I was reading a favorite biography about Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” by David Maraniss, when Russ T. Blade cut around the corner of some folders on my desk, cradling a cabbage like it was a football. “Rusty” is my miniature imaginary produce manager who occasionally appears to talk shop.
Me: Who are you pretending to be, Napoleon Dynamite’s uncle Rico?
Rusty: Ha! That’s a great character ... Wanna bet I can toss this cabbage over those mountains? But I see ... the Lombardi bio is a great book. I like the whole pride topic in an organization.
Me: Same here. Lombardi certainly instilled pride in that era. He set the standard for the quality of NFL football we enjoy today.
Rusty: Even today, many organizations still refer to Lombardi’s quips and quotes for presentations, awards, that sort of thing. Taking pride in a job well done is something to celebrate.
Me: Thing is, attaining a high level of excellence in the produce department doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, a lot of organization and execution for things to run well and get good results.
Rusty: I like to stress consistency in everything. Like Lombardi, we don’t do things right once in a while. We do things right every stocking trip, every day, week in and week out. We clean, we rotate, we order, we merchandise, and we hustle all the time.
Me: I recall working for such a produce manager who, when asked if we were still going to do all of our regular prep work (trimming, crisping) even during the hectic Thanksgiving holiday week, he sternly said, “Especially during that week.”
Rusty: No cutting corners. He was serious. But that’s what I’m talking about. Aproduce manager like that, when he or she insists on a high level of performance, it shows.
Me: That’s taking pride, all right. And don’t you think it rubs off on the rest of the crew as well?
Rusty: It does with my crew. At first, they were grumpy when I’d step in and make corrections. But I like things done a certain way. Ultimately this best serves our real bosses, the customers. Employees reach the point that they react in kind, with pride, to doing things right — a clean, well-stocked produce department with minimal out-of-stocks. This results in top sales and margins, a neat, safe environment, and the least shrink.
Me: The best thing about a pride-driven produce department I see is that when you take a day off, the produce clerks watching the show don’t miss a beat.
Rusty: It has gotten to the point that I have a whole crew of produce managers. I take a special pride in that, you might say.
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].