My dear wife said this about a housing floor plan we looked at recently. It was clearly misaligned, built for the builder’s convenience and not for the homeowner. This, of course, defeats the purpose.
The same thing happens to some extent in retail, especially in regard to declining backroom space.
It all began, I imagine, when an entourage of black-suited grocery executives walked through a store. You know how these visits go. Everyone is tense.
“The company honchos are walking stores this week,” the manager says nervously. “What will they think?”
Conversely, what might they say?
The president then stops at, say, the housewares section. He notices the spatulas on displays are fully stocked. “You know,” he remarks. “If these spatulas were only two deep, multiplied by the entire chain (he is calculating in his head, eyebrow raised), we would save so many thousands in inventory.”
Then the subordinate suits react. They marvel at the revelation. This is soon followed by a strict inventory-reduction program, which extends to perishable departments, including produce.
Afterwards, new store layouts change. Not only is the policy directed to fewer spatulas, but closet-sized backrooms are drawn into the blueprint. This forces managers to order more precisely to minimize excess inventory.
The only problem with this? Produce is a volume business. Fresh produce requires far more elbow room than your average general merchandise department, which can shoehorn its entire inventory on shelves or hanging on chrome J-hooks — that might support sales for days.
Produce of course, is different. Any busy store not only requires tables and secondary displays stocked full to start, but needs ample stock for replenishment during the course of a day.
Strawberries, grapes, potatoes, corn, stone fruit — any of these, especially ad items, can require backup pallets of merchandise to support sales until the next delivery. This requires matching backroom and cooler space. Adequate space is actually a labor saver.
The danger of too much room, it’s argued, is that a slower operation could easily be overstocked.
True, but only if it’s mismanaged. Besides, even stores with excess space can eventually blossom. When this happens, as it often does, the produce department needs room to function.
This is what the executives need to hear. The front-line people will assert that the spatula theory doesn’t necessarily translate well to the load-and-a-half of produce that blows through a rocking operation on a daily basis.
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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