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

All right, so that phrase has been cemented in time by James Tiberius Kirk. But it reminds me of a company training course I took once. We learned that within any retail operation the most valuable commodity was not fixtures, merchandise or even (gasp) customers — but space.

Without space, or available room for merchandising, nothing else can follow. 

With space, a retailer can fill the shelves with any arrangement of product, do it in a way that slows down the customer, catches their eye, and sparks a sale. With enough, shall I say, perpetual series of occasions of shopping decisions, many carts get filled. 

Sales are maximized, along with profit margins.

In the produce aisle, nothing is more exciting for a department manager than to plan a merchandising scheme. Produce managers fill out diagrams on their breaks, or even at home the night before a reset, sketching a plan that includes not just color breaks and destination themes, but space allocation too. 

How wide can I go with each item?

In most stores, finding added space is a challenge. I remember needing eight linear feet (on a 60-foot run) for a St. Patrick’s ad idea on the wet rack one year. The case was stripped and cleaned on a Tuesday, and in the wee hours of the next morning, I followed my plan and laid out the space allocations. I cut a couple of facings here, a few there, and, lo and behold, was able to come up with the space I needed for the display.

Determining space allocations in a larger store is far easier, of course.

When you have 5,000 feet, 6,000, or even more space (like some Wegman’s operations I’ve seen — wow!) the available space is too good to be true. 

Especially when you can devote 12 feet or wider of a single commodity and have the customer traffic and sales to support the generous space allocations — it’s truly a produce manager’s dream.

But, wake up already. Most departments fall somewhere in the middle regarding available space.

Therefore, a produce manager should always be on the lookout for available space. Especially if he or she feels there is added sales potential behind the ideas. Some of the more common (yet overlooked) opportunities are places such as in the department perimeters, the front entrance, or weather permitting, outdoors in the entry area.

I’ve seen secondary lobby soda or chip display spaces that are ripe for the taking. Compare what you can deliver with sales and profits versus the (typical) low grocery margins. Your store manager will agree, award you the room and take higher produce profits every time.

Space. It’s truly an ongoing mission.   

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 lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

 
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