Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

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The Independent Online

The story so far: the author has sold his house to finance a manufacturing project in the hope of making a small fortune to finance his old age...

It's a different world out there where things actually happen. Vans. Forklifts. Barcodes. Authorisation numbers. Do I feel the pall descending on you too? We (by "we" I mean "arts graduates") don't call it the real world. There's rock-all Keats in roundabouts and business parks. And those amenity trees aren't trees in the way we know them. The spreading What-Not over the village thingy. No, it's a new world, and you need to be brave to face it.

My satellite navigation guides me round the new link roads. I follow her voice and take the first, second or third exit, sometimes for days. Streets unwind in front of me like a seriously tedious argument.

News. The goods land in Southampton today. They may already be there. They will be transported to a bonded warehouse in Hounslow. The Bills of Lading have been sent to Birmingham. By some managerial magic (as yet unknown to me) the goods clear customs and arrive on a pallet in my new mail fulfilment house, appointed on Friday.

Considering the project is, technically, live this week - that appointment represents a triumph of Just In Time management. Very late in the piece I realised I simply didn't have the mental, emotional or physical resources to process 25 orders a day. Taking credit card details. Writing out addresses. Carrying parcels down to the post office. Waiting in queues. Especially as my secret hope, my deep and secret hope is that we might be moving a hundred orders a day. No, putting a hundred parcels a day in the post is a full-time job, and I've already got two of them.

So I Googled "mail order fulfilment" and sent out descriptions to a dozen addresses. The responses came tumbling in, and as is often the way, only one company emerged. The new business director did something very important; he adjusted his pricing when I asked him to. He moved it around a bit and asked for this and that, but he lowered his price to what I need it to be. It's not the money - though of course it's the money - but more the sense that I'm not expected to fit all my systems and operations into his systems and operations.

Their professionalism is amazing, frankly, here in the Burgess Hill Business Park. I created my own warehouse-dispatch operation once (birthday issues of The Times, you may remember). But this is how it's really done. Everything on pallets. Everything numbered and located by Cartesian co-ordinates. A "pick list" is distributed to pickers and brought into the dispatch bench to be packed.

And look, there's poetry in it, for those with eyes to see. Because they pick and pack, the pickers and packers; then the trackers track what's been picked and packed and the data-capturing programme captures the picked, packed parcels as they are tracked out into the world. It's beyond me, I don't want to do any of that. I'm not sure how keen the pickers and packers are, either, but that's their business.