Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, August 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Those Tedious Inventories…

From the responses received, the best estimate is that 25% of butlers and household managers count inventorying any item of value to be amongst their duties—which, as one estate manager noted, “when you stop to think about it, basically means most or all items owned by the kind of employers we have.”

Some inventories are made on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, but usually annual or semi-annual—the trick being to add items as they come in (or out) and using the annual inventory/audit to confirm and update. “Log books, whether hard copy or digital or both, with photographs and invoices where available need to be established, maintained, and updated constantly and then they must be stored in a fire- and water-proofed area, preferably in another location than where the property is in use/on display.  During a disaster scenario, millions of dollars can be salvaged with good records in the hands of the proper authorities…this is experience talking! Yes, it is hard and tedious work but it must be done.”

As noted by another estate manager, “It really helps to design a template for each area that requires heavy inventorying: Doing so saves so much time and it is very helpful to have information on hand during meetings.”

“In all the positions I have ever had, inventories have either been a want or a need. Just knowing what one has on site and the quantities is so important for all contents of a home, be they linens, china, flatware, art, furniture, books—even clothing. Some sort of back-up, either paper or computer, is a must in this day and age.”

In addition to the inventorying of everything of value, there is the inventorying (and ordering) of everything for ongoing consumption, including of food where there is no chef. This includes such as an “annual inventory of linens in the houses to see if any towels, sheets or kitchen towels need to be replaced. Kitchen cloths are replaced annually and go to the shop on the farm for use as rags. We have three sets of sheets per bed and twenty beds, so the process is time consuming and it helps to have staff point out rips and frays. Items not suitable to our standards go to the Goodwill or a donation center. We always run this by the homeowner, because essentially everything is owned by them.”

Pointers to keep in mind for colleagues who are required to do inventories include “Checking and double-checking the numbers and always taking a photograph [smart phones are so valuable in this] helps identify later any missing or damaged items. Where there are multiple homes, this may highlight items that have been transferred to another property. Best to manage the log in real time, noting how many of what went where and when. I even do this with dry cleaning of expensive clothes that have been sent to New York City. I have a log book, date out and by whom, what it is, type of clothing, color, designer and date it was checked back in and by whom along with a photo. So when the boss asks ‘Where is my blue dress with the white trim?’ it is simple enough to reply, ‘It was sent to the XYZ cleaners on 123 date.’ And believe me, bosses often know how many they have of what garments.”

Says another household manager: “I have so much inventory to watch over, it is smart to be organized and have good time-management skills. There are lots of templates to use on the computer. I also do visual accounts on the supply closets. We have at least one supply closet per floor. So, I guess there must be 10 supply closets.

“Wine inventory is my biggest nightmare as white wine has a shelf life, the rotation can be laborious, and one really does not want to serve wine that is past its prime. So many cases have had to be thrown out, so now we conduct the inventory annually.”

“Wardrobe and jewelry inventories are also complex, more so than any other, because of the sheer wealth that is invested in this area. It’s a bit intimidating at first when an armored car delivers merchandise.”

Some employers are not interested in inventories: “What is a few million here or there when I have multi-billions?” seems to be their general approach. In this case, one could try to persuade them otherwise in a way and at a time that would be acceptable to them; otherwise, one simply conducts the inventory when they are out of residence and in the event of a major loss, your having the evidence to give to the insurance company would be expected of you by the employer and insurance company, even if the employer had earlier nixed the idea. It’s a bit like sticking to the speed limit or thereabouts, despite the employer’s exhortations to double it, and then right afterwards, driving by a police speed trap and several cars that have been pulled over. Not something you’d point out to the employer, but they would generally see the wisdom of the butler in action.

“I have never had an employer who did not want some sort of an inventory list; in fact, many had always wanted one but never seemed to be given one for some reason. It is a daunting task: I once conducted a whole-house inventory of contents— back in the days of no computers—only taking a photograph and making my own check list sheet of what it was, sizes, quantities, etc.  My bosses went away for the summer and expected it to be complete by their return. Eight weeks and six binders later it was finally done and waiting on their desk.”

Asked for anecdotes, two were received:

“I was once involved in putting together a house content-list with everything high-end. It was at the beginning of computers, so we sought the help of a computer tech from the Getty Museum to customize a program for us. It took months of input of every item, attaching and cross-referencing art catalogs from purchases made. Sadly, my boss passed away some time later and when it came time to engage an Auction House to sell off the contents, Christies paid us the greatest of compliments when they said, ‘We have never taken on a project of this magnitude where all the contents were so beautifully cataloged and all the hard research-work had already been completed.’ So know that these boring lists can and do pay off. My wonderful boss would have been so proud.”

In terms of inventorying consumables, the following was offered: “Another point to keep in mind is employee theft. Not to present a downer, but you need to have a ballpark idea of what and how much you use. At one estate, we were consuming many paper towels and two kinds of cleaners. So, after 3 months I started rooting around and found 20+ sprayer tops hidden in the garage. A lunch-bag check revealed the rest of the story: A worker was replacing the sprayer top of the cleaning products with a water bottle cap, so she could put the product in her lunch bag. She was moonlighting on the side and had decided to use our inventory instead of purchasing her own supplies. Naturally, she lost her job, because stealing bathroom cleaning supplies does not generally end there— clothes and jewelry next?”

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.