Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
"Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you can do all those things effectively you can’t miss.”
There are some business quips that I wish I had said. That opening string is one of them. It is by Lee Iacocca, former Ford Motor Co. president (and later CEO of Chrysler Corp.). 
His self-titled autobiography is a must-read, especially for would-be managers looking for common-sense direction.
One thought that came to mind recently, in regard to produce department management, is the looming spring and summer with all the added volume of melons, stone fruit, local produce programs, high-pressure holidays, and with the assurance of escalating sales, the threat of peak shrink to battle.
Keeping all of that in mind, summer is also when your busiest weeks will be handled by your least-experienced clerks.
That’s right, it’s not only summer in the produce aisle but vacation time for your veteran employees, as well.
But don’t fret. Keep that Iacocca quote in mind. You’ve got good people, and you need to communicate with them.
Start by looking at the vacation schedule and all their requests.
Have your best two people signed up for the week prior to Memorial Day weekend, or (more critically) July Fourth week? 
Now that you’re still a few months out, it’s time to strive for compromises. Most chains institute a black-out during such weeks. 
This is generally a sound policy to follow to protect your business interests.
Even if your store doesn’t have a blackout period, it’s OK to lay out some ground rules.
Perhaps allow only one person in your department to go on vacation at a time. 
If one of those clerks is your primary setup person, now is the time to train the next senior (or best qualified) clerk to cover for that week. Same thing goes for any other critical shift.
Suppose your most experienced clerk does all the load receiving, backroom put away and rotation. This is a cornerstone of any well-run produce department. When that peak summer week rolls around when he or she is on vacation, you can’t just wait until the week before to decide how to handle his or her absence.
Sure, every produce manager wants to believe that any clerk should be able to step up and do any job within the department. But the truth is, everyone has a mixture of strong and not-so-strong clerks in the mix. 
Especially in summer, there is more than a fair share of fresh faces with some degree of inexperience.
The time to plan it out, the extra training, adding overnight shifts, writing some mock schedules — is now. It’s far less expensive than the alternative.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail
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