It’s all in the detail

Before I started working in retail, I had thought running a shop was just about putting an A frame on the road out the front, and getting the customer to leave their money on the fridge whenever they bought something. I was so naïve about the complexity that was involved.

In my world, to have the common Staedtler HB pencil ranged in our system, about 1000 different fields that must be updated for the pencil to hit the shelf.

  • Barcode
  • Buy price
  • Sell price – inc and exc
  • Supplier name, supplier code, alternative supplier, alternative supplier code
  • Minimum stock holdings at each store, in each warehouse.
  • Minimum pack qties, minimum order values
  • Inner qties, outer qties, pallet qties
  • Use by date, colour, length, width, weight
  • GST, cost centre,
  • Ranged in all states, or just east coast, west coast, NT
  • Lead time from the vendor, lead time to the customer
  • …. And so on


Any error, any variation, misspelling, wrong digit, no digit, will create an issue that usually means the customer won’t get their goods, will ring up looking for their order, cause grief for my team, will create a piss off factor and tell between 5 – 10 others about their poor experience – all because someone forgot to put in the check digit on the barcode, or set the trigger for re-ordering to a too low number.

My life is about detail and precision. The system we use is an example of German over-engineering and is so unforgiving with any variances, customisation, or any ability to provide an ad hoc solution for the customer.

Retail is detail and so have been my life experiences.

In an earlier life, I was a cricket umpire. Those who can, do; those who can’t, umpire.

The front foot no ball rule was a precise rule. It clearly states that some part of the bowler’s foot must be behind the popping crease. Second day of a final. Ball number one is legal – well behind the popping crease. Ball number two is legal – just behind the popping crease. Ball number three ever so slightly edges past the popping crease in a flash – or did he? It was hard to concentrate because there was an appeal for caught behind – I think I heard a snick and the fielding team was quite vocal – and I gave him out. It was too late to call no ball. I probably wasn’t going to anyway – after all he only minuscule-ly stepped over – nothing to worry about. But now he was out, and it should have been a no-ball. I was wrong. I was inaccurate. The batsman was on 98, two more runs and he would have been a centurion. I was wrong and it had an impact. He trudged off the ground and sat forlornly in the shed. His day shattered and who knows who that effects in this Mt Gambier timber milling town. He would have gone home, another one with a piss off factor, been aggressive with the cat, taught his kids how not to respond to disappointment, sought someone to blame and caused all-round mayhem all weekend on the domestic front.

And lately I have been fixated with the detail in our writing rules. I’m a stickler for punctuation and love the detail in difference between a hyphen, an en dash and an em dash. Each has a different purpose and conveys a different meaning.

An em dash – the width of the letter ‘m’ – can be used in place of commas, in place of brackets, or in place of a colon. Multiple em dashes can be used in place of a word, or missing portions of a word:

“Die a–,” he shouted before pulling the trigger

An en dash – slightly wider than a hyphen, but narrower than an em dash – is used for spanning dates, such as 2010-2011, or scores, or indicate connection, direction, or conflict, such as East-West link, liberal-conservative. It can also be used for compounding adjectives – award-winning – but so is the hyphen. This is more about aesthetics.

So what about hyphens? Their primary function is forming compounds.




So you know, compound words are like eye­­­­-opener, check-in, free-for-all.


Hyphens are also used for word division at the end of the line.


But now that we know about the three types of dashes, representing these three dashes on a keyboard is problematic. The em dash is a double tap of the hyphen key, the hyphen is a single tap of the hyphen key, but frustratingly, the en dash is more difficult to achieve. There is no simple keystroke. There is a sequence of keystrokes: Alt + 0150

I must admit I find beauty in this detail. The ability to get things perfect, correct, and right. The ability to get an answer, the right answer, I thoroughly enjoy. For things to have such lovely detailed meaning and impact is so energising for me.

I love getting a spreadsheet to compute and will investigate to the wee small hours to find a solution for some web coding. It has taken me to all sorts of roles in life and work – anywhere some minuscule troubleshooting is required – I’ll be there.


Sorry about that.