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

Produce is all about relationships. This means building new relationships or working to retain the relationships your company already has made.
What about in retail stores? How do we build relationships within an organization?

When we had a big project in the works, be it a new store or a remodel, this came into play. We knew many weeks in advance who was on the crew. This was the group that we relied on to make it all happen. Or not.

Today we call a group event to strengthen relationships something like “teambuilding.” I like that. 

We used to engage the same concept, prior to a remodel or new store opening, even though the terminology wasn’t the same. A team is a team is a team, no matter the generation. 

We followed the usual pre-grand opening action plan. Long before the remodel or new store opening, we held a series of meetings for the produce manager and the crew. As supervisors we tried to lay out the vision of what awaited, what everyone could expect. 

After all, we were typically transforming a sleepy store with an average amount of sales to the cutting edge of merchandising. Our new or remodeled stores often quadrupled what a store and produce department were used to, so it was important to convey the impending changes to everyone to minimize the shock. 

Even though everyone thought they knew what to expect, they didn’t.

And they weren’t used to having a lot of supervision around either. That’s where we came in. In meetings we tried to get to know the clerks better, and vice versa. We’d show them not only the new layout of fixtures, but shared visuals of finished displays, photos of the crowds of customers, the “before and after” of what was yet to come.

And in the process, having supervisors around became the norm, one meeting at a time.

One event that seemed to especially help was a lunch together as we got close to the actual remodel or new store opening. That seems so simple, doesn’t it, gathering as a group and breaking bread? 

And indeed, so many times any relationship is formed or reinforced over a meal. Getting a group away from all of the many store distractions helps so much to get to know people. Even if it’s just in the brief hour or so away from the location. 

The benefit? Once the store remodel (or new store) gets underway, there’s a lot more trust. Everyone is more comfortable; the leadership and crew are set and jobs are defined. The project is still a ton of work, but a little pre-remodel team building makes everything go a lot smoother.

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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