I have a confession. I live in my car or at least you would think that I do if you’ve ever ridden in Silver Betty. “You can just toss that shoe/shirt/purse/folder/cup/trash in the backseat/trunk/under the seat,” I say to any and every passenger who gets into my vehicle between her biannual cleanings.
My ability to turn my car into a depository for retired running sneakers, thrift store finds waiting years for alteration, unreturned cable modems, unused product samples, and more, has never been an in issue since she mainly only transports me. But as the cases of greens, tomatoes, apples, corn, grapes and more piled up in front of us I rued not clearing her out like I’d intended to do weeks ago. When my friend D asked, “Why do you have Operations course packs from 2013?” while trying to make room for inventory amongst the heap, I told him that we were in a judgment free zone and for the umpteenth time silently cursed out Britney from U-Haul for denying the van checkout.
However, wonders never cease. It turns out that D had spent his high school years working at UPS. With expert precision, he directed where each box should be packed. “Those apple boxes are heavy. Put them on the floor.” D, the world’s greatest former roommate, along with one of my favorite sorority sisters, and I transferred case after case between the two available cars. “Wait!” D said as I carried out a tray of strawberries, “leave the flat crates for now. We can slide those in on top of the boxes.” After 35 minutes of playing Tetris with fruits and vegetables both cars were packed tight with every last case that was delivered to us, plus three passengers in one car and one in the other.
Hurry Up And Wait
We drove across town to the community center where the market was set to open in a little under two hours. It was a few minutes after 7a.m. and the building owner was set to meet us at 7:30 a.m. When I’d scheduled that time I assumed we would be carrying all of the inventory over in one trip and would have plenty of time to get it all set up before the market opened at 9a.m. Even though both cars were full, that same amount of product was still waiting back at the wholesale warehouse to be picked up, requiring a second trip now that we were transporting it in cars instead of the van that I’d responsibly reserved in anticipation for the quantities, but that Britney thwarted with her slow response times and fast denials. SCREW YOU BRITNEY!
Anyway, I didn’t have the building owner’s cell phone number to notify him that we were going to be arriving a half hour earlier than planned. With nothing else to do but wait, we paced the parking lot, chatting amongst ourselves. Being the operations specialist that she is, my sorority sister said, “I’ve been taking notes on all the things that could be improved. We really should have gone through the boxes at the warehouse to make sure that you received everything that you ordered. So if you paid for X amount of apples, make sure you got X apples.” With the minutes ticking closer to 9.a.m. and all of the work that wasn’t being done as we waited, I was less than receptive to the suggestion that we take additional time to count inventory.
Thankfully, the community center owner showed up early, so we were only waiting for him a few minutes. Unloading both cars was a relatively fast operation. Both cars were emptied within thirty minutes, and D, my sorority sister, and I were headed back to the produce warehouse while the world’s greatest former roommate stayed at the venue to work on set up.
Racing Against Time
We made it to the warehouse in under twenty minutes. Now being pros at inventory pickup, we immediately pulled into side by side empty delivery stalls and raced through the warehouse in every direction, each getting orders fulfilled at different distributors. Once again, cases of potatoes, onions, bok choy, avocados, green beans, and more were stacked at our claimed doors. When the flurry of pallet jacks subsided, I looked at the pile of produce they’d left for us and said, “Oh! This isn’t bad at all. It will definitely all fit into the cars.”
Having done it before, we moved like an assembly line, loading the heaviest items in the trunks first then packing out every inch of each car’s interior.
In the middle of filling up the cars I received a text update from the world’s greatest roommate. Market setup was progressing at the community center.
By 8:15 a.m. we were back on the highway, speeding across town. I mulled over in my head how in the world we were going to be ready to open our doors at 9:00. If we got back to the center by 8:30, had both cars unloaded by 8:40, then two of us could put the food out while one person placed the price tags and I set up the checkout area by 9:00.
“We can do this. We can do this. We can totally do this. This is so doable,” I whispered to myself over and over and over again. While I usually embrace CPT, on the day of my first market it would be bad business to not be ready for customers at the advertised opening time. We arrived at the community center at 8:30 on the dot and made short work of unloading both cars. I checked my watch and saw that we had less than twenty minutes until opening. That was when I prayed my customers’ melanin would work to our advantage and no one would show up until 9:30.
