Scrub them toilets, boss.

There came a point a couple of years ago where I could afford to pay a lackey to work for every hour that the store was open. Then we grew to the point where we always had two lackeys working, and sometimes three or even four. This freed me from the tyranny of the need to be behind the counter to keep the store open, and changed my entire job.

December was bananas for my store. We beat our best month ever by about 30%. I’m happy to have the money to pay some bills, but the wear on the staff and the store is easy to see, so I’m glad that the crush of traffic is slowing down a little. With school back in session, we’ve got our mornings and early afternoons back for doing all the administrative crap that keeps this place from falling apart. These are responsibilities that are secondary to ringing up customers and putting new inventory onto the shelf from trade: deep-cleaning, doing inventory, sorting cards, and price-updating. I’ve been trying to spend a couple of hours every morning helping my lackeys catch up.


This morning, after paying payroll taxes and settling up with the state on December’s hefty Sales Tax collection, I grabbed my laptop and went out into the store to inventory our Xbox One and Xbox 360 sections. I set up a standing-height folding table with my laptop, set it up to do an “hot inventory” of the two categories (allowing customers to shop a section that is being inventoried), plugged in a barcode reader, and started grabbing handfuls of games from the shelf to scan into the system. Then it occurred to me that it would be much faster to just scan games directly on the shelf. I grabbed a USB extension cable from the PS3 section to give my reader more range, and started scanning.

My Executive Lackey saw me doing it this way, and commented that it made much more sense than the way we’d traditionally done it, which involved toting armfuls of games across the store to a computer to be counted. I agreed, and was quite proud of myself, until I looked back at the laptop to realize that about 75 games ago I’d scanned a barcode which for some reason had failed to result in a database hit. This had caused the system to stop clearing the input field, meaning that I had a several-hundred-character-long string of numbers which meant absolutely nothing. I figured out where I was supposed to be and started scanning again. As I moved across the wall, I had to scoot, scoot, scoot the table across my waxed floor. At one point I got in a hurry  and tripped over my USB cable, nearly yanking my laptop off of the table.

Several good things happened as a result of this adventure:

  • My employee saw a better way of doing something, born of a fresh perspective from someone who hadn’t done it in a while.
  • I realized that we needed a rolling utility cart if we were going to do inventory this way. The cart can also double as a Clearance Table when we need one of those.
  • I realized that we could also use a wireless barcode reader.
  • I realized that the inventory screen needs the option to play a sound announcing the result of a barcode scan. Maybe it could be Kronk saying “Got it!” for success, and Yzma saying “Kronk!!” for failure. We never added anything like this before because, as a measure to prevent my employees from getting lost in YouTube, I had removed the speakers from the point-of-sale computer. Now that we always have multiple employees present, that sort of misbehavior is probably less tempting.

If you’re the boss, it’s true that ideally you need to spend more time working on your business than at your business. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve perfected any particular process in your operation, and certainly don’t think that your employees will ever be motivated and empowered enough to do as much good for your business as you can. You need to try to get in some lackey-work, even if it’s only when someone calls in sick or there’s a labor shortage. Let your employees do the mundane lifting that you hired them to do, but make sure that you’re doing it often enough that you can spot potential improvements. That means that you need to do the supply checklist once in a while, put out some trade, and yes, clean the bathrooms.

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