Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ahhh...Vacation Time!

I took off from work at 10am last Friday and won't be back to work until the new year (and really, not back to the office until January 7 because I'll be at the national sales conference January 2 through 4). When I was in school, I just took it for granted that I'd have the time between Christmas and the day after New Year's Day off. But it didn't work that way once I got a real job.

If I want that time off, I have to save up enough vacation time for it. And for the past eight years, our company required the entire staff to be at the company warehouse one day during that week. They were taking inventory, and they used their professional employees to do the work. (Don't get me started on how it would have been cheaper for them to hire temps.)

The first several years I participated in inventory-taking at the JIST warehouse were hellish. The warehouse was in a frightening part of town, was unheated, and shared a building with a foundry. So by the time the day was over, we were frozen stiff and covered in black dust.

It was also difficult for me because I was assigned to the "bulk" area. So I, a spacially challenged person, had to learn how to look at a partial pallet of cartons and figure out how many books were there. I was later promoted to "auditor" (probably because "auditor" sounds a lot like "editor") and my job was checking the counting work of others and pointing out when they made a mistake.

Gradually I began to grasp the value of working in the warehouse once a year. It gave me a better understanding of how that part of the publishing process works (there's no better way to appreciate the enormity of trade returns than standing there looking at the actual pile of them). It doesn't matter how great of a book you produce and how many you sell; without a warehouse to ship them out, you're nowhere. Also, it helped me understand why we couldn't schedule all of our books to come into the warehouse on the same day at the end of the month: The three people who worked there couldn't handle the volume.

Rarely was anyone allowed to skip out of inventory duty (I was thrilled to be able to use "in the hospital having a baby" as my excuse four years ago); as a result, we all got used to not being able to leave town between Christmas and the end of the year.

The last several years, however, it got better and better. The warehouse was moved to a cleaner, warmer place. Our accounting and warehouse departments got better organized, so the last time we did it, it took us only about two hours.

Now, enter our new parent company, which closed down our warehouse and moved our inventory to Minnesota this spring. So for all the negatives of losing control of your warehouse, at least we're not counting books this year.

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