The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( Photo by The Packer staff )

Curb appeal.

Real estate agents talk about this topic all the time. Especially in a digital age when buyers scan hundreds of homes online. Many times, it’s the properties with an eye-catching special touch that slow down the search enough to save with a click.

Is grocery shopping so different?

I can tell you what turns off potential customers. A parking lot full of debris, overflowing trash cans near the entrance. Concrete walkways that haven’t been regularly power washed or are littered with broken watermelons. Same effect occurs at night, if the lot is poorly lit or full of scattered carts.

That curb appeal message? Keep on driving to the next grocer.

As we move into warmer months, many produce operations stretch their real estate space outdoors, to the store’s entrance lobby or on the adjacent sidewalk. These are popular areas to take the fresh produce message outside, especially with loads of melons. However, it’s not unusual to build secondary displays of corn, potatoes, onions and peppers — you know, the kind of things that fit well on a barbecue skewer.

Suggestive displays move product, if you dare take the risk.

There are three points to keep in mind so you don’t get into trouble.

First, make the displays nice. Set the curb appeal so that you have nice color breaks — fresh iced-down corn next to a dummied-up bin of bright red potatoes, next to some fresh onions, next to the shiny bell peppers. Whether it’s this lineup, or a long line of melon varieties outside, it has to be built well, fresh, clean and level. Sign it well and keep plenty of bags handy for ease of shopping.

Second, have a plan to maintain your displays. This means assigning a clerk to regularly monitor the curb appeal, straightening and culling, and of course, keeping things stocked and rotated. Policing this area is vital so that debris is immediately taken care of, empty pallets are picked up, and the area is kept as clean during the day as it is when you first set it all up.

Finally, maintaining a good curb appeal means having an exit strategy for the end of the day. If displays are all right to leave overnight, they should be rotated, stocked and level at day’s end. If the items are more perishable, assign the closing clerk to pull product and place it in the walk-in cooler. This protects your investment, keeps the shrink in check, and helps to maintain an organized display area.

Outdoor produce displays are an excellent way to help maximize sales and build added gross profit dollars this summer. An aggressive merchandising approach, coupled with a few cautionary steps, will give you curb appeal while boosting the bottom line.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at [email protected].

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