Among the first of many head-scratchers about this meeting is that by virtue of being here, this means that the five of them are not at Arcadia right now. They are seated in the semi-dark, as nobody has bothered turning on the overhead lights, with only those streaming in from the back of windows and the three offices illuminate them. Nobody but Edgar has brought a notepad, so whatever this is, which the other four in the room already seem to know, the “new structure” must not be all that complicated or involved. This is when he first learns that Pierre O’Brien will now be his assistant.
“I’m not gonna get into…who did or didn’t do what,” Duane announces, from his seat at the head of the table, holding up one hand and shaking it around. “Bottom line is, you need some help. This weekend…well, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it was close.”
“Really?” Edgar says.
“Yes. We have got to be more organized than this.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.”
Yet Duane barges forward, which is right around when Edgar begins to realize that he alone is being addressed here. Are they for real? In what twisted universe would anyone consider this Arcadia opening his fault? Yet Duane continues, adding, “…and we also have got to have somebody here on Saturdays. Every Saturday, from now on. Now, you two can sort out amongst yourselves who’s actually doin’ what, but…”
The other strange thing about this powwow is that everyone is acting as though he already knew Pierre had been assigned to him. Including the man himself, who pipes up now and says, in his clipped, (faux) French accent, “mmm hmm and I was telling Duane I do not mind. I can work Saturdays, it is no problem.”
“Okay…that’s fine…,” Edgar shrugs, looking over at Pierre, more than a little bewildered still by this ambush.
He should have known it wouldn’t be long before Corey Brown spoke up, with his own warped, possibly nonsensical take on the situation, and this moment has indeed arrived. The placement of which is also bizarre in itself, not applying the least bit to this train of discussion.
“We need to see a paper trail of everything you’re doing!” Corey barks, jabbing an index finger across the table, in Edgar’s direction.
Edgar jerks his own digit of choice, a thumb, back in the direction of his office and calmly tells Corey. “There already is a paper trail of everything. There always has been. It’s saved on the Orchestra desktop. Anyone can look at that at anytime. But, I mean…what’s this all about, anyway?”
“We’ve got sale prices not ringing, we’ve got a ton of items not in the system…there needs to be some accountability here!” Corey declares.
“I’m doing my job, okay?” Edgar tells him.
Duane cackles and says, “you need help.”
“And that’s fine, I’m not opposed to having help. But at the time I left on Friday, I had completely added everything that everyone sent to me. I can take you in there and show you the paper trail on that right now if you like,” he says, staring Corey down with only a brief glance at Duane in the middle. As it’s his turn to point an index finger now, in the direction of his office.
Vince, the only other person on Edgar’s side of the table, has sat beside him this entire time without a peep. When he finally does speak, it’s so surreal as to border on hilarious — no, make that decisively obliterating the border, it is hilarious — in blowing right past Corey on the ridiculousness meter as well.
“Ideally, we would like to have every new item added before it even gets to the store.”
Edgar whips his head around toward this old man, now, unable to believe what he’s just heard. Possibly out of anyone who has ever worked here, at least during his stint with the company, Vince should be the last person to make such a comment. Is this dude insane? How does he think this stuff works? That the items float through the ether and magically add themselves, as soon as the semi backs up to their loading dock?
He raises his eyebrows, and pointedly tells Vince, “I agree. I think that is an awesome idea. But I’ve still got people strolling up to me all the time, telling me to add something, or wheeling out an entire shopping cart…”
“Well, that needs to stop,” Duane interjects.
“Yeah and I mean, I added twelve hundred new items those last two days at Arcadia. A thousand on Friday alone. Nobody knew that they weren’t in the system until then? I guarantee it’s the same deal with these sale prices you’re talking about. I don’t feel like this is about me getting more organized. This is about having someone on hand to deal with last minute freakouts.”
“Yeah, well, you two are gonna be splitting your job right down the middle,” Corey says, and though this contradicts what Duane had just said about deciding themselves, whips a finger back and forth between Edgar and Pierre, “everything you’re doing, he’s gonna be doing.”
Edgar sighs, shakes his head, and fully regards Pierre before telling him, “you’re gonna have to be extremely organized with this job…”
“That’s fine. I am very good with details.”
“…I mean, like, we had Christie adding new items in the deli for awhile, and that was a complete disaster…”
“Yes…,” Duane croaks, nodding along as he recalls.
“…the brand names have to be spelled the exact same way, every time. You’ve got to make sure they’re added to the correct department, based on the ingredients, for tax reasons, and EBT…you’ve got to break down every ingredient on every deli recipe, uh…”
“Uh huh, that is fine. Like I say, I am very good with details.”
