I'm going to make an admission. Judge me if you want, I don't care. I like spreadsheets. Actually, it's worse that than. I love spreadsheets. I have a spreadsheet for everything. I could tell you how many cards we sold per minute in May. I could tell you our best selling design in Dorset and our best-selling range in Rainham. I could tell you whether or not the colour of Jack's shoes on Wednesdays affects our sales of wedding cards (it doesn't). Every fact and figure associated with the sale of our cards is neatly presented in a collection of colour co-ordinated tables which I force upon Jack around three times a week.
"Is all this really necessary?" he asks as I direct his attention to the blue column which is currently displaying our average weekly sales of Sad Stickman cards released since July.
"Yes," I hiss, "it's vital. Now look at the green column where I've organised them by code and the yellow column where they're arranged by occasion."
"But why?" he persists.
"Because not only is it important to keep an eye on the performance of each individual design so we can make accurate decisions about the future of each range but it also helps us to order stock accurately."
He sneers at me and I instantly realise my mistake. Not once in the history of Lanther Black have we managed to order stock accurately. Not one single sodding time.
The rules are simple. The larger the order the lower the cost per card. Small orders can also incur surcharges and delivery fees. Therefore we must place large orders at regular intervals and avoid having to place top-up orders in between. This is where my data comes in. Each design must be ordered proportionately to the speed at which they usually sell to ensure that all designs will run out at the same time and we can place another large order. Foolproof, in theory. Only it never, ever works.
This isn't my first experience of stock being the greatest nuisance to plague a business. Working in a restaurant provided similar challenges with one added difficulty: expiry dates. Order too little and you run the risk of disappointing the customers who arrive to discover that they can't have their favourite dish. ("Ohh my goddddd, I can't believe you've run out of fries," they'd whinge. "Well, madam, considering we sell a lot of fries, I'd say it was fairly believable. If, on the other hand we'd run out of shoelaces, you'd be absolutely right in your disbelief.") Order too much and you'd be stuffing salad into every dish that went out ("Yes sir, that is a cucumber in your cappuccino. It's the traditional Italian way.") and allowing the staff to eat nothing but cheese for the rest of the week. There was one time when a new manager who was unfamiliar with the ordering sheet ordered 6 units of Midori not knowing that a unit contained 6 bottles. 36 bottles of a melon liqueur that most people haven't even heard of let alone want to drink. God knows why he even thought we needed 6 bottles of it in the first place. This led to a stream of promotions... Midori Mondays - all Midori cocktails half price! Melon May - free shot of Midori with every chip you eat! Midori Madness - buy one get eight for free! and so on until we finally freed ourselves of the scourge of Midori.
Luckily for us, cards don't tend to expire but, as a small business, we don't want lots of money tied up in stock for long periods of time and yet we don't want to disappoint customers with 'out of stock' messages. So when 10,000 cards arrived last week we hoped we'd got it right. We had agonised over the data, checked the trends and calculated the averages. We refined the forecasts and scrutinised the cashflow until we were sure that we would have just enough and not too much. But, as is always the case, as soon as you think you've predicted the pattern, the pattern changes. There's been an outbreak of man-flu in Milton Keynes and Buffy Cards needs a mountain of 'get well soon' cards . One of our slower selling designs had a sudden change of fortune last month at Cuffy Cards and Duffy Cards so we ordered extra this month. But apparently its luck has run out and it looks like we're going to be stuck with them for a while. Then to top it all off, we had a surge of online sales and Mr Guffy, Miss Huffy and Mrs Juffy wiped out our surplus supply of our best-sellers. So now here we find ourselves, just one week after we received our stock, with a shitload of Midori and no chips.