Wanted: a right-hand man

20 August, 2010

It’s easy to forget how much we rely on people – especially if they have been around so long they have become part of the landscape. It always hits home when a much-loved colleague moves on.

In the seven or so years Dan has been with us, the basic fabric of the shop is just as it was when he stepped through the door for the first time. We have had to have a few floorboards replaced and a couple more fridges installed, but other than that, the place is alarmingly unchanged – we’ve never repainted, revamped or refurbished – and goodness knows we need to.

A larger shop would really be useful – we’re so close to capacity things can be really hard work, and of course, with a change of personnel, they are unlikely to get any easier in the short term.

I must admit that as a shop manager, I’m in an unusual situation, in that I actually work fewer hours than my deputy. Over the years, my role has become more one of logistics and driving the business forward, with less time spent on the shop floor than I did five years ago.

In terms of money in the till, I’m the least productive employee, although I know that to rectify this state of affairs would mean I have to leave the controls and descend to the engine room. It would work for a while, but who would then be steering the ship??The thing about retail generally is that it is a repetitive job. Unless you’re lucky enough to be besieged by customers who want to discuss their purchases, and you have the time to satisfy their wants, the routine of delivery, restocking and selling becomes, well, routine. I always tell people specialist beer retail is the best job in the world – apart from the hours and money. It would be truer still if the punchline was “the hours, the money, and the teeth-grinding repetitive tedium”, but that not might get so many chuckles.

So, sad though it is, we must move on. In the short term, it will see me back on the shop floor a lot more, no doubt annoying employees with my desire to do things just so. In the longer term, it will mean training someone up to do the job as well as I can, and hope that in some areas they could do it better than me.

Having had an easy ride of it for the past few years, with a right-hand man who can do the job as well as I can, I’m a little apprehensive that I’ve actually forgotten some of the things I taught him in the first place. And as other responsibilities have made their way into my life, both within the job and outside, so my ability to do everything from memory has taken a bit of a knock.

The next couple of weeks will be taken up with creating an instruction manual for how everything works around here, from the frequency with which we re-order carrier bags to the frequency with which we buy milk.

It may be tempting fate, but I remember what an art tutor once told me about a brief: “It should be descriptive, but not proscriptive”. Whether we can find someone who can visualise the end point, but figure out for themselves how to get there, is just another challenge.

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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