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Dunder Mifflin Vs. Hardware Sales: The Match-Up

October 23, 2008

Why do I watch The Office religiously? The NBC sitcom about the inner workings of the paper distributor, Dunder Mifflin, is the only show I must set on record if I can’t catch it on its original Thursday night. Maybe it’s the inside joke: am I watching an episode of my own company? Dunder Mifflin is an old-fashioned paper wholesaler and The Office takes place almost completely in its Scranton branch. Those in our company’s branches in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia may feel more recognition than I do when they watch the mishigoss in a company that distributes paper products in a world with Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot down the street.

            On its corporate website, Dunder Mifflin Inc. is “listed as a mid-cap regional paper-and-office-supply distributor with an emphasis on serving small business clients. With a corporate office in New York City, Dunder-Mifflin has branches in Buffalo, Stamford, Albany, Utica, Scranton, Akron, Camden, Nashua, and Yonkers.” My company, IDN-Hardware Sales, Inc., distributes locks and security products to regional small companies such as locksmiths, hardware stores, and door companies in Buffalo, Syracuse, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Hartford, Warren, and Livonia. But I would agree with Dunder’s leading salesperson, Dwight Schrute, who proudly announces, we offer better “service” than our large company competitors.  Dun

                I like to watch the nefarious world of the modern day work environment and how regional manager, Michael Scott, navigates it. I enjoy the daily adventures of Angela, Creed, Dwight, Jim, Oscar, Pam, and the other fine team members and how they communicate with each other and screw up their company and each other. I like to watch the absurd pointlessness of their jobs.

            I could easily write a sitcom based on the adventures of our outstanding company and its crackerjack employees. How many do we have now? Somewhere between 80 and 85, depending on how you quantify some of the part-timers. Anyway, I could but won’t write anything great or derogatory about myself of any of them. However, I could certainly mention some of the proud members of the Hardware Sales Hall of Fame, some of our past employees (excluding the names of course.)

            I could mention the guy who looked strangely like Charles Manson (but with longer hair) who was fired from his warehouse job. I could say that I closed the door (just like Michael Scott would have) and watched when he came to the front door, scared of what weapon he might have brought with him. Thankfully, he came and went, another crisis brilliantly averted by my staff and me.

            I could say something about that impressive-sounding interviewee who I thought might be our next great salesperson and eventually a few years later was listed in the local newspapers, shot dead after a drug deal went bad. How about my head warehouse receiving clerk who left town with his girlfriend after the police found he had stolen from the local car wash chain that bought padlocks from us?

            I angrily remember the time I received the 50-page lawsuit on my desk brought from a woman who quit but said she was “wrongfully discharged.” I remember distinctly when I had to fire a guy from the warehouse for ineptitude and the tears he wept in my office. I can’t forget my relief when he came to the counter a few months later and said how happy we was in his new job at Amana.

            In over 28 years in one company that grows from eight to eighty people, you’re bound to get good and bad employees. Unfortunately, I remember the bad a lot more than the good. And the stories that go along with them. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry over the very overweight inside sales person who fell in love with a customer service person at a manufacturer in the southeast and took a trip to visit her. When he came back, he wept to our sales manager that everything went great until he walked to her refrigerator one night and heard a loud crunch and when turning on the light, realized he had stepped on her beloved cat and killed it. Burdened with grief and guilt, he buried the cat in the backyard and when she asked him if he saw the cat the next morning, he said no but finally had to tell her the brutal truth.

            She threw him out and he drove all the way back to Michigan, flooded with remorse. Not surprisingly, his sales dropped dramatically the month after and he eventually quit the company.

            We have had so many employees leave that I can barely remember their names and when they worked, but I remember those who died.

            In my office is a collage and a photo of another inside salesperson who was weakened with AIDS and eventually had to quit and died within the same year. He stands next to my uncle who worked for 15 years on our Livonia counter, servicing customers. My uncle could make me laugh whenever he wanted, with a crude joke and a put-down. Even though he wasn’t a manager, he was the original Michael Scott, working to make others laugh or groan. My uncle would have enjoyed Michael Scott and Ari Gold in the HBO show, Entourage. These are people who say what they want to make life at work less boring and miserable. They don’t care who gets upset as long as they have fun.

            The new Inc. August 2007 issue states, “Fun! It’s the New Core Value.” How I wish it were so. I may face the wrath of employees who wonder why I can say anything funny or bad about anyone, even past employees. “Just shut up and sit” is the current work mantra.

            I am doing just that now, shutting up and sitting, wondering if I should dig into University of Michigan’s price profiles, or write something funny that I remember.

            I am still a procrastinator at heart and would rather read the latest newsletter of The Office than work. But seriously, even fun can be educational, like these “Workplace Safety Tips, by Dwight Schrute”:

           

Workers are getting injured, sick, and are dying in EVERY office, EVERY day. You cannot avoid it. Unless you do the following.

  1. Do not fall. Falls (e.g. down stairs, out doors, windows, etc.) are dangerous and lead to fractures, sprains, contusions and death.
  2. Do not burn yourself. Overheating your tea is a good way to burn yourself. Do you want that? In order to assure that your skin is not harmed, tea should not be heated to more than 98.6 degrees.
  3. Stay in your seat. By staying in your seat, you are less likely to encounter any of these hazards. Wait until you have 3 tasks to do, and then get up.

 

As usual, Dwight is right. I am waiting for 2 more tasks to do before I get up out of

my chair. It’s the only safe and sensible thing to do.

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