I wrote this piece several years ago and was trying to explain it to someone recently. The people at McCoy’s Building Supply Centers, based in San Marcos, Texas, liked it enough to publish it in their “Across the Board” internal publication. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it as well.
I’m on the road again. This time I’m in Texas. Unless I get lucky, I probably won’t see Willie or Waylon, but I’ll see plenty of the McCoy’s. I’m working with a company called McCoy’s Building Supply Centers. You might think of me as a “hired gun.” They’ve brought me in to teach their cashiers how to use a new point-of-sale device. That’s a city-slicker’s way of saying “a computerized cash register.” The device includes a scanning gun. I aim to show them how to sling it properly.
To let me practice my quick draw and aim for this job, McCoy’s has put me to work in one of their stores. This is definitely a double barreled shotgun. For the cashiers I’ll be training, it will be extremely beneficial for me to totally understand their job. For the regular customers of McCoy’s, on the other hand, it’s a bit of an inconvenience.
I’ve been riding the trail of computers for almost 30 years. I can ride herd over that point-of-sale device with my eyes closed. I can eyeball a driver’s license, look the customer in the eyes, and verify a check as well as the most trail-worn cashier. I can count out change quicker than a sidewinder can cross the road. What I can’t do is look at a piece of wood and immediately reckon it’s a 2 by 4 by 10 number 1 southern pine. And the lumber is the easy part! The rest of it is a goat rodeo to me.
Many’s the time a customer has placed an item on the counter and I’ve had no idea what it is. Sometimes I’ve been lucky and the item has had a bar code. When it comes to the scanning gun, just call me Jimmy the Kid; I seldom need more than a single shot. But if there’s no bar code, I’m like a cowboy without a lasso.
The more knowledgeable customers are very helpful. For example, without the customer’s assistance, I would’ve never guessed that the small plastic cones used to hold up steel reinforcement bars are called re-bar chairs. That same customer was able to explain that the miniature version of a longshoreman’s hook is called a re-bar wire twisting tool. Tarnation! I had no idea they put all that stuff inside the cement. I thought they just poured it in and leveled it off.
Other customers, however, are a cross between coyotes and rattlesnakes. They slyly give you a false sense of security while they quietly coil for the strike. I had one no-good scoundrel walk in, place his credit card before me, and state, “I want a 2068 pre-hung door. It’s on that computer. I’m going to pick up a few other things. Have the door rung up when I get back.”
I reckoned that 2068 was a vendor’s part number. So I told the computer to search on 2068. I was immediately ambushed by two versions of the 2068. One had the hinges on the left side; the other on the right. Because the varmint had failed to be specific, I had to wait for him to return.
When he got back, I was confident I could show off a bit of knowledge that he didn’t think I had. I asked him in my most professional voice, “Did you want the left hand hinge or the right?”
“Damned if I know,” the man snorted. “When I push it open, I want the hinges on my left.”
I was in trouble. If he was on the other side pulling the door toward him, the hinges would be on the right! How does a cowpoke determine which door the son of a rattlesnake needed? I immediately called for help from one of the regular cashiers. Unfortunately, she didn’t know either.
It wasn’t long before we had a posse of five or six people standing around debating the issue. We agreed on only one thing – it all depended on which side of the door you were on. The problem was that we had no idea what side the door’s manufacturer was on when he gave it the label. The value of swinging doors soon became apparent.
I was getting ready to flip a coin when the store manager walked over to investigate the commotion. He quickly determined that the man needed a left-hand hinged door. I keyed in our selection, totaled out the sale, ran the man’s credit card through, and waited for the invoice to print. I proved that, while I didn’t know how to determine door hinge sides, I was still the fastest computer operator west of the Mississippi. But I had to put my scanning gun back in my holster when, to my dismay, the invoice came out blank.
Actually, only the first page – the customer’s copy – was blank. The carbon copies were fine. Some no account saddle tramp had rustled the inked ribbon from the printer.
Once again I had to ask the regular cashier for help. She quickly located a ribbon, put it in place, and I told the computer to print a second copy of the invoice. By this time, my trigger finger was smoking from pressing all those buttons, but the stampede was once again under control. I’d managed to head the problem off at the pass.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the manager went and got the man’s door. As soon as the polecat customer saw it he said, “That’s not what I want!”
I’d sold him a six panel door. He’d wanted a flush door which was $25.00 cheaper. Because of that skinflint, I had to do my first “over-ring” on the register.
Later I learned what that scalawag had done to me. When he told me he wanted a “2068” door, he knew I had no idea what those numbers meant. Now I know that they mean 2 feet 0 inches wide and 6 feet 8 inches high. When I eyeballed the computer data more closely, I discovered there were about twenty different doors that fit that description. Actually there were ten, but each came with either left or right hinges.
A couple of days later, that dirty no good son of a saddle sore came back. I stepped out from behind the bar and gave him the “this town ain’t big enough for both of us” look. The corner of his mouth began to twitch as we stood glaring at each other. As our showdown crept toward something more deadly, I realized that in my haste I’d left my scanning gun under the counter. I was unarmed. If this turned to gun play, I’d be headed for Boot Hill.
“Have you learned the inventory yet?” he snarled.
“What’s it to you?” I snarled back.
“I didn’t think so.” He said shaking his head. “If you don’t mind, I’ll let one of them little gals ring me up. They might not be as fast as you, but they have better aim.”
I couldn’t argue. He was right. I might be as tough as a two-bit steak when I wave that scanning gun, but when it comes to knowing building supplies, I’m a total greenhorn. I hung my head and turned to leave.
“Hold on a minute, stranger.”
I turned to face him once again… wondering if he was going to take a parting shot.
The man studied me for a moment. Then he said, “I’ve been thinking about computerizing my ranch. I might be able to use you. Do you have a number where you can be reached?”
I handed him my business card. It states, “Have Gun, Will Scan.”
He thanked me. We shook hands and put the past behind us.
That was two weeks ago. I now know much more of the inventory, but realize I may never know it all. McCoy’s moved me to a different store so I could get a fresh start. They also moved me to the back office and let me ride herd over accounting forms. For now, I’m a retired gunslinger. I’ll stay that way unless some young buckaroo decides to call me out.
In a few weeks I’ll start to mosey around the rest of the Southwest. I’ll ride tall but try to act humble. I’m not looking for trouble because I know the awful truth. Somewhere out there, there’s a bar code with my name on it.