We worked as fast as possible, grouping like items on tables together and placing price tags. “Hey Liz, what’s the price on broccoli?” my sorority sister inquired. The world’s greatest former roommate and I had spent the previous night making price signs for most of the items, but a few of them were still blank because I couldn’t tell the per unit or per pound cost I paid to know how much markup I should charge customers. I thought that we’d have plenty of time during setup to figure it out since I’d been responsible and reserved a van to bring over all of the inventory in one trip. But thanks to Britney from U-Haul we had to make multiple inventory runs which now put us in a serious time crunch. Britney from U-Haul…
“Has anyone seen the bananas?” the world’s greatest former roommate asked. I surveyed the room and dozens of boxes still remained unopened on the floor. “They’re somewhere around here, just check the cases that aren’t on the tables yet,” I replied as I plugged in our digital scale and set up the cashbox.
9:00 a.m. flashed on my watch as we continued to display produce and put up price signs. I heard the door in the lobby of the community center open. We had our first customer.
Thankfully, it was one of my friends. “Oh my goodness, you came!” I exclaimed as I ran to give him a hug. “Grab a grocery basket and shop for what you want. We’re still setting up, but most of the stuff is out.”
“Oh, I didn’t come here to shop. I just stopped by to support,” he said.
I shot him a look to convey, “Ummm, my dude I did not invite you to come here just to see your face. Your mere presence is NOT support. Your black ass better put a grocery basket in your hands and buy some shit before I shank you.”
As he perused the fruit selection, a group of middle age ladies who I did not know entered our makeshift market. Now these were real, legit customers. “Welcome to Forty Acres Fresh Market,” I chirped, “Please excuse us as we aren’t completely set up. Feel free to shop and if you need to know a price, just ask.”
“Oh look at these greens!” one of the women exclaimed.
“How much is broccoli?” another asked.
Crap, I’d forgotten to price the food. That was the exact moment my friend decided he wanted to purchase his pineapple. Feeling pulled between completing my first transaction and providing excellent customer service to the ladies in the market I started getting a little snippy with my friend.
“Is the pineapple all you’re getting?” I asked.
“I’m going to get something else too but just ring this up first,” he said.
“Dude! Finish shopping and I’ll do it altogether,” I replied in exasperation.
“Calm down and just ring me up.”
I contemplated wringing his neck but instead rang him up for a single item. As we exchange goods for money, I crossed the threshold into being an entrepreneur.
More customers began to file in so I left the register area to help my friends finish placing the last of the price signs. My sorority sister shooed me away saying, “You can’t just leave the money unattended. Get back to the table. We got this.”
She was right. I priced a couple of blank items then headed back to the register just as another customer lined up to checkout. For the next hour I rang up a steady stream of people with baskets filled with greens, squash, parsnips, carrots, apples, oranges, and more. I handed out free recipe cards for such tasty meals as vegan enchiladas, smoothies, and a brown rice vegetable stir fry. My friends were interacting with customers and for the first time since waking up at 3:00 a.m. I felt like things were going well.
On the register table I’d put out a sheet of paper for people to write down any items they’d like to see us carry that weren’t a part of our current selection. When there was a break at the register I looked at the sheet and saw Swiss chard and cucumbers written down. Why would someone request cucumbers when we already carried them.
“Hey L!” I called to the world’s greatest former roommate, “Where are the cucumbers?”
“There were several missing items that I couldn’t find. I put all of the price tags for them on the back table,” she replied.
I checked the table in the back and saw signs for eight items laid out. Bananas, plantains, eggplant, cucumbers, and more were all missing. I scanned the room and all the boxes of food we had were out and displayed. I looked over the signs again. Bananas, plantains, eggplant, cucumbers…bananas, plantains, eggplant, cucumbers. Why was I missing these items? Did I forget this many items across all of my distributors. My sorority sister’s words from earlier rang in my head, “We really should have gone through the boxes at the warehouse to make sure that you received everything that you ordered.” Then it hit me. All of these items were ordered from the same wholesaler. We’d forgotten an entire order at the produce warehouse.
Stay tuned for more fun with inventory. In the meantime, has anyone else experienced such a chaotic opening day? Am I the only one who becomes one big, walking, raw nerve when stressed? Leave your thoughts in the comments.