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

That’s how my old retail department managers used to describe our roles in trying to coordinate all it takes to run a successful grocery operation. 

In fact, management by crisis really boils down to dealing with interruptions. A lot of interruptions, that is. These seem so regular you can count on getting sidetracked in many ways during the course of a workday.

So much so that it’s hard to stay focused on what you planned in the first place.

“Your” plan is so often tilted in reaction to the interruptions. Picture, for example, you arrive for work in the wee hours of the morning. You may have a message waiting that your setup person called in sick. Or, you arrive and get a phone call: your produce delivery is late.

How about: you are deep into your morning tasks when a refrigerated display case breaks down. It is making loud clanking noises within, it’s running warm, or it’s freezing — solidifying the vegetables and creating shrink and headaches before your eyes.

Ah, those lovely interruptions — not catastrophes, yet mini crises all the same.

As a produce manager what can you do about it? Not much, but you can recognize three things: You can count on interruptions in your day, you can try to anticipate and minimize each crisis, and you can try to have a backup plan at the ready. 

And perhaps fix little things before they become big problems.

You can count on interruptions in your day, you can try to anticipate and minimize each crisis, and you can try to have a backup plan at the ready. 

Especially if you discover that your store is susceptible to certain issues. For example, we had an especially busy store that shared a small back room with other departments. When the load arrived during the day, it was chaos. Pallets of product stayed out of refrigeration too long, clerks had to spend way too much time finding what they needed, nothing was getting handled correctly or put away timely. 

It was a comedy of errors. Except no one was laughing.

The solution was obvious. We switched to a night delivery, hired an experienced clerk who had the back room all to himself, and was able to receive, put away and rotate the load so the day clerks had unimpeded access to everything. Productivity rose and shrink shrank.

The produce clerk could pull this all off because he was able to work uninterrupted.  

The produce manager was able to deal with this quagmire of one mini crisis after another, mostly because in any crisis management, there are two ways to approach the interruptions: One is to get upset and fight what is (too often) a losing battle. Or, a manager can think things through, keep cool and look for solutions along the way.

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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