Donald’s dream warehouse
Donald bought the new building in late 1975, and sold it about 30 years later when he finally was able to separate operations, locating D & B Wholesale Cosmetics in a new warehouse in Pine Brook, while moving the offices to Cosmetics Plus to a posh office complex in Wayne. Why he sold the building to an investment company for one dollar remains a mystery, although I suspect he probably had some interest in the firm.
In 1975, however, this was a big move for him, and a big risk since his retail businesses had not panned out, and the whole of his future rested on the back of his wholesale operation – and us, especially Stanley.
This was the big time, the moment Stanley had waited for since his coming into the firm in 1968, a time when his skills as a management person were to be tested. This was what he had worked for hard to reach, spending those seven years sweating over hot sheet metal by day and tough college books at night.
For me, it was a slight change, for the most part. I was to give up my time on the road, and work more closely with Stanley inside.
I was being groomed to take over Stanley’s job as warehouse manager when he moved up.
All this seemed rather vague to me at the time.
We all talked about Stan’s eventual promotion, and plotted to see which one of us would take his place when he did, but in truth, I never saw any place for Stanley to go.
From the beginning, Donald was the top dog in this corporate structure. Certainly his brother played a role for a while, and later, Donald had some silent partners in other ventures that included some mysterious Service Corporation in Florida, but in every listing off company officers, there was Donald on top, and one manager of his warehouse operations. This was true when he founded the company in 1968 and this was true in the latest reporting issued in fall of 2011.
Cosmetics Plus, D & B Wholesale, and all the other names he did business under were always all about Donald, there simply wasn’t room for anyone else.
Years later, after I burned all my bridges, I wondered if I had been groomed, not to fill in because Stanley was moving out, but to replace him when Donald decided Stanley could no longer keep up with the business.
When I talked to John in 2002, he pointed out a rather odd irony in all this. For all the plotting that would transpire behind the scenes for that coveted seat, none of us would get it, and, in fact, Stanley wouldn’t even keep it. After his wide died in 1999, Stanley’s deteriorated to a point where Donald replaced him. When John went back to apply for a job there in 2000, he found Stanley back at work, but not in his old job, he was doing what I had done before my departure in 1978.
The lower ranks, however, changed dramatically going into 1976, as the company took on one, two, then finally three or four additional people to handle the volume of work that Stanley expected the new warehouse to generate.
While we still had wheeled carts to carry pieces to the packing tables, Donald had installed a line of rollers along one wall and cardboard trays in which we could put the items as we went through the newly installed rows of shelving that made up a corner of the new warehouse. The idea is that someone could start at one row of these shelves, placed the items in the tray, roll it to the next series of shelves – or if the tray was full – start a new tray, pushing these along the rollers until the picking was done and a line of cardboard trays waited for the packer to check and package.
I was more than a little startled by the assembly line concept, even if it made sense, because it more than hinted at what Donald’s vision was for the future, and since I did not want to be part of any assembly line, I suspected things would only get worse – and as it turned out, they did. After I left, Donald expanded this to include a larger, motorized system of belts. During a brief visit to see Stanley in early 1979 (after Donald had fired me), I was shocked at the change. But not quite as much as Stanley was. After being fired, I had taken up a job at Wine Imports of America where such a system filled the entire warehouse, so I’d had time to get used to it.
A deer in headlights perhaps best described Stanley’s expression each time he looked over at Donald’s contraption. This was the future of Cosmetics Plus.
The building was huge. Perhaps ten times the size of the old warehouse might be an exaggeration, but not much of one. It had so much office space in the front, you needed a map to get around it, and the only reason we couldn’t get lost in the back is because it was so wide open,
If Carmella had felt cramped in the old warehouse often space, here the world stretched out around her like a John Ford movie with one room for meetings, another room with desks for multiple secretaries, and still a vast glassed in space that was to become Donald’s office – with yet more space to put Stanley in if and when someone could figure out what exactly he would do once he actually did get a promotion.
Located somewhat off the main Fairfield Road via Daniels Road, the new warehouse was something of a box-like structure with a decorative front that would eventually boast the name “Cosmetics Plus” on it in large red lettering until it was sold in 2004 to become some kind of printing facility.
When we arrived, it was divided into three distinct sections: office space just beyond and to the left of the front door.
Coming in through the glass front door, you would find yourself in a kind of foyer with two doors to the right and left, with a receptionist window to next to the door on the left.
A door to the right would eventually lead to a subdivision that would become a beauty supply outlet – which would eat up some of the warehouse house space along the left side of the building.
