Armand Lobato, The Produce AisleOne of the great traits of most produce departments is how its crews differ from, say, grocery staff. Produce crews for example, typically have the lowest absentee rate in a store. This suggests that produce teams are generally happier in their work and work well together.
Sometimes individuals on a crew can get a little too cozy.
The weak point I refer to is when a couple of produce employees, by no fault of their own, find themselves working similar shifts and often on the same days. They form friendships that can naturally lead from helping each other out once in a while to shadowing each other throughout their shift.
As a produce manager and later, as a supervisor, I might let this slide occasionally if the department was in good condition or if the task truly required two employees.
Most of the time this wasn’t the case. Most of the time the two employees were stocking the same display while another area of the department was neglected and needed immediate attention.
They knew what I was going to say even as I approached them.
“Come on guys, you know better. Split up. You’ll cover more ground.”
It was easy to spot this weakness because, as a part-time clerk myself once I was guilty of the same infraction.
I’m not saying produce clerks shouldn’t be friends. It’s only natural to extend friendships beyond the produce department.
However, there is just too much real estate to cover in produce departments to allow the buddy system to prevail. Key volume or ad items sell quickly, and with labor stretched as tight as it is stock conditions will quickly decline unless the clerks are disciplined enough to remain focused on their assigned areas.
I’ve heard every excuse from the buddy-system clerks too. The one they try to sell the hardest is that by frequently working side-by-side, they get more work done. But in every observation of tag-team stocking efficiency (because they’re spending so much time chatting), they accomplish no more than if they were working alone. Sometimes it’s even less.
“You can visit with each other on break,” I’d say.
The biggest reason to split up the dynamic-duo clerks system is customer service. Certainly if shoppers walk by empty or shopworn displays they will often assume that you are out of stock and walk away. Also, most won’t ask for assistance because they might feel they are interrupting something between two joined-at-the-hip clerks, who more often than not, tend to ignore customers.
Business before pleasure applies in the produce aisle too.
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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