Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Back to Work I Go (Part 1)

I have been remiss, nay, dare I say derelict in my blogging duties over the last week. Not only have I not posted anything substantive, I’ve also been dormant on social media and have neglected to keep up with recent posts on blogs that I normally read. No, it is not the much ballyhooed blogger burnout that has kept me from writing, reading, commenting, and tweeting.

After three months of doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, because I ain’t got no job, I finally returned to work two weeks ago.
who do you work for.gif

A New Career

Technically, since no one has hired me I am still funemployed. However, I have something even better than a job. I have a business. Remember last year when I said that I want to own a grocery store? Well on January 20th, I opened said store, or rather I launched a pop-up version of the market I would eventually like to have.

With the space in a community center in the neighborhood in which I want to operate secured in December, I spent nearly all of my time since returning from New York getting everything in place to run a produce market. I searched Craigslist for supplies like a digital grocery scale and shopping baskets, then drove hours to pick them up. I canvassed the Westside of Chicago with flyers, had t-shirts made for me and my friends, who graciously volunteered to help run the market, figured out the complex simplicity of running Facebook ads, and ordered inventory. However, none of that busyness and preparation compared to the work required to pull off a full selection produce market as its sole vendor.
who thinks this is a good idea.gif

Doing the Most

When I envisioned the pop-up market I saw a room full of tables carrying every type of leafy green, tuber, melon, citrus, squash, and every other fruit and vegetable known to man. I wanted to offer the same selection that any grocery retailer would. How did I know exactly what other retailers carried? By taking pictures of their entire produce section while doing my weekly shopping, of course.
spy time

Armed with pictures of exactly what I needed to buy I planned to go to Chicago’s produce suppliers, who I’d met with weeks ago, and buy a little bit of everything at bargain basement wholesale prices.

It turns out that when buying wholesale, a little bit of everything is still a whole fucking lot. Wholesalers don’t sell by the unit, they sell by the case. Do you know how many apples come in a case? Anywhere from 88 to 120. Could I sell 88 to 120 apples in a morning? Maybe. So of course I bought seven different types of apples, one case of each.
why

When I was doing my competitive assessment of fresh produce options on the Westside of Chicago, I quickly found that there was not much to assess. There are only three supermarkets in a neighborhood with almost 100,000 residents (in comparison Lincoln Park has more than 20,000 fewer people and more than a dozen full-service supermarkets), and their produce sections leave much to be desired. One store only carried a few cucumbers, one kind of apple, onions, potatoes, and a few bunches of greens. None of them were places where I would want to shop with any sort of frequency.

I wanted to give my customers more than what they were currently getting. A world with only Red Delicious apples is not one in which I want to live, so I stocked Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Gala, McIntosh, and Granny Smith too.
a bit much innit

Overkill? Definitely. However, I figured I would not know what customers want unless I gave them options. That’s why I carried mustard, collard, and turnip greens, in addition to spinach (organic and not) and kale, and three kinds of squash. By the time I was finished I had ordered almost 80 cases of food across seven different suppliers.

Transportation Logistics

My initial plan was to transport inventory from the wholesaler to the pop-up market location via cars. However, after my ordering spree I knew that it would behoove me to spend the money to rent a van. I reserved a U-Haul for pickup at 4:00 a.m. the day of the market to ensure I would get to the wholesalers as soon as they opened.

The Best Laid Plans

I arrived at the U-Haul location dark and early, around 4:15 a.m. It was not open so I needed to do an after hours self-verification. I pulled up the app and followed the instructions.

  1. Identify assigned vehicle. Check.
  2. Note any preexisting damage on van. Check
  3. Take a selfie and submit via app. Check.
  4. Take a picture of license and submit via app. Awaiting approval.
  5. Photo is too blurry. Resubmit another picture. Awaiting approval.
  6. Five minutes later, still waiting.

When I was still waiting after another five minutes I decided to call U-Haul directly.
big mistake big huge.gif
While I was on the phone with customer service, I was receiving a response on the app, which of course could not come through because I was on a call and Sprint sucks.

Customer Service: “I’m seeing that the self-check in asked for a picture of the back of your license and you didn’t send it.”

Me: “No it didn’t. I called because it had me waiting for a response for ten minutes.”

Customer Service: “Well it’s showing that you didn’t respond to the request.”

Me: “I never received that request!”

Customer Service: “Hmmm, can you hold for a second.”

Two minutes pass…

Customer Service: “So I checked with the self check-in verifier, Britney. Since you didn’t respond to her request she denied the check-in. You’ll either have to make a new reservation or get the keys in store.”