Carmella began her job here behind the receptionist window, but over time was moved back farther in the office as other women were hired, filling in for her initially, until she lost that aspect of her job entirely, and became a kind of office manager – and gradually became more isolated and disliked as the management structure emerged, and the younger women saw her as a kind of overseer.
The open office had a number of other doors off of it, to a meeting room and other rooms, including Donald’s new inner sanctum, and a space he would eventually glass in to keep the dust off the new Cadillac-sized computer, the heart of Donald’s new empire. This machine would print out our orders, keep track of inventory and of our hours, and tell Donald how much money he was making. Another door led to the back and the section of the warehouse where we worked.
When we arrived, there were two large warehouse rooms connected by a large interior opening. The left warehouse was where we did most of our work, and this had a regular side door about three quarters down the right side that led to the parking lot, and at its rear was a loading dock with a sunken drive leaving up to it.
The other warehouse had a garage like door that was even with the surface outside, which meant that we could pull the van inside and unload. We could load it the night before for the next morning’s delivery, rather than having to rush as we did in the old place.
Early on, we primarily used the left side of the warehouse.
Near the front of this section between the start of the shelving and the front office proper, were the bathrooms. Since the office had its own toilets, the women’s room in back was used as a storage room – a significant piece of information that would later prove important since I was in there often and it had a common wall with Donald’s office up front.
On wall just inside the door from the front and across a narrow space from what was to become Stanley’s office, was the time clock.
This – more than the computer or any of the other modernizations – most symbolized Donald’s plans for the future.
Prior to this, employees simply signed in and out. For me, it suggested a distrust that I had not sensed in Donald and Stanley before, a sense of suspicion that would make itself evident in other ways, too.
Stanley when I raised the issue with him said it was simply a matter of keeping up with the increased number of workers.
With the new space and the increased number of doors between us and his office, Donald became even more remote than before, insisting on our following a chain of command. In other words, we spoke with Stanley, and then Stanley would go talk to him.
Stanley’s office, whose door opened into the warehouse directly across from the time clock marked another major change in company policy.
Clearly built after Donald had taken possession of the building with two by fours and plaster board, it was more a box than a legitimate office with two walls made up of the wall to the office behind and the wall to what would be the outlet center opposite the door. The final wall had a large window that looked out over the warehouse.
From a story called “Stanley’s Passion” and later “KiKu,” I draw this description about this space.
` “Stanley’s face floated behind his office window like a drowned man’s. Donald, the owner, had installed the window so that Stanley could keep an eye on us, but instead, we stared at him, and he hated it. As a warehouse manager, Stanley was a snap shot out of the 1950s, from short black hair to his solid American beliefs, and often, we caught him cupping his face in his hands as if a scene from that old TV sitcom Dobby Gillis. A tall man made strong by work in sheet metal, Stanley gloated over his transition from union man to management, claiming the seven years of night school had more than paid him back. Yet in those private moments, when he studied us studying him through the window, his eyes seemed pinched and his mouth twisted, as if he was seeking someone to blame for his misery.
“Most of us liked the warehouse since we have arrived here as had Stanley from personal infernos full of demon bosses and dismal working conditions. The high windows sent shafts of bright sunlight down onto the wide aisle and racks of goods, giving even the settling dust a jewel-like quality.
“`Stan’s in a bad mood,’ one of the other workers said as I hurried in, trying to punch in before I violated the five-minute time clock policy that officially pronounced me as late.
Spring had arrived that morning after a harsh winter and I had walked down the hill to work rather than staying on the stuffy bus for the last two stops, letting the changing air invigorate me.
Seeing Stanley confirmed the rumors that he came in early before sunrise, and so didn’t have the chance to appreciate the change of season. If we could get him out into the air, maybe his mood would change. But Stanley never played hooky. He came to work each day like a soldier, picking up his marching orders from the front desk as he entered and then pushed us through the drills for the next eight to twelve hours. He did not exempt himself from the pile of orders and so never let us get away with anything either.”
Even Stanley suffered under the new chain of command, since he could not simply walk up to Carmella as he had in the old place to ask and see the boss. He had to call Donald on the phone or make his way into the front office to deal with the new bureaucracy, Donald had built around himself.
Stanley was totally isolated. He hated the idea of having an office at all, but Donald insisted, telling him he had to learn to keep his distance from us. We called the office “a fish bowl” and day after day he would sit at his desk, consuming his beer as he watched us work.