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In Praise of Grunt Work

broken-glass

Photo credit: Vieux Bandit

An experience I had that comes back to me from time to time is work I used to do way back in the early 1990s. I was an Assistant Buyer for Hecht’s Department Store in Washington D.C. My department? Stationery and Frames.

The picture frames could get handled roughly, both by customers and in transit. Which meant broken glass. A lot of it.

The store department managers would box up these frames of broken glass, and ship ’em back to the Hecht’s warehouse in Maryland. Boxes of these frames would show up each week, stored in the specially designated Frames area. I’m guessing the warehouse crew thought that was sort of amusing.

So you’ve got a bunch of frames, but no glass. What do you do? Ship ’em back to the different manufacturers?

No, you send the Assistant Buyer to the warehouse to replace the glass.

We’d order a bunch of different pieces of glass, and I’d rebuild these poor little specimens on the Island of Misfit Frames. It sucked. I mean, I wore gloves but would inevitably get cuts on my hands. It was hot in that warehouse. Sitting there for hours doing this work was b o r i n g. I was a college grad, dammit!

But something happened over the hours, days and weeks I did this work. I learned those picture frames. I knew all the Burnes styles cold. It happened in spite of my dislike of the glass replacement work in the warehouse.

How did it help?

  • Sales numbers on a report were matched to a style I knew, making the data much more informative
  • Ad layouts – I knew the colors and styles to put into each ad
  • Store merchandising – I could go into any store and quickly size up the shelves for presentation and inventory
  • Product selection – I could compare new styles to what we already carried

All from the hours of grunt work in the warehouse. This is a lesson I like to remember from time to time.

*****

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