“Rusty” is my miniature, imaginary produce manager that lives in my desk.
Rusty: I’ve been following your past few columns. Kinda stuck on a management kick these days?
Me: You have that right. It seems in different cities I visit, the produce departments are in rough shape.
Rusty: And the produce manager is nowhere in sight, right? Either that or there’s a produce crew on the floor, and the stock conditions are still wanting.
Me: How do we convey the message that great presentation equals the best produce sales?
Rusty: All I know is that even a good crew needs constant direction. They must be given specific areas to stock. They have to be trained to do the job right and held accountable for their performance.
Me: I know I used to try to be on the sales floor as much as possible.
Rusty: That would be a good start. Store managers must realize that the produce manager is the key person in the department and minimize obstacles that prevent him from being on the sales floor — like fewer and shorter meetings for one.
Me: And giving him enough labor so he can actually manage?
Rusty: I know if I’m just a clerk who can order, write a schedule and throw freight — as some store managers think — then I get buried in side projects, and I manage less and less.
Me: A good produce manager helps out on the sales floor all right, but his role should allow for flexibility so that he can float around the department at will.
Rusty: Or run. I like to redirect my crew if I need to, like a general on a battlefield. I frequently pull them away from a task that can wait to something that needs attention right away, like a depleted ad display or roughed-up wet rack.
Me: Gotta be on the floor to see this, crack the whip and react, right?
Rusty: I can see why you have an axe to grind on the subject. Usually I’m the grump in our little get-togethers.
Me: It’s the old produce manager in me. We all have a lot of pride and passion to, you know.
Rusty: I do know. Do things right. The produce department is like an orchestra, and the manager is the conductor. I suspect that we both want the same things. I’m off now. This conductor needs to be leading the troupe, er, troops.
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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