the same amount of time, because most of our crew can work just about any department in the store, and do it well, because they are trained to know just about the whole store, or at least be familiar enough with it to do any area they are assigned. A crew that can do that is a much more efficient crew, and is much more flexible, for management, since they can assign jobs to anyone, and everything gets done in a timely manner. It takes a certain type of attitude on the part of your personnel to be able to pull that off, a dedication to getting things done, wherever one is assigned, and it's not for the faint of heart, or those not good with change. That alone to me is why I believe that the crew I work with is one of the finest in the business, and I would even venture to say that you could take us, as a crew, to one of the stores with a much larger crew, and stock THEIR store faster and more correctly than their own crew. So when I say I like the meeting, because I can see who's working and how many people are there, it tells me a lot about how busy we are all going to be that night, and/or if we are going to be doing a lot of "jumping around" to different departments to get everything done.

As you can probably already see, it is not an easy job, far from it. It is one where you have to be constantly moving, constantly working, and not allow yourself to be tempted to stand around and talk with your coworkers, or "goof off", because you know you have work to do, and only so much time in which to do it. Because there's another little gem this "system" has in place that is a key motivator. You are actually timed in each task you start, from beginning to end, and each task has a designated time in which it is supposed to be accomplished. Take dairy for instance. On a typical night, there will be 3 to 5 full pallets of new freight to be run, sometimes more, sometimes less. The freight manifest that comes in with the trucks when they are unloaded has a count of exactly how many cases of freight has arrived, and with that number, factoring in a number of cases per hour a person is expected to be able to run, a number of hours is generated, and that's the "time" you are given at the beginning of the night, for each task you are given. For me, it usually means anywhere between 4 and 12 hours worth of freight. And yes, there are nights in which you are expected to get more hours of freight done than there are actual hours in the shift. And it's entirely possible to make that happen, trust me, it all depends on what it is that you get. The reason? Because not every case you receive can actually go on the shelf. Some will inevitably be "overstock", and is set aside to be put on the shelves in the backroom. And when there's 12 hours of freight, you can bet there will be a LOT of overstock.

Anyway, without getting any more boring than I already have, trying to explain the intricate workings of the inventory management system, let me just say that on most nights, I have the opportunity to take whatever comes in on the truck, and get everything that will actually go on the shelf into its proper place, so shoppers have something to buy when they come in the next day. For me, it's a great sense of accomplishment, and at the same time, a challenge, because no two nights are ever alike, even if you work the same department. And then, there's a lot of nights, when you have no idea where you may be working, as has happened to me lately. They've hired 4 new stockers, and they are training them, in various areas of the store, so I have been out of my "element" so to speak. For a while now, I knew I would be coming in and working the dairy department, as I would be the one "on duty" that was the most familiar, and therefore the "best" at it, and I was content with that. But now, I never know what I'll be doing from one night to the next, and it's a little unnerving sometimes. See, as much as I've just talked about my "crew" working anywhere in the store, on many nights, we don't have to, and we stay in pretty much the same areas, or close at least, such as working one or another grocery aisle, which, once you've done them all a few times, any or all are very easy to go back to later.

But anyway, the last week or so has seemed even busier to me, stocking areas I am not as familiar with as dairy, and on top of that, last night, they had one of the new people stocking dairy by himself for the first time, and he was really quite lost, I felt bad for him. He took over 2 hours longer than his designated time to finish, which is really pretty good, considering how new he is at it, but of course management doesn't see it that way. They expected him to be finished in the time allotted. They prefer to throw someone in the "fire", so to speak, to see how they will handle it, and it's really how they see if someone will make it, under the system they have in place. Those that won't usually quit within their first week, because they either can't get used to working overnight, or it's more work than they care to do. Either way, I know if he stays, he'll be good, but to only be able to watch, and not help, well, it was hard. I wanted to show him so many things, to help him learn it, but I had my own work to do, and could only mention little tidbits in passing, because I did have the good fortune of being assigned to the deli wall freight, which is stacked together in with the dairy freight.

To bring this increasingly lengthy post to a close, I will say that I enjoy what I do, and do you know why? Don't you hate it when you go into a store, that you KNOW carries the things you love and want to buy, and you get there, and they are out of whatever it is you came to get? Yeah, I do too.

That's why I do what I do.

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