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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Identify assigned vehicle. Check.
- Note any preexisting damage on van. Check
- Take a selfie and submit via app. Check.
- Take a picture of license and submit via app. Awaiting approval.
- Photo is too blurry. Resubmit another picture. Awaiting approval.
- Five minutes later, still waiting.
When I was still waiting after another five minutes I decided to call U-Haul directly.
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!!”
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.
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?”
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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