Max disregarded my merchandising plans. He put apples where the oranges were supposed to go, and instead of placing the tomato end cap adjacent to the head lettuce he twisted the whole merchandising scheme around.
“The tomatoes sell better when I put them near the packaged salad display,” Max told me during the previous visit. He didn’t say much, but he spoke with confidence and conviction.
This was a produce manager that had to go. I dealt with similar insubordination before, and I could be as two-fisted as anyone. Besides, I had the authority and support of the company behind me.
All I had to do was complete a series of poor-performance evaluations, make the recommendation to the higher-ups back in the home office that Max should be demoted, and that would be that. I was finishing my notes on the final, third evaluation when the store director approached me again.
“Say, do you have time for a cup of coffee?” Wayne asked. “I’d like to talk to you if you don’t mind.”
This isn’t an unusual ploy. I thought. Many times, a produce manager and store manager are pals, especially in the areas like this college town, located farther away from headquarters. Even the powerful, store district-type managers in the outlying areas harbored a quiet disdain for corporate influence.
Behind our backs, guys like myself were referred to as “The Suits” because we dressed in sport coats and ties — in contrast to the golf shirts and wet aprons worn by those actually working in the stores. Even this didn’t bother me, for I paid my dues. I wore that wet apron for 15 years before trading up for the coat and tie.
The performance figures from this store indicated that Max was at best, tolerable. He always hit his goals, always seemed to do just what he had to do to keep his job — the minimum and nothing extra. The sales at his store were passable but not what I thought approached the potential. If he only did what I suggested, this store could be a real show-stopper. I thought. Why doesn’t he do what I ask? Why doesn’t this store manager step on Max’s throat?
I tucked my legal pad in my briefcase and followed Wayne to a nearby coffee shop. No matter what old-buddy Wayne has to say, I thought, Max is mine. He’s toast.
We sat across from each other. The store manager was smart enough to be cooperative and civil — as with enough reports from supervisors like me, even his job would eventually be on the line. Ours was a chain of set rules, and if a supervisor gave direction, according to the company CEO, it had better be supported or there would be hell to pay.