“Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot” — Chapter 114

Jason McGathey
9 min readSep 15, 2022
grocery store with dartboard generated pricing

Once the smoke clears, it’s easy enough to figure out what just happened. Sorting it out and correcting it, however, is another matter entirely. And wrapping one’s mind around how this scenario could have even played out in this fashion to begin with would take a team of the nation’s top scientists to unravel, assuming their brains didn’t disintegrate first.

When Edgar confronts Todd about this, over the phone, their illustrious president begins boasting, as he has all day up there at Palmyra, that he has worked out this new deal with this company called MRI, to become their new primary distributor. Except that he just wants to bring them into Palmyra alone at first, on a “trial basis.” Which is fine and dandy, except he mentioned this to absolutely no one else at all besides Fred and Don. Then proceeded to not only have a semi truck full of new product autoshipped there, from MRI, but to paratroop a bunch of their reps into that store…to hang new shelf tags…depicting their ordering SKUs but also much more critically, displaying their suggested retail price on everything.

Though the rest of the store is up in arms about the mountain of unexpected product, that only indirectly relates to Edgar, is none of his business apart from the reams of new items he’ll be adding. But having thousands of incorrect tags on the shelves now, this not only very much does concern him, it also happens to be illegal.

“Okay but I would actually have to change the prices in our system first. Or else they’re not gonna ring up correctly at the register,” Edgar explains, attempting to hide his incredulity that he would have to in the first place.

“Okay…,” Todd replies, nonplussed, as though wondering what the point of that comment was.

“Plus, I mean, are we changing the retails at the other two stores? In the past we’ve always kept the prices the same everywhere, except for a few, like, oddball exceptions.”

“No no, those need to change, too, I want them all the same.”

“Okay but are we listing MRI on their shelf tags, at the other two stores, as far as the primary supplier?”

“Nope. Keep MRI out of the other two stores for now. I’ll let you know when the time is right to change that.”

Although he really wants to retort, will you, though? Edgar instead finds himself just telling Todd that he needs some sort of item list, at the bare minimum a file with everything that was sent there today. To which this madman at the helm murmurs, “I’ll see what I can do,” and hangs up.

This is one of those situations where the event itself is colossal enough, but stepping back to view the bigger picture, about what this implies, will prove of far greater significance. Edgar continually turns his thoughts back to that seemingly minor episode, months ago, where Todd intercepted a bunch of invoices and scribbled Bakery upon them. He kind of thought then that, while something you might just blow off — if Todd otherwise proved himself a capable leader — as a quirky little blip, it was more than just weird, it was probably a huge red flag. That someone could rise to that level and think that you might “create” a new department by crossing out the old one and writing something else.

Well, this extends far beyond the horizon of that occurrence’s limited scope. This isn’t just a possible red flag, this is taking the world’s largest red parachute and wrapping it around the store. It’s just impossible to imagine how this trio of individuals could have ascended to these positions, in this industry, and reputedly possess untold decades of experience…yet fail to understand that this is not how things work. Even new hires snickering about these developments in the break room grasp as much, for example.

Though it’s already mid-day, this has turned into an all hands on deck type situation. Sane enough to at least recognize that Edgar needs to remain strapped into his desk chair, the bosses blessedly allow him to stay behind, and Park isn’t really needed for anything up there. Otherwise it’s an empty office, as the merchandisers, if not already cruising up to Palmyra on their own, have been drafted into the mix, as has Valerie, enlisted to help Sharon sort out the madness on the back dock. It’s funny, though, while Edgar has breathed not a word of this to anyone, Valerie has already caught wind of the price change debacle, probably from conversing with Sharon on the phone.

Before disembarking, she stands in Edgar’s doorway, telling him that they’ve called her to duty. Assumes a befuddled expression for comedic effect, scratching her noggin with one index finger, as she takes on a caveman’s voice and mutters, “hang tag…no change price?…hmm….,” then cackles and heads out the door.

Well, the other two ringleaders might have a somewhat reasonable excuse of just doing what Todd told them. And Fred almost immediately begins emailing Edgar wave after wave of produce invoices, which appears to be the category Fred was handling, and while far from ideal, this is at least something to get the ball rolling. This would suggest that he understands the severity of the situation. Also, produce is somewhat unique in that the prices are typically on signs towering over large displays, and the shelf tags are relatively minimal. Which means MRI hadn’t changed a ton over there, and most of Edgar’s work in produce consists of adding new items or else the SKU/vendor info for ordering from MRI. Maybe Edgar just wants to give Fred the benefit of the doubt, because he likes the guy the best of the trio, but it’s also true that Fred is the only one to apologize for this debacle, popping into Edgar’s office first thing the following morning.

“I’m sorry. That was my fault over there in produce. I should have sent you that information before the product arrived,” Fred tells him.

“Well, it’s not quite as big of a deal in produce, because the PLU numbers are universal.”

“And see, that’s what I was thinking,” Fred nods.

“Yeah, I mean, I had to add some of the UPCs for the packaged stuff, and the SKUs for MRI, but…overall produce was pretty much the least problematic department.”

“Okay, well, like I said, sorry about that.”