Me: “But I didn’t receive the request!!”

Dear Britney,
the finger

Plan B

Since no U-Haul location would open before 8:00 a.m. and I was barred from self-checkout, I was forced to revert back to the original plan of transporting inventory in cars. With two friends in the car with me, I headed down to the wholesaler to meet up with another friend who graciously volunteered to help with the market. We parked our midsize sedans in the parking lot then walked into the warehouse ready to carry goods back to the cars.

I figured a divide and conquer strategy would be fastest, so I gave each friend an order sheet and cash and directed them to suppliers to pay and pick up my orders. The lone guy on the team came back to me minutes later with a problem. The supplier would not bring out my order if we didn’t have a delivery door number.
what the hell are you talking about

I had no clue what the hell he was talking about, so of course panic set in. No one told me I had to get an assigned door number. Who would I even see about getting one of those? How much was that going to cost? What was a delivery door in the first place?

Thankfully, the guy at the supplier from which I was picking up informed me that the delivery doors were the parking stalls with a garage door that customers pull up to on a first come, first serve basis. I looked at him and said, “But I can’t just take a customer’s door.” At that point he looks me square in the face as he’s taking the money for my order and says, “Aren’t you buying today? You’re a customer. Act like it.” With those words I ran to the parking lot, hopped in Silver Betty and backed her up to a delivery door.

Everyone regrouped by the two stalls I had grabbed and we watched as case after case after case after case of food was deposited where we stood. The drop off guys lifted the garage doors, glanced from our cars to the dozens of cases of fruits and vegetables, and said, “Umm, don’t you have a truck?”

bigger boat

Stay tuned for more fun from my foray back to the working world. In the meantime, am I the only one who has learned about inventory, transportation, and logistics the hard way? Please share your story in the comments so I know it’s not just me. 

 


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28 thoughts on “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Back to Work I Go (Part 1)

    1. Thanks so much! I never thought I’d be doing something like this. The reason why I’m starting with pop-up markets is because I want to ease my way into operating a physical location. It is definitely daunting.

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  1. I am here for the long run. Unsure what advice to give, and even if I could, Im not sure the logistics would be the same. I started a recycling business from the grown up, and had to EVERYTHING the hard way. I had no idea what I was, but quick thinking and some reliable people made things a bit easier. I guess a good advice would be: have a bit boat of cash for the many headaches that will come out of nowhere. You can plan for a lot of things, but it’s the little things that will escape you.

    Still, keep going, and you will get some white hair with the stress, but be able to find time for yourself. At the end of the day, you are the boss, and any problems that need will resolve will come back to you. Have good friends that you can rely on in moments of needs.

    As always, keep the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Learning the hard way is right. Just when I think something is solved, I realize that it’s not. If excess inventory isn’t the death of me then transportation and labor will be.

      My friends are truly the best. They’ve gone above and beyond to help me. I just hope their love for me and generosity lasts until I can afford actual employees. Running a market is so much work, it’s really hard to continually ask people to do it with me.

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  2. This is awesome, congrats to you! I assume you’re trying help the situation with a food desert? I grew up in Baltimore, they still have sections of the city with no access to real food, it’s horrible.

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    1. Yep, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. But it’s not just about food. It’s about investing in communities that have been neglected for a very long time. It’s about jobs, tax revenue, health, and more. Most of all, I saw am opportunity to build a business that can get me to financial freedom.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have no advice to give, but I’m sending you well wishes and all the luck. Food deserts are so real, so kudos to you for seeing that as an opportunity to build your business. Also I need the other part of this story

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I see so much opportunity in these neighborhoods. The residents are people just like anyone else and food is a basic necessity. There is no reason it shouldn’t be readily accessible and affordable.
      Part 2 is posted. I know it took a while, but hopefully I can get back on my weekly blogging schedule.

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  4. Oh my heavens. I surely hope this works out. My parents ran a grocery store for years, and I helped as their cashier, and I remember it was pretty hard work. I’d be interested in how you stored your inventory! That’s a lot of cases of fresh produce to transport and store if you don’t sell out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My inventory storage methods need a lot of work. Some stuff like apples, potatoes, and onions are shelf stable, so I just keep my apartment at 60 degrees and store them there. I’ve also used winter to my advantage for cold storage. I realized after doing more markets this weekend that a refrigerated van is my best storage option and that is a capital expense I’m now saving for as fast as possible as we move into spring soon.

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