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Taking Stock

Who remembers being given extra shifts at the end of the financial year to do a physical ‘Stocktake’? Looking back, I feel melancholic: the clipboard with the allocated section of the store; the empty blank columns waiting to be itemized and counted; the triumphant feeling when realizing you’d been partnered with your bestie. Stocktaking also felt like being asked to run a marathon.

I have three separate memories of Stocktaking. The first was as a school student, at the local supermarket on the last trading day before the first day of July. As weekend ‘casuals’ we were required to help the full-timers. We understood we could be there for three hours or eight – it took as long as it took. The more hands on deck, the earlier we could all go home.

Dragging ourselves in after school, we prepared for the worst – the information that could make for an even longer night – being paired with a full-timer. Some old person: an employee there to actually work. They were serious about the job: no laughing when the designated ‘counter’ lost their place and had to start the counting again. No shooshing each other when an inside joke turned from a giggle to a riotous roll-on-the-floor belly laugh. And definitely no guessing.

Most of the time they didn’t want to be paired with us youngsters either. They had their own children at home or had raised them to adulthood already. They didn’t want the responsibility of anyone other than themselves. Silly, giggly teens without any understanding of the effect of a miscount. They knew that if the numbers on the stock-sheet did not match with the physical count, they would have to find out why. So, Stocktaking was a serious business, and this meant doing it right.

Handing in the last sheets and being acknowledged for our contribution felt good. Stocktaking was important, and as a fifteen-year-old this was a big deal – even though we stuffed our pockets with lollies and chocolates that accidentally fell into them. It was a yearly occurrence that we simultaneously hated and loved. Eight hours extra work at eight or nine dollars an hour was a big deal back then!

My second experience was a few years later. I had been at university for a few years and had returned home to be with Mum as she battled a cancer that would take her life in a shorter time than we realized. I’d been working as a school-holiday casual at Myer and when I realized I could earn money or return to being a pauper in Melbourne and another three years of the hard slog of uni, I chose the former. I applied for a full-time job in Manchester and Homewares and was rewarded with a name badge and endless days of wearing black skirts or pants, paired with white blouses. The Myer uniform. Oh, and a ten per cent discount card – now that was a big deal!

The supermarket Stocktake had nothing on Myer. It would go on for days. Shelves that were counted were stickered; managers became centurions guarding their domains. Customers were watched like hawks should they pick up something and walk it elsewhere…to an area that has already been counted…nooooo! Gasps could be heard as a previous undiscovered Noritake dinner set was unearthed from the storeroom and another $1,000 was added to the tally. Celebratory claps when it was a whole box of Wedgwood Bunnykins or even Swarovski crystal. How did we not know that was out there? Old Mrs. Collins is going to be so pleased when I ring her to tell her we have the crystal cat she has been pining for…

And then there was the BIG announcement a few weeks later. When we found out during a store meeting how we went? Each Myer store was assessed as to the accuracy of the count, and we would find out if our little ‘country Myer’ was up there, you know - with the big ones: the Chadstone's or the Northlands. We were Albury and we stood proud when any news of success trickled down to us little people ‘on the floor’. The Retail Floor – where the sales were made and scrutinized. Selling was big business and stocktaking equally as important. In fact, it was so serious Myer would buoy its workforce with drinks and food…even hourly random prize draws of store vouchers. It was the ultimate party! Apart from the endless counting of course.

My last Stocktaking experience was a long way from the frivolity of Myer. It involved a plumbing supply shop and trade warehouse. Have you ever counted a couple of thousand tiny little screws? Or tried to tell the difference between a male and female joiner? The worst scenario possible for counting. Coupled with freezing concrete floors and endless bays of miniature plastic and metal bits; men who are so disinvested they ask for beers to make it through the afternoon; and a grumpy store manager sitting at a computer handing out sheets as fast as we would submit them. The pained faces of counter salesmen transformed when the last sheet was submitted, and the beers materialized. The team would dash home for a quick shower and shave, for they knew the best was yet to come. Pub dinner and drinks on the store manager – for Stocktake was over for another year and it was time to celebrate. I wasn’t paid for my time at Reece Plumbing’s event; instead as the dutiful wife of the manager I was roped in along with other partners. Without the unpaid helpers, they would have been there all weekend. Another example of women propping their men up.

So, as June rolled into July this year I reminisced about my formative years working in retail. I worry that the digital world we live does not offer employees the same Stocktake experience. Or does it? Do retail stores use scanners now, some sorting device, or is stock on hand so little that a big Stocktaking is no longer required?

I think stocktaking is also a metaphor for life. Have I got the tools I thought I had, or are they missing in action? Do I need to count again because some are hiding in plain sight? And, if I numbered or quantified how much of something I had, at one point in the year, would that spark a celebration? Worst of all, where did the valuable big-ticket items go? They used to be there, surely I can track them down.

What are your experiences of Stocktake? Did you have fun or were you miserable? Either way you should know what you did counted!

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What a walk down memory lane!! I think I managed to avoid all the stocktaking - as a checkout chick I kept the customers moving through the registers while others did the counting and the family business seemed to be computerised before my parents demanded our maths abilities.

I do love the thought of the personal stocktake though. 'Where did I put the big ticket items?' Now THAT is a question worth contemplating!!! As well as 'why do I have so many widgets when I really only need one of them?'

It's a symptom of our society (ad a reflection on your previous blog about privilege) that we have so much stuff. I'd hate to count everything down to the…

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