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

Sadly, it happens all over the country.

And now it’s happened in my neighborhood. A grocer has closed a store.

Not just any store either. It was one of the “big three,” as us we used to refer to the big players in our market. I stopped in a few Saturdays ago to pick up a few things.

While not officially closed yet, it was imminent. The parking lot was especially empty for a weekend. When I ventured inside, I saw the telltale signs at once. The outlying, perishable departments were dark. The produce department was cleaned out and empty. Only a small center of the store was open as the remaining grocery inventory was marked down for quick sale.

Businesses open and close every day. It’s a normal part of any life cycle.

However, this store had been around probably the better part of 20 years. The neighborhood is vibrant. The location is on a busy intersection, being the anchor in a strip shopping center with full occupancy. The banner has national appeal. The store had excellent access from every angle, and was well-known for its high quality. So why was it closing?

It slipped in sales and succumbed to competition.

Nothing’s guaranteedMany times over the years I’ve heard clerks talk about their company as if the cash flow is endless. Sometimes an attitude develops that employees don’t have to try so hard. After all, “the company makes plenty of money.”

The truth is that while some chains may tolerate an underperforming location to limp along until business improves, fewer chains are willing to do so.

Every store has a break-even point. This is the weekly or monthly amount of sales that a store must generate to cover the basics, including pay the rent, the light bill and the labor to run the place and the ability to cover the cost of goods. So many other expenses figure in as well.

While some produce managers (and many clerks) I spoke to over the years may have underappreciated the constant preaching about maximizing sales, the sight of the store closing would have been a sober image.

The message is cold and sudden. It can and does happen.

Closing a store is never an easy decision. In talking with a neighbor down my block who worked as a butcher in the store, all the employees found safe haven at other locations. Unfortunately in other markets, it isn’t always so.

Taking care of a store isn’t just up to a district manager or store director. Keeping a produce department fresh and appealing makes a big difference. It’s everyone’s job to take care of business like it’s your own.

Because in many ways, it is.

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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