Edgar considers this pronouncement suspect at best, but there’s not much that can be said about it — his bosses have told him this is happening, and that’s that. Still, there are things Pierre can be useful for, now doubt about it, like for example the hanging of the shelf tags, or even those scan audits. Those don’t take any special skill, pretty much anyone capable of paying attention for ten seconds at a time can pull that off. Time consuming but entry level stuff, in other words, and as long as they hew closer to Duane’s vision, rather than Corey’s, the arrangement should pan out alright.
As the meeting breaks up, the three head honchos stand around chatting. Pierre follows him into his office, as they too remain on their feet, discussing how this will play out, from opposite sides of the desk. “It will be fine. Like I say, I can work Saturdays, it is no problem. This will help because I know you cannot always finish everything.”
“I’m staying caught up with my work. That’s not what this is about. People are going to have to get more organized, that’s all there is to it,” Edgar tells him. “Like even tagging Arcadia — I’m not the official Tag Hanger Guy, I never have been. Anybody can do that. Pretty much everyone should be doing that.”
“Yes, but…” Pierre attempts interjecting.
“I mean, the last time I was up at Walnut, they had a girl there on her second day, she was scanning and printing tags!” Edgar barges onward with this rant, “and actually, now that I think about it, even at Arcadia, someone must have been doing some of that before I even…”
Pierre nods and says, “oh yeah, uh huh, I did a lot of that, mmm hmm.”
Having obviously overheard much if not all of this verbal barrage, Corey can’t resist drifting into the office now himself, and chiming in with his own deranged but apparently prevailing viewpoints. “Okay, but it’s not just about that. You need to be a little more on top of, okay, this store is still heavy on such and such product. So even though, yes, the sale has ended, if you know this, you need to go ahead and extend it.”
“I need to be on top of what stores have how much of which product, and make the decisions on extending sales?” Edgar blurts out, dumbfounded by this remark.
“Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. And anyway, we have plenty of situations where, okay, an item’s still on sale, but store A has already run out of it, so they’re reordering it at normal price. Meanwhile stores B and C are sitting on a ton of it, but nobody thought to check.”
“It’s a process, okay? But we’re getting there,” Corey says, and leaves the room. Edgar shakes his head and sighs — or not so much sighs, rather flips a lever to allow some steam to escape — as he and Pierre exchange a glance. Then Pierre also exits the room.
Up next to enter is Dale. Anyone in the merchandisers’ office had front row seats for this performance as well, and they’ve really gotten their money’s worth today. He’s smiling, but has both middle fingers raised as he approaches Edgar’s desk. Then he stops, and rotates his hips so those middle fingers are now directed toward the conference room. Drops his hands and grins over at Edgar, wordlessly.
“Oh yeah. Totally,” Edgar tells him.
After he leaves the room, Valerie is next to make an appearance. Edgar still has not sat down. She sidles over and rubs one of his arms, while peering up at him and smirking. Now it’s her turn to shake her head.
“What just happened?” he mumbles.
“I don’t know, but…I was gonna say we can go grab a beer later if you wanna talk about it…”
He nods and says. “That sounds great right about now.” Then, in a highly atypical move for him, mutters under his breath, “what a fuckin jackass…”
“Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure,” she says, laughing and looking back at him as she walks away.
Well, he hadn’t actually named any names, so it’s not as though he threw one specific person under the box truck. She can draw her own conclusions — at least up until maybe they go grab that beer. Maybe she already knows exactly who he was talking about, or maybe she was just placating him. It doesn’t really matter. As fired up as he is, he could have said much worse.
O to be a tall white male, stomping around with coffee mug in hand, making grand pronouncements! This is after all what most people mean, when they describe someone as seeming very “managerial.” Wearing a serious expression at all times also helps, if you can swing it. But who are we kidding here? Some people are gifted leaders, but most have no further qualifications than these. If he and Corey were to switch places right now, he’s certain that one of them would crash and burn in horrific fashion, the other would…well, at the very least hold his own right out of the gate, and probably even excel.
Yet the paradox here is that those smugly delusional enough to believe that they bring mad qualifications and insights to such a lofty position, oblivious to their shortcomings, those are indeed often the ones earmarked as having that elusive “managerial” aura. So yes, concerning Johnny’s point that this promotion went straight to Corey’s head, that might be true, but the attitude was already there before that happened. He has always had this very managerial attitude that runs something like this:
WHATEVER I’M MAKING UP RIGHT THIS MOMENT = CORRECT
ANYTHING ANYONE ELSE MIGHT BE SAYING = INCORRECT
Edgar’s first order of business is to sit down and fire off an email, once he has calmed down, explaining to every relevant figure that per Corey Brown, they are no longer permitted to bring him anything in person. Everything is to be submitted via email, which has long been the policy anyway, though they’ve slowly drifted away from this as he attempted to be as accommodating as possible. Yet for reasons of time, and also to establish a proper paper trail, he has no choice but to reject anything submitted to him in any other fashion.
