Just One Thing

The other day I went to the grocery store for just one thing. Now, I’ll admit that, since I was there, I did pick up several other items, but I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t wanted to pick up that one item, which, by the way, happened to be Canadian bacon. When I left the store, I was departing without the Canadian bacon, because out of every single item in the meat department, the only thing the store was sold out of was, of course, Canadian bacon.

I should have known better. The time I wanted my particular shaving cream and nothing else, they were out of it. The same thing happened a month before when I went to pick-up extra-strength buffered aspirin for my wife [this is more than occasionally necessary for those who teach college students]. Or the time that I went just for dry cat food.

It’s also why I pick up two of all of those items, and try to remember to get replacements before we’re all out… because… exactly, when I wait until we absolutely need just that one thing, more often than not, the store happens to be out of it.

Whether this is because I have an unerring instinct that enables me to run out precisely when the store also runs out, or because the universe is perverse in dealing with the procurement of otherwise minor and insignificant items, I have no idea.

What I do know is that, at least for me, running out of anything leaves me with a fifty-fifty chance of finding the store without it at all… and that’s why we have a pantry with lots of duplication… and why I STILL have trouble picking up just one thing [because when you have duplicates/backups, you tend to think you have more than you do].

9 thoughts on “Just One Thing”

  1. R. Hamilton. says:

    Murphy loves logistics. 🙂

    There’s a thought – what could be done with some future conflation of Murphy and The Trickster. If hero myths draw on some common element in all of us, perhaps other myths do too.

  2. Tim says:

    Brilliant post. I have a workshop and kitchen full of duplicates due to having not being able to buy the item I want when I need it.

    The “Just in Time” manufacturing policy of the 80s has a lot to answer for when it altered buying habits of the public. i.e. buy little and often and only when you run out. The companies at that time had some pretty tough liquidated damages clauses in their supply contracts.

    1. R. Hamilton. says:

      I suspect “Just in Time” applies all the way through distribution to the stores. Either empty shelves or goods that don’t move cost money (the latter also with inventory taxes in some states), so it’s always a balancing act. Backroom inventory is a buffer, but that costs money too. If you expect lowest price for goods, that will be at the expense of service, assured availability, etc. Manufacture and distribution is multiple steps; disruption or error in judgement is likelier to result in too little than too much, especially cumulatively over all those steps.

  3. Tim says:

    @RH. You are indeed right. One Telecoms company decided to centralize all of its spares from its thousands of exchanges. It then found it could build several new exchanges with these and still have enough to service the likely problems in the network. So – lots of savings which arguably could be injected into the pricing for its services.

    Domestic usage does not work that way (due to volume). Neither does medicine I suspect, well at least here in the UK where things are largely localised 🙂

  4. Robert The Addled says:

    There are definite industries where urgent long lead items is an issue.

    Some types of transformers (according to the news post Hurricane Sandy) for the US power grid have a 3-5 year lead time, and the only manufacturer was in the EU. HARDLY the news you need after massive storms or (potential) infrastructure attacks.

    And to use an example used several times by our dear Author, capital investments like planes or warships don’t magically appear as soon as you realize you need them – you have to have them ready ahead of time, and/or have a building program in place.

  5. Daze says:

    On lead times and JiT stocking, there was an interesting docu-drama in the UK recently on the basis of what-if there was a major power grid failure that lasted more than a day … The dramatised bit was interspersed with fun facts about the real-world state of what was happening in the drama: supermarkets would mostly empty in 24-48hours – faster if people realise that’s what happening and raid them to stockpile. Hospitals have emergency generators (so do telephone exchanges) – but few of them have fuel for more than a few hours, none for more than 48hours. Most fuel storage is underground, and can’t be got out in any quantity if the electric pumps aren’t working – and so on. The drama hero had had the sense to buy a mini-generator to keep in his shed – but in the silence of a world without power, it didn’t take long for the sound of it running to bring along a better-armed mob to take it away from him. Scary.

  6. James says:

    This brings up a theory I’ve heard discussed on a podcast I listen to:
    “for anything important, one is none and two is one”
    It never hurts to have a backup, though that usually refers to non-perishable items like generators rather than bacon

  7. Wine Guy says:

    @ James: ‘one is none and two is one.’ My CPO used to say that whenever we were working the T/E and the T/O for the Battalion Aid Station during training and deployment. I took it to heart. You should see my toolshed.

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