What do you let slip by, and what tasks do you insist are done a certain way?
When we opened or set up remodeled produce departments, our set team (usually a group of seasoned produce managers) worked with the store crew. We made sure the store was merchandised exactly right, the schedule written just so, using just the necessary inventory, all the way down to organizing the back room supply area.
Unfortunately, during follow-up visits in the weeks that passed, not every produce manager kept up standards.
It wasn’t unusual to see excessive inventory, leaning piles of produce in the backroom that were out of temperature, Other examples include a desk piled with aging invoices and merchandising changes that made little sense (end caps of slow-moving items and poor space allocation of power volume items). I would always offer to help clean it all up but sometimes it took half an hour just to find a broom. That’s not something any produce manager could be proud of.
The question is, how does any produce department get to this point?
I like to think it all starts with the little things. Once a department is clean, neat and organized, you have to have a produce manager that is tenacious about keeping it that way. I learned from just such a persnickety soul.
If a clerk swept the floor and left a mess in the backroom, “Dave” the produce manager let the clerk have it. “Is this your mess?” He’d demand. “Your mother isn’t here to pick up after you, and neither will anyone else!” No one dared not follow through with anything they were supposed to do with Dave around. Sure, we all thought he was a jerk. At first.
But soon, we all bought into what he was trying to do.
Which was, in fact, run a tight ship, a clean and organized produce department in which we all worked with pride. In many stores in years that followed I’d see a clerk approach a display to stock, only to see them simply fill the display. In their minds it was obvious. “I don’t need to rotate this. I think I’ll skip it this time. No one will notice.”
If these compromises take place, it adds up, and tends to get worse. “I’ll just leave this last pallet unbroken in the cooler.
Someone else can break it down.” “I know the sign kit should be put away, but I’ll just leave it parked here.” Pretty soon merchandise on the neglected pallet is lost, or the sign kit is damaged.
But hope springs eternal. “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” Dave used to quip. “That’s how we roll.”
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].