Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sunday Trading

The warmer weather of the past couple of months has coincided with an appreciable upturn in trading results. Sunday sales at this time of year are something like 35% higher than non-festival Sundays in December and January. Measured by spend per trolley our sales figures are up but we're also seeing more trolleys.


Our trading figures require a slightly more sophisticated analysis, but no number-crunching computer package could take proper account of our store's particular circumstances. We're the only real* supermarket for about a half hour drive in any direction, so to some extent we've a monopoly, but on the other hand the town's population swells during the summer-months as chavs descend and take up their summer residence in one or other of the two permanent caravan sites. Do the chavs spend more or less on average than the local population? Or are the locals spending more because the weather's improved?

Who knows? Who cares!

A couple of Sundays ago, with the return of the college kiddies, we suddenly found our selves with sufficiently high staff numbers to have enough checkout lanes open to meet demand, and to keep the shelves reasonably full.

Warm weather and the World Cup. What combination. Pouring over the World Cup Schedule and trying to figure out what that's likely to mean in terms of footfall patterns.

Then England went and got themselves eliminated at the quarter-finals stage (again) through penalties (again) to Portugal (again), a team managed by 'Big Phil' Scolari (again).

Sunday's may have been getting busier but I really truly believed that we'd have a quiet start to the day. I expected that customer levels would build up slowly as the town's men-folk woke late from self induced misery incurred to counteract football induced misery.


A glance at the monitors showed a crowd building up as we approached opening hour. A static conga line emerging from the shelter of the main entrance, past the cash point towards the exit.

Good Christ have these people no sense. We're not open. We never open before 10:00 on a Sunday because we're forbidden to open earlier by current Sunday Trading Regulations (we're too big). Go to the corner store for your pint of milk, your News of the Screws and your packet of fags.

Such is the sad emptiness of the life of the average British consumer that he gets out early to be part of the orderly line of souls waiting to charge through the moment the shutters lift.

Our Sunday deliveries (chilled and bread particularly) are supposed to be well and truly in-store by the time we open. Things don't always go according to plan. The chilled delivery arrives as the shutters are going up and the bread van at that time still can't be seen coming over the hills.

My main jobs for the day are to keep sufficient checkouts open to meet customer levels, to supervise the work of the operators and make sure they get the breaks their entitled to.

I elect to open with four and fingers crossed I'll spot the surge as it’s about to reach the checkouts (ten in total potentially) rather than get an harassed Assistant GM on my case.

The Duty Manager of the Day is the Bulldog (no bio yet, I'm afraid). The Stud is still on holiday and we're over staffed so that we can do what we can to make his life miserable, but minimising the amount he has to complain about.

We're immediately under assault and that has little do with the sheer numbers of Little Englanders functioning under the delusion that shopping every single day of the year is essential to human happiness. He has driven up the hill in his gas-guzzler, but WTF he'll buy enough pet food to last a day, tonight's meal and enough milk, just to get him through tomorrow's breakfast.

Most people shop though with a degree of fervour suggestive of a belief in the imminent arrival of The Bomb. Perhaps the bomb might drop, but would not running out of Low Fat raspberry yoghurt make your life any less unbearable under those circumstances? And why not buy six loaves of our chemically complete, never-go-off bread. It’s sure to be a hit with the birds once you discover (again) that the stuff is cheap but inedible.

By ten minutes after opening we have healthy queues building up at the four open lanes and then it begins. No. 3 is our wide aisle for cripples and geriatrics. The key pad freezes. While I'm grappling with that it becomes clear that all the other operators are having problems too. We can't process card transactions.


I get on the phone to the engineers who in an effort to resolve this for us have a female colleague crawl underneath the two problem checkouts looking for loose wires. I'd have told him to go screw himself had he asked me to stick a screw driver into the middle of that lot. Inevitably things got worse. After a short while the cards came back on line but only for lanes 6-10 so we were left making customer announcements ever few minutes asking customers intending to pay by card to please not use lanes 1-6 (well 3 and 6 were out of commission at that stage).

Inevitably the morons and idiots who blithely assume that no customer announcement can possibly be of interest, and the arrogant arse-holes who seem to think that we'll fix the problem for their transaction, if only they queue up, do just that. They stand patiently in line while the announcements ring out from the tannoy above their heads and then get difficult when told to pack everything back into the trolley and take it to another lane.

The bread delivery arrived shortly before midday; sadly just inside the time limit before we can claim compensation. A couple of hours late on a day when we're open 7-10 is a pain, almost three hours late on a day when we're open 10-4 is very nearly a fucking catastrophe. By 1pm we've had about 70% of the day's customers through. And now we get the day's fresh bread out.

Still giving the bakery a bollocking seemed to improve the Bulldog's mood a bit, if only briefly.

The cards came back on line across all the tills around lunch time.

That's when the 'thing' that drives the motors of the 'thing' that keeps the chill in our chiller cabinets packed up. Perhaps it the hot weather. Actually, it was a slow motion crash, with first one cabinet and then another going off line. Initially temperatures held within legal limits but as the number of chiller cabinets off-line rose the store temperature rose, and the strain on the remaining chiller cabinets grew and so on and so forth.

An "all shop floor staff to the lower warehouse" announcement livened up everyone's afternoon, but only briefly as there pretty soon was no need for an explanation. The young lads who had spent the morning filling up those cabinets spent the afternoon emptying them.

Everything came off the shelves and went back into the warehouse freezers and fridges before the temperatures in the in-store cabinets rose above legal limits, but as we closed the shop (finally) the Bulldog did remark that she'd not be buying yoghurt (from us) for a few days.

I left at a couple of minutes after four and spent what was left of the afternoon in the pool. Tomorrow's another day, but sadly I'll be spending nine of those twenty-four up at the funny farm.


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