It’s much more difficult to come to grips with what the other two think about this — or any other — situation. With Don, it’s another Corey Brown type scenario where he’s determined to make sure you and everyone else knows what a hotshot he is…until something goes haywire. Then he was just following orders and therefore it’s not his fault. The key difference lies only in their patented response. Whereas Corey’s standard line was somebody needs to do something about this, as he backed away from any personal involvement, Don likes to throw his hands up and utter some variation of, whoa! Okay okay! I don’t know how this works. How would I know how this works? To which, for the umpteenth time, Edgar feels like responding, or on occasion actually does respond with, a) if bosses don’t know how something works, then why are they constantly b) going around telling everyone how things are going to be, without c) asking any questions of the people who actually do know how these things work?

Well, in this particular instance, he was only following orders, and who knows what Todd told him or Fred. Right. Although Edgar still doesn’t get how you can have all three of these guys up in that store, not to mention the MRI crew itself, and at no point did it occur to any of these industry titans that you would have to notify your pricing/data coordinator that you were hanging thousands of brand new tags. It isn’t just the wrong prices, but their ordering information is not even entered into the Slingshot system in any fashion, doing it this way — not to mention that, any time someone would have to reprint a tag, obviously, it’s just going to revert to the old information.

Which brings this topic around to landing at the feet of Todd Cashner. Safe to say there is a ton to unpack, as always, in dealing with this character. His basic mindset in this, as it has been all along, can be summed up as, well, I’m in charge. Deal with it or get out of the way. Even when presented with considerable evidence that he botched this, there’s still just no way that Todd dedicated so much as a minute’s thought to any consideration that he did anything wrong. It was his idea, and that automatically makes it correct. If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.

But there’s a whole lot more going on, beyond this. Edgar isn’t quite sure whether you would call this sociopathic, or just plain childish, yet he would swear that Todd wanted to intentionally keep this a surprise for as long as possible. Because in his mind, it demonstrates how powerful he is, to just drop this bomb in everyone’s lap at the last minute. That in so doing, he is dazzling everyone with his awe inspiring moves, they are all the more impressed by his brilliance. Even so, there’s one other disturbing consideration, one becoming increasingly apparent as the days progress: in Edgar’s opinion, Todd doesn’t know nearly as much about this industry as he claims to, and is just kind of bullshitting his way along.

As further evidence of such, Todd’s follow-up to Edgar’s request for more information smacks heavily of cluelessness. Either that or he can’t be bothered to care any more than this, or both, any of which ties into one of the earlier points. All he does, a day later, is email Edgar, and copy some guy from MRI, saying, explain to him what it is you need.

If nothing else, though, this counts as progress, and at least he’s establishing his first ever connection with someone with MRI, a company he’d never had any interaction with, or for that matter ever heard of up until now. After some back and forth with this guy, some reset rep named Bob Hammond, who evidently doesn’t have a ton of pull himself, they’re able to piece together some half-baked solution to this mess. A situation complicated all the more in that now Todd’s saying he wants to switch the rest of their shelf tags over to where they look like the MRI ones, because he doesn’t like having two different styles out there. Edgar is at least able to talk him down from this ledge, by explaining that, if they are switching over to RU Data’s system in a month or two, then it makes no sense to completely overhaul their shelf tags now, and then do so again at that time. And Todd blessedly agrees, which does help point the way to a solution.

If Bob Hammond can get Edgar a copy of everything that was delivered to the store, with all their SRPs, then he can switch all those over in an instant, and crank out fresh tags, in the existing style, but with the new information on them. A process he has already begun anyway, to some extent, with whatever invoices Fred and a couple others up there have emailed him. Then, once that is finished, Edgar can go through the store, and any of the MRI tags that remain, he can scan and build a file of his own, for ones that still need changed.

Bob has to kick this request higher up the food chain, just to get him a copy of what was shipped. He does broach an oft-mentioned topic in wondering, though, why wouldn’t Edgar just add their entire database? The problem with that, though, is that after ten years in the digital realm, Wholesome Shopper Market’s system consists of just barely 30,000 items. MRI’s entire database has 36,000 different SKUs. They would be doing endless hours of maintenance on items that nobody is even carrying. As a last ditch resort, Edgar could do so, but really doesn’t believe that’s the best solution. And MRI’s method for hanging the tags had been to walk the store, scanning every item and cranking out their own replacements if they found a match, on these portable, proprietary devices. They hung maybe 2000–2500 of these, and as luck would have it, some of these even had the same retail as before. Yet no record exists of what was printed, so it would seem that this two-pronged attack is their best bet.

Well, after about two days, they’re able to corral this ghastly episode and slap a straightjacket around it. Edgar adds MRI as a supplier for Palmyra, inside of Slingshot, with the same method used for about 95% of their vendors, i.e. the scan guns email a PDF as soon as the order is closed and sent. And it seems like maybe some if not all of the power trio up top learned a little bit from this, to avoid repeating this disaster in the future. Yet just when everyone else begins to believe that things could not possibly get any nuttier around here, and might even have started straightening out somewhat, another bizarre and most likely ominous piece of news clocks them upside the head. In this particular instance, it’s that Todd’s wife, Marla, will now be in their midst on a regular basis. Because she’s just been hired as a rep for Universal Foods, and Wholesome Shopper Market is one of her clients.