Diary of a Mad Businessman Pt. 6: So I was wrong/Rethinking Safe Curbside & Limited Reopening.
By Ben Calica
In which our hero realizes that he was wrong about employee testing and figures out a much better way to safely do curbside and reopen stores without turning the sidewalks into the slowest game of hopscotch ever.
[Note…. I wrote this almost a week ago but didn’t publish it for reasons*.]
After a week with my head so buried in trying to get my store online that somehow my hair grew to an unmanageable length ;-), I’m here with two big store reopening epiphanies. One has to do with admitting to myself that I was thinking incorrectly about employee testing, and the other has to do with a much better way of dealing with things then the land of customers waiting in their carefully marked off lines.
So first off, I was wrong. Let’s just choke that out of the way. I’ve been spending a lot of my time trying to play Cassandra about what the future is gonna look like so we can figure out what to do about it. For the last couple of weeks, one of the alarm bells I’ve been trying so sound is about making sure the local authorities are ready to regulate the hell out of us and make sure that any of us who have employee’s who get face to face with customers, or who touch stuff that customers end up having in their hands should have regular testing. I wrote a piece about this last time, talking about how it was virtually impossible for an employer to trust an employee saying that he was not potentially exposed, even indirectly, because if given a choice between feeding their families or losing their work again, it’s an impossible position to put people in. (Really nasty ethical trolley car dilemmas are hard enough as thought experiments, not fun to have them show up every damn day in real life.) So it seemed obvious that the only solution was treat us like we were all food service worker and just test and regulate the hell out of us till this was all done. I was fully mounted on my extra high steed when the whole thing with the staff at the White house being infected, despite paranoid regular testing, and I realized that Trump was, in that stopped clock sort of way, right about testing.
Ok…not really right. In fact, in his usual way, reflexively wrong. Testing is critical to any group of people where more then a couple of us gather, and contact tracing…blah, blah, blah, obvious scientific fact, blah, blah. (Yep, I’m one of those Sciencementalists…I believe in something that couldn’t care less if I believe in it or not…). Testing and contact tracing is the only way to get a handle on this and until the magic toadstool gets discovered that cures this thing, consumers ain’t gonna risk it. (Ok…clearly that is wrong…there is a whole group of people who are following in the proud footsteps of those who looked at the side of a box of little tubes where it said, Don’t do this…it’s addictive and will probably kill yer ass, and asked if there are matches to go with it. But from my point of view, the lifetime value of a customer is greatest if they have, you know, more of it. )
However, what is true is that while testing is critical for all of us, it just isn’t enough in a place of business. There is just too many times when people are without symptoms but are still spreading it like butter on warm toast. So the truth is that it is not critical to specific businesses except in that we should all be tested to get this thing under control. We all have to build the way we do business around assuming that everyone who works for us or comes into our store are invisible carriers. Which sucks something awful, but does take the burden off the local governments to take on a role they never had before for in terms of acting as mama bear to feel our foreheads before we go out in the world. (Kinda sucks, cause I came up with this great method for helping to test workers that would allow validation without putting the undocumented folks in too much danger for them to be willing to participate…another good idea hits the backboard and sinks for two in the circular file.)
Now…Onto something useful….To line or not to line…
When I was a kid, we used to feel gratefully smug whenever we would see pictures of Soviets (yeah, I said Soviets, not Russians…I’m way older then I look), anyway, Soviets perpetually waiting in line to get into their markets, only to have them get in there to find the shelves empty. Ha, ha…oops. So we are adjusting to these blocks long lines to get in to stock our essentials, and that is before all the shops like me open up with our vastly more limited capacity. So this sucks for a number of reasons:
- It is dangerous: It’s hard to keep people the right distance, and as more then one store on a block opens, it gets worse.
- It is uncomfortable for people to spend that time waiting, and a whole bunch of the time, it just isn’t worth it to them. It is one thing to support us, it’s another to wait in line for a half hour or more to do it.
- People waiting in line aren’t doing other shopping. They are just stuck there.
We see this a lot with our two doors down neighbor, the bike store. They are considered essential, and the vast majority of their current business is bike repair as people try and do one of the few bits of exercise that gets outside and you can get away from other people. On nice sunny days, they usually have at least 5–10 people waiting in line to be taken care of next. Remember that nice day part? That means they are standing, usually in the sun for 15–40 minutes. And despite their best efforts, these people are not 6 feet apart, they just aren’t. So what happens when the rest of us open up, and suddenly there are lines up and down the street, running into each other and forcing pedestrians to walk the gauntlet of breath mist. But there is a much better way, and I’m gonna do my best to once again make a thorough pain in the ass of myself to the local city officials who are starting to dread my new found civic participation. (I like the term gadfly, but pain in the ass is perfectly accurate.)
Door lists and Deli Numbers:
The Power of the list: We had our first major release from the store last week after getting the webstore on it’s spindly little legs. It was what would have normally been one of our big every quarter events, with 150 people in the store doing Magic prerelease events all weekend. Instead we had about 30 people come in to do curbside pick up of the stuff. However, we didn’t ever have more then two people even in the vicinity of the door at a time, and no one waited more then a couple of minutes, because we put up a shared digital list that people could sign up. with up to three in any 10 minute slot. We had a fancy system that of course failed the night before, and this was crude as hell and had no way to prevent some pretty dumb stuff. Still, damned if it didn’t work great. No one milling around, customers in and out quick and happy.
Deli Numbers: As well as what we did worked, it was really tuned for people making orders online and coming buy so we could chuck stuff in their moving open window. (We didn’t actually do that…though it would clearly have been a ton of fun.) But what has become very clear is that the digital equivalent of Deli numbers is the right way to go. If I can see where I am in the line, I can spend the rest of that time wandering around, window shopping and probably buying something else. I’m having a much better time, and my $$ are coming out of hiding to help keep other businesses from getting slurped down the drain.
I want to spend more time making the case for why this is better then standing, locked-in and baking , in a line that is moving at the speed of a glacier. (Ok…glaciers used to be…man I am getting old.) But really, do I have to? I was hoping someone already made the app to do this, but I haven’t really found it yet. If there are great coders out there who wanna do some good and probably (eventually make money). Yelp has a “Nowait” app to help out restaurants, but hasn’t seemed to figure out that non-restaurants can benefit too. (What I really don’t understand is that they didn’t even wanna talk to me about taking my money. Not very Yelp at all.) I’m getting pretty done with being Cassandra about these things. I know what needs to be done so for once I’m getting cranky about not having stayed in the exec path in tech so I could grab a handful of folks and do a 24 hour sprint and have this done. Ah…grumble grumble… Ok…back to putting a few thousand items into a new online store…
- Writing in the raw. I decided that the ex-journalist in me was too embarrassed about basically publishing un-copy edited first drafts. No big deal if it was just musings, but less acceptable as I’ve been trying to get these sent out a bit to maybe affect some change. Well, turns out that writing these in the first place is stolen time. The notion that I can steal even more to edit the suckers is just not a thing. So for now…back to writing in the raw.]