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

Whenever someone in the retail produce business asks what it takes to get promoted, I always say, “That depends.”

If it’s a clerk trying to get promoted to an assistant or produce manager spot, I suggest that they talk it over with their current produce or store manager. 

The biggest variable is how much experience the clerk has gained, over what time period. I ask how their annual evaluations have gone. I press a bit: Are they in the middle of a training program? Are there any skill areas yet untested or are they otherwise considered already accomplished?

So much of what prepares a clerk for a promotion depends mostly upon the clerk and how hard they challenge themselves.

If the question comes from a produce manager looking to become a regional supervisor or similar leader (merchandiser, specialist), I would offer different suggestions.

First, I suggest they hone their produce manager skills, especially if they’ve only been a manager for a short amount of time. There’s nothing like experience to build a solid base, and this takes time. Use the time (I recomend at least a few years) to focus on how best to train employees, focus on getting (and staying) organized, building sales and becoming a top-notch merchandiser, while building a steady string of strong gross profit results with minimal shrink.

My next suggestion to the upward-looking produce manager would be to get involved outside his or her store. You might be the best manager in the company by all standards, I’d say to them, but you have to do a little self-marketing. That means volunteering to help with new stores, special projects and especially, communicating with your current produce supervisor, district manager, and produce director. 

How important are all these things? I knew many otherwise-qualified clerks and produce managers who kept their nose to the grindstone but were more often than not passed over for promotions — simply because they didn’t stand out in the applicant crowd.

I once knew an assistant produce manager, “Josh,” who fell exactly in this mold. “You guys promoted Tim over me for the store No. 36 position. I’ve been on the promotion list eight months longer than Tim, what gives?”

“Remember the merchandising team project last year? We needed several people to help on that. It was a time sacrifice, and while Tim stepped forward, we never heard from you, Josh,” I said. “That doesn’t mean you won’t make a good produce manager someday, but I’m sure you can see how this helped boost his consideration.”

Promotions don’t always happen or happen the way we’d like. But whatever the produce position, the applicants can almost always do something to help themselves succeed.

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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