One positive is that even Vince Brancatto wordlessly, miraculously, begins emailing him everything. He no longer attempts flying by with his verbals about running such and such sale price on this item for that series of dates, nor does he bring in his miserable handfuls, baskets, shopping carts of new products, often only discovering that they don’t ring until after he has built his end caps and displays. But mostly, everyone begins to openly conjecture what has crawled up Corey’s ass. Given this platform, he’s only gotten worse.
Yet he continues to display this weird personality split, which must be tricky to pull off. They begin to notice that all of his solutions have this in common: it’s that somebody else, often an unnamed entity, needs to do something about the situation — as he distances himself from the crisis, as though standing apart from these dilemmas.
Therefore his stance commonly seems to equate to power tripping meets ego tripping meets…drug tripping, or something to that effect. This is how surreal some of these interactions have become. Mere days removed from this Arcadia blowup, Edgar sends out a totally normal email to all five bulk managers, copying Vince and Corey both, listing a few items they could have sourced for cheaper elsewhere. Corey has been cc’d on hundreds of these from Edgar, and responded to almost nil. This time around, however, apparently inspired to throw his newfound weight into mashing some keys, he takes the last of these five emails, and replies to all of them with:
Nothing has changed, people. Bellwether is still signing our checks. You are still to order everything you possibly can from them.
Which has virtually all of them befuddled, except maybe the “merchandiser,” Vince, who doesn’t respond in any fashion, nor discuss this with Edgar. Those running the bulk department have no interaction with the guy, either, and as their responses from Corey would appear to make no sense, they’re asking Edgar what to do about the situation anyway. The tripped out part is that there’s no way Corey isn’t aware that they’ve been ordering reams of bulk from numerous other vendors for years, particularly Universal Foods. This edict about you are still to order everything from Bellwether is something he can’t possibly believe is true, unless he has paid attention to nothing whatsoever on this topic in the entire time Edgar’s been working here. Also, if he were to simply declare, “look, I’m telling you, starting now: order everything from Bellwether! End of story!” that would be one thing, and they would have no choice but to comply. It’s the part where he insists upon throwing the phrase nothing has changed! into every discussion that has them thoroughly confused.
Edgar is of course locking horns with Corey most of all, in email and eventually in person. There’s one particularly memorable discussion where his new boss has drifted into his office for a briefing on everything that’s going on, with training Pierre, and this bulk madness inevitably floats to the surface. What’s at the heart of this, Edgar believes, is that Corey thinks he’s really going to impress Rob with this move, and it will only serve to hasten his meteoric rise to the top. But Rob knows what the score is, and has consistently given more measured responses himself. He’s aware that Bellwether is frequently more expensive on non-organic offerings than Universal and some of the others are on their organic. He’s even mentioned to Edgar on one occasion that the reason commodities are going through the roof is that China snaps them up in mass quantities from the United States, then sells them back to us at a higher price. That as a result, small time players such as Bellwether are having an increasingly difficult time keeping up.
“He knows this,” Edgar’s telling Corey, “that’s why he’s already sent Tracy over here twice to hash this out with me, see what prices they can actually afford to match…”
“Tracy’s not Rob,” Corey says.
“No, but Rob sent her.”
“Look, nothing has changed! You’re not seeing the big picture!”
Even if this were coming from Rob, which it’s not, a little diplomacy would go a long way. As it stands, the bulk managers are up in arms, and Edgar’s not far behind them. And actually, he thinks maybe he’s seeing beyond the picture. It’s not like if all the bulk margins come back outrageously soft next period, Rob’s going to look at the numbers and say — oh yeah, that’s right, you’re ordering a ton from Bellwether now. It’s cool. No worries. Corey is out of his power hungry mind if he believes that’s going to happen. Aside from all this, it would appear that everyone is viewing a very accurately focused picture, because from what Edgar’s hearing, the opinions sound unanimous: what this is really about is Corey beating his chest and roaring that he is in charge, deal with it.
In practice, however, it’s not quite so simple. Because when the pricing is backwards on so many items, as they are here — meaning that the non-organic from Bellwether costs more than the organic elsewhere — you’re facing a range of conundrums, the solutions for which scale from Not So Hot to Very Very Bad. Plus, if Rob would catch wind of Corey’s chest-beating pronouncement, which he surely has, because there’s no way Corey would fail to boast about what he assumes will be truckloads of increased volume sent Rob’s way, then they lose whatever leverage they have built up. Like for example, with this yearly price-matching scheme involving Tracy. So all of these outcomes would likely trend even lower, as a result.
