Rush hour is game time

11/11/2011 08:30:00 AM
Armand Lobato

What is the single, best trait of a successful produce department?
That’s a good question, one sent to me from a reader not long ago. I thought about this for some time and reviewed the many areas that make up a good produce department: cleanliness, variety, selection, stock levels, value, merchandising, ad or seasonal promotions — the list went on, practically without end and with no clear, single answer.
Then it hit me. When is a produce department the busiest? At 8 o’clock in the morning? Hardly. Yet that’s when most departments are in the best condition: When they don’t need to be.
A produce department is typically busiest between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. That’s when most of the public gets out of school and off work and scrambles to get something for dinner while there’s still some time left in their busy day.
The best produce department is the one that is maintained in top condition during the evening rush.
There. That’s it. If there’s a message from the gray-whiskered produce guru at the top of the proverbial mountain, this is it. Give the best effort you have, to the majority of your customer traffic.
This isn’t easy thing to accomplish. Most chains don’t even try. Many chains stock up in the morning, and then let the department weather the shopping punishment with little more than a lone clerk — on a short shift — with predictable results.
It takes more than plugging in extra warm bodies in the evening to right this ship.
Those extra shifts in the afternoon or evening require experience too. Good clerks set their time and list their priorities. Once clocked in, a fast straightening of merchandise and walk-around is essential to see what needs to be done.
A good evening team breaks up the tasks. One may take the wet/green rack while another tackles the fixed tables. 
Each member should know how to read what is happening and react quickly. End caps and ad items need frequent attention, as do basic displays like bananas and tomatoes. 
Only when volume items are in good shape does the seasoned clerk continue to stock the slower-selling items, methodically moving from one table to another, but always keeping an eye on the volume items, lest they need attention.
Same thing happens on the wet rack side. Fast-selling items require frequent attention while slow-movers can wait. 
There’s no disputing the results of chains that are dedicated to being in good shape during rush hours.
Usually you can find them near the top of the list of market-share leaders.
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. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.
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