(July 15) Some people look at garage sales as junk swapping. Others see them as gold mines of inexpensive treasures to add expression to their homes. The former thinks pragmatically while the latter knows no limits.The viewpoints demonstrate the differences that challenge or enhance relationships.

Whether you’re a pragmatic or boundless produce leader, welcome economical thinking to make the department look great. Allow space in your planogram for unexpected, low-budget, creative displays. In fact, encourage and reward them.

Homemade, borrowed and creatively assembled displays sometimes are the most attractive and economical way to merchandise. Look around and take advantage of the resources at hand.

STAY ON THE ALERT

If you think a little, you can uncover some incredible display pieces, says Jim Ross, vice president of produce operations for the 15 Lewis Food Town Inc. stores with headquarters in Pasadena, Texas.

One produce manager borrowed a galvanized swimming pool (cattle water trough), dummied it up in the center, put ice in it and merchandised mustard greens in it next to the meat department for a pork promotion, Ross says.

A second borrowed a boat and used it to promote a boat load banana sale.

And a third visited a nearby nursery and borrowed a palm tree from which he hung stuffed animals for a Hawaiian promotion. Build relationships with people in different types of businesses and you can borrow from their world, Ross says.

He suggests running a promotional contest among produce managers to entice them to devise creative, inexpensive displays.

Scavenge other departments for units and props they are getting rid of.

“If anyone thinks of getting rid of a shelf, I get it,” says Becky Carroll, produce manager for the single Red Bud IGA in Red Bud, Ill.

The grocery department merchandised Kraft salad dressings from a wooden unit supplied by Kraft. As soon as the grocery department was finished with it, Carroll grabbed it for produce.

“In produce, you learn to walk the store and look on top of coolers and in backrooms for things grocery isn’t using any more that you can use for a display,” says Jeff Patterson, director of produce merchandising for the 25 Sav-a-Center stores with headquarters in Harahan, La. “You learn not to throw anything away.”

An old spinner rack may become a crouton display. A shrimp cart may find its way to produce as a cut watermelon display unit. Wrapped milk crates make great displays. Unwanted plastic greenery from the deli case ends up between baskets in the produce department, he says.

He encourages produce managers to look for ways to dress up the department. “Two months ago I sat down with the team and said, ‘Let’s come up with a look other retailers will get in a plane to come see,’” he says.

USE COMMON CENTS

For pennies or less you can buy or build colorful, creative displays. Consider these options:

DRAPE A TABLE, bins or boxes with fabric to match the season, holiday or occasion at hand.

Sav-A-Center workers found Marti Gras fabric for the New Orleans holiday, Patterson says.

Sappington International Farmers Market, St. Louis, drapes potato burlap bags over tables or waterfall boxes to add character to the displays, says chief executive officer Tessa Greenspan.

During the winter holidays, red brick fabric hangs around the displays.

For Valentine’s Daythe store uses fabric with hearts and adds red metallic trees to dress up displays, she says.

CONSIDER PURCHASING A MANNEQUIN. Many years ago Greenspan bought a mannequin for the department, which she dresses for holidays and other occasions. For Halloween, it’s dressed as a mummy. In the fall, it’s a football player. Other times it appears as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or Cupid. When there is no special occasion, the mannequin is dressed as a farmer and sits on a bench in the front of the store.

“We have a lot of fun with the mannequin. It’s not expensive, but it’s constantly changing and moving around,” she says.

USE UNCONVENTIONAL PROPS. For a unique display piece, the store built a 6-foot tall by 4-foot wide Plexiglas unit with plywood corners holding it together. It’s an inexpensive way to give a clear presentation of nuts or apples. “When we do apples in it, we put netting in it. It makes it look like the apples are sitting in a big net bag,” Greenspan says. The piece is for display only, so shoppers do not buy product from it.

REUSE GRAPHIC BINS and cartons provided by commodity groups and suppliers.

Joe Guirlando, produce specialist for the 81 stores served by Supervalu Inc.’s Southeast division based in Indianola, Miss., wouldn’t dream of throwing away a watermelon bin. After watermelon season, the stores dummy them upand create overflow displays, he says. He also uses apple and banana boxes for waterfall displays.

BUTCHER PAPER WORKS as a covering and for signs.

While Guirlando likes to reuse cartons and bins, he also likes to cover them with butcher paper so it isn’t obvious that one commodity is merchandised in the box of another commodity.

Produce managers for the 101 Fresh Brands Distributing Inc. stores with headquarters in Sheboygan, Wis., also freely use butcher paper, says vice president of produce operations Scott Zeier.

Butcher paper signs and graphics especially look nice if someone in the department is artistic, he says.

STUFFED ANIMALS add character to the department and don’t cost much. Customers enjoy buying them if you offer them.

Some of the 14 stores owned by Roche Bros. Supermarkets Inc., Wellesley Hills, Mass., hang stuffed monkeys on vines hanging from the ceiling over the bananas, says produce director Paul Kneeland.

The stores also have displayed the PearBears available from Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore. Some stores bring in tree branches and put the bears in the branches over the pear display, he says.

BALLOONS help create a festive atmosphere at a low cost.

Sav-a-Center stores often use vegetable-shaped Mylar balloons or holiday-related balloons above displays, Patterson says.

For one fruit and vegetable balloon source, visit the Web site www.yummydesigns.com and click on balloons.

Ideas abound everywhere. Develop an eye for decorating — or else assign the challenge to someone in your department who sees the aesthetic value of a good deal.