Sunday, October 26, 2014

Second Job, Part 2: Rouse's Supermarket - Stock

In my time as a service clerk, there wasn't much cause for paying attention to the store beyond the line of cashiers. The only experiences I had with the stock crew was when they sometimes returned from their lunch break as a group, laughing and pushing each other around, and the time I was struggling to push a line of shopping carts when one of the stock crew showed me how to do it properly. (Turns out it's hard to turn a line of 7 shopping carts since their back wheels have a fixed direction, but if you lift the line from the back you eliminate much of that turn resistance.) So, my impression of the stock crew was that they were rowdy, yet helpful.

That first impression was confirmed when I got promoted to their ranks.

The stocking system is very different from one store to another, so I'll lay out how it worked at Rouse's:

Rouse's was open from 7AM to 10PM, and it had a morning and evening stock crew. The morning "crew" consisted of two people: the inventory supervisor and their assistant. The supervisor kept track of what needed to be where in the store, and their assistant helped to move things around, build displays, and so on. The evening crew was primarily there to unload trucks, restock the shelves, and make them look straight. I was part of the evening crew.

A truck came by on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays to deliver goods. Someone would use the forklift to bring the pallets of stuff into the back room, where the stock crew would dissemble them, dividing the stock into piles according to what aisle the products belonged to. From there, we loaded up carts and started putting things on the aisles. On the off-days--Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays--a skeleton crew would come in to refill what they could and straighten everything out.

Each crew member was assigned an aisle, which we got very familiar with. The most difficult and strenuous aisle was Aisle 1, the canned food aisle. There was always a lot of product, and is was all small and heavy. After several months on the cereal aisle, I got assigned to Aisle 1 for the rest of my time there. This happened after much of the old guard, the crew that taught me the ropes, were fired for falsifying their time cards.

I was by far the most meticulous stocker, taking inordinate pride in a well-organized system and a pristine-looking display. For a long time I was the slowest stocker, though, and we all worked until the work was done. So, sometimes my aisle was filled with other stock folks helping me to finish so they could all go home.

It was kind of a funny system, actually. The supermarket took advantage of the young crew's desire to stop working in order to make them work more efficiently. Our hours were dependent on the workload, so the faster we were done the sooner we could go home. And, of course the sooner we went home, the sooner Rouse's could stop paying us. It was win-win.

The crew itself was, indeed, quite rowdy. I watched fights break out more than once, and one time a guy got hit in the face with a can of peas or something. None of it was ever reported, though, and it all only happened when the crew was full of dudes. On the occasion there was a girl in the crew, the rest of the guys acted marginally less rowdy. I, however, was always a loner--respected for my work by management more than my peers, I was clearly a nerd and a know-it-all when I actually bothered to open my mouth. Still, I got the impression their jabs at me were good-natured, and they never actually insulted me or physically messed with me. I was a curiosity, but a respected one.

Near the end of my time at Rouse's I started working the morning stock shifts on weekends. The hours were steadier, since there was always more work to do in the morning. I got the impression I was being groomed for management, particularly since the other morning stock assistant did indeed go on to become a manager there. However, I quit in the summer of 2004 when I decided to take time to start learning to fix computers in the summer between high school and college. I ended up working for four weeks after giving my two week notice, though, and when I saw that I was on the schedule for a fifth week I had to walk away (politely). My future was not in the grocery business, and I had to make a stand. In total, I spent about two years working there.

I never experienced the other departments: the meat, produce, and deli departments, for instance. None of them looked like my kind of work, though. If I was going to work with food, I wanted it to be boxed, canned, or bottled.

Looking back, I think I learned quite a bit from my first job. First of all, there's a lot of value in simply holding a job: you learn what it's like to have responsibilities and people relying on you. You learn what it's like at the bottom rung, with your responsibilities increasing as you prove you can handle them. You also start learning to manage your money and deal with people on a regular basis. Starting with menial work eased me into understanding what employers would expect of me and what I could expect from employers. Likewise, I learned what I could expect of employees if I were ever to become an employer.

Plus, now I can't go into a supermarket without analyzing their work. At the very least, I try not to mess up their displays too much, and I try to return my carts to where I found them.

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