Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

This is from Dale Carnegie, U.S. consultant and author: “Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.”

Last week I asked the rhetorical question “How good is your produce department?”

It’s a question probably best answered by your rate of customer loyalty or measured in rising sales or market share.

I suggested (along with a few other things) that a close, budget re-evaluation take place in order to pump some labor investment into the produce department to help give it the “wow” merchandising standard.

Persuasion required

In our quest to reach this goal, usually a store director will push back. Mostly, it’s because they are ultimately responsible for controlling labor guidelines. They aren’t going to allow a produce manager to just add hours without a hearty debate. It’s their job to hold the line, as the welfare of their neck is often attached to the same.

So it takes a certain amount of persuasion and good old-fashioned homework to even try.

A produce manager has to remember that getting enough labor to achieve the wow merchandising factor is achieved in small steps. Since labor is usually only added for three reasons (temporary re-sets, big overnight-type or seasonal resets or for larger-scale or unexpected business) it’s best to negotiate small and work your way up.

Knowing ahead of time what your sales and labor budget is, plan on this kind of approach to the store director: “Say, you know after we reset the tropical table last week our sales increased by $5,000, using only four additional hours. If you let me add 16 hours to the next couple of week’s schedule I can deliver an additional $10,000 in sales per week and maintain that level.”

It works

Of course you’ll get the pushback.

However, by using exactly this approach I was able to pester my store manager into allowing half of what I asked for to begin with. From there, it was up to me to use the added labor to fullest potential: Pushing my crew to hand-stack, and to stock everything, adding the extra touch that helped the produce department stand out from the norm.

I monitored sales daily, shared what I was doing with my crew and held them accountable. After all, they stood to gain from the extra efforts too. As long as we were able to stimulate sales, it didn’t matter that I spent more labor dollars, staying at or below my budgeted percentage. As a result of the negotiations, the department conditions improved and sales rose. But it took that risky first step.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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