Typically the Universal Foods organic and the non-organic versions are both cheaper than Bellwether’s non-organic offerings — and they have no organic, period. In this scenario, Healthy Shopper Market sources both from Universal Foods. Yet there are still plenty of gaps remaining, items Universal doesn’t carry, such as a somewhat exotic dried fruit like lingonberries. In situations like these there are still countless instances where an organic specialty supplier, like Native Goods or something, costs less than Bellwether’s non-organic.
When this applies, they don’t even bother carrying the non-organic in bulk, because doing so is kind of dumb. To create a non-organic PLU in their system would mean…assigning the exact same SKU number to both items, if he were doing this correctly, by anything resembling solid business sense. Even so, you would have to jack up the retail on the “better” one by ten or twenty cents, just to avoid fielding the inevitable complaints that the prices were the same on both. So that’s all fairly stupid — and this is the best option.
Of course, with no gatekeeper in place, dictating what the bulk managers are and are not allowed to order, some of this unfortunate non-organic product has found its way into the store regardless. When this happens, Edgar has no choice but to create a new number for it, even though the guy who ordered this stuff is going to lose his shirt on the item. But if he wants to keep reordering it, that’s on him. Because here your choices are either to a) charge more for the non-organic than they are the organic, which isn’t going to happen, because that’s idiotic, b) shoot the organic retail through the roof to ensure it’s at least slightly higher, though this would likely kill your sales, and would also penalize all the other stores for this dude’s one wayward order, or b) price this boneheaded product ever so slightly below the organic, even though it often means only making 5% margin on it, maybe even less. In extreme cases, naturally, he’s had no choice but to raise the ceiling some by slightly hiking the organic anyway, because otherwise they would be losing money on the non-organic.
So this has happened, yes. And when it does, he makes a corresponding note, in a column on the far side of his Excel master database, detailing what is happening with this price. Otherwise there would be no way to keep all of these correlated products straight. But now Corey is basically telling him to intentionally make this happen, everywhere he can, across the board.
How this actually plays out in practice, however, is like Russian Robert’s shady antics in reverse. Whereas Robert’s been covertly dumping non-organic product into organic bins, to enhance his profits, in the wake of Corey’s mountaintop tirade, they are all now doing the opposite. The only difference being that this isn’t illegal. Edgar switches over the tags to read Bellwether, or in many instances is forced to create a brand new non-organic PLU listing them as the supplier, and this appeases Corey. Meanwhile the bulk managers continue ordering their organic product from wherever, as they have been all along, and filling their bins with such.
There are some situations where the inevitable actual Bellwether order is placed, however, just like always. Many of these are priced so low, to come in underneath the organic’s retail, though, that they’re barely making anything at all from these. Also, in the course of sorting out this madness, Edgar discovers one other hilarious wrinkle, which spices up the proceedings with a final merry twist.
He’s never discovered this before because it’s never supposed to work like this. As such he would never dream of having compared the two. And anyway, Bellwether’s product catalog, which doesn’t give UPCs, makes apples-to-apples comparison between the two much more difficult. But, in the course of going over this pricing information, he accidentally discovers that on virtually half of Bellwether’s proprietary snack mixes, the price on the tray packed version equals out to far less cost than if purchasing the same amount in bulk. Meaning you could crack open those trays, dump then in your bins, and save a small fortune.
Even he isn’t quite insane enough to email everyone and copy the bosses on this finding. This is definitely more of an in-person type heads up observation. After crunching the numbers endlessly, and even spot checking old price lists to confirm this isn’t a singular glitch, he confirms that they’ve been out of whack like this for quite some time. And though none of the other bulk managers have much to say when Edgar mentions this to them — Johnny pulls on his beard; Karen does her whole nonplussed, nose-raised-to-the-side-half-nod bit; Marita cackles and says, “really?” — Russian Robert, as expected, offers some priceless commentary.
“Wot? Wot dis?” he says, laughing heartily as he shakes his head, “dis bullshit you say.”
“Yeah but on some of these you’d be saving four bucks a pound!” Edgar tells him.
Now Robert offers the same look that someone does when peering over the top of their glasses at you, chin tucked and nose diving, except he doesn’t wear glasses. “Four bucks a pound?” he replies, sobering up in an instant.
And so even if Robert’s initially the only one exploiting this particular loophole, though others soon catch on, Corey’s power play shakes out as distantly removed as it can from what he intended. Margins are about the same, maybe a smidge better, but same-store sales are worse — probably owing to more non-organic options in the field of play — and they’re actually ordering less, dollar-wise, from Bellwether.