The Visit

We were told that our Oxfam shop was to be inspected by our area manager.

First off, I must say that she is a good woman who sees us (thankfully) as a very well-run shop and so, sensibly but a little exhaustingly, devotes her energies largely to shops that are having problems.

Occasionally she will turn up in Petersfield just to visit a shop that is fine, thank you very much, drink tea and just have a rest from sorting out problem stuff.

But anyway the rules are that we should, on a regular basis, cull books that don’t sell and ideally send them on to another shop for another chance.

Sadly, the last but one shop we were designated to send them on to closed. Then it was Bognor’s turn, but at risk of plagiarising a King George V,  Bognor is buggered. Or at least it is not taking our culled books any more.

Be warned dear reader, this is just the beginning of me explaining how we price books and run the shop so you can pick up a copy of Bedside Algebra (yes there is such a book – and we have it in stock) if you want something more riveting.

Anyway, the rules are that paperback novels should be culled every three weeks.

My great colleague Stella does that – and makes sure they are all in proper alphabetical order. And I mean proper order.

But that relies on having the stock to do it – and for the first time since I have been there, we are short on paperback fiction.

(So, by the way, if you live near Petersfield and have a lot of good quality paperbacks please bring them to us.)

The same three weeks lifespan, apparently, should be true of non-fiction, but really, give over. We just don’t have the stock.

But our area manager was due to visit us to make sure that everything was up to date, so we needed to make it easy for her to sign us off as being a shop that ‘does the right thing.’

At this point I should explain how this works:

Every book that comes into the shop has to be sorted – will it live or will it be put in a re-cycling sack? – what category should it be assigned to, will it fit onto the appropriate shelf upstairs before being brought down into the shop.

We have pricing guns that print the price and category. They are a bit old, hard to work and it took the manager being off ill for some time before I finally mastered how to re-load them with new rolls of labels.

It turns out that if you throw them across the room, they break easily and are a surprisingly expensive £50 to replace. It wasn’t me, but it could have been.

(Should you need to know, I can tell you each and every book category by heart. So, category 15 is for old and interesting and category 5 is hobbies and category 8 is travel – see what I mean.)

And then the week is put on in pencil. And that’s so that you can pick a book, any book, of a shelf and know how long it has been sitting there.

In an ideal world, you would have a culling regime and a small army of enthusiastic volunteers would take books off the shelf that had been there for too long (more than three weeks), and replace them with newly donated books, all checked, priced and sitting neatly on a shelf upstairs.

We don’t live in that world.

So, the point about putting the week in pencil is that if we want to leave a book to get another (rather more lengthy) chance, we can rub out the week and put another (later) week on it. (Should you be in the slightest interested we are currently on week 18.)

Because we are a) short of stock and b) short of people who do systematic culling, I decided to get every book in the shop re-labelled as week 16 – the week the area manager was due to visit.

I do realise that this is cheating. I do realise that the area manager is not stupid and she will know what is what. But also, I know that the rules don’t quite work if you end up with empty shelves. (I also know that our shop manager has to live by the rules so there are things it is better he doesn’t actively know about.)

Dragooning fellow volunteers into this plan, I had many a person armed with a rubber and a pencil to re-week for England.

Whoever had been putting the weeks on with a biro was soundly cursed – even though they may well have claimed that if culling was done properly, it wouldn’t need to be in pencil….. Yeah, whatever.

The shop looked really good. The day before the area manager was due , I got an extra shift out of one of my colleagues and, building on two weeks of work, we changed every front-facing book, re-did some books in the window (but knowing they were likely to sell quickly didn’t put them out until 4.30 so that they would be there when she arrived the following morning.)

I was on the till, he was upstairs rapidly clearing boxes of books – pricing them, tidying shelves, emptying bins, making sure we had chocolate biscuits – anything and everything to make the shop look Sunday Best.

Of course, dear reader, you will have guessed that an emergency came up and the area manager didn’t come.

I comfort myself with the notion that we are never one of her emergencies and the shop is now ready for us to manage the culling properly.

We now can go round systematically and cull based on the fact that week zero (or week 16) has been established – and more to the point, the only one of our volunteers who did proper culling in moving to Sheffield.

Of course, all of that relies on the good people of Petersfield having a clear out of books.










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