Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

Two things help you keep your job. First, let the boss think he’s having his way. Second, let him have it.

OK, that’s an old take on an even older joke. However, sometimes we have to look at the value of what a good boss wants. And whether we understand it at the time or not, it’s best to go with the flow.

Take for example, a lesson in produce department sign upkeep. I used to work for a produce manager who was a real pain. He wrote to-do lists every day, he made us clean things that I swore were already clean. And he delegated someone (namely me, as his assistant) to prowl the sales floor every morning on what he called the “sign walk.”

Rolling out the sign kit

The walk consisted of wheeling the sign kit out on the sales floor, which had everything necessary handy to fix or make a new sign. The kit had sign headers, sign numbers, sign paper, markers, scan tags and an assortment of clips and whatnots to assemble just about any sign on the spot.

I walked down the wet rack and around each table scrutinizing not so much any sign that a customer might be confused with, but rather what misaligned sign the boss might discover later in the day and say, “Hey! Who did the sign walk this morning?” If he had to ask, there was trouble brewing.

And to be realistic, most sign-check walks go very smoothly, but only if you do it on a regular basis. From one day to the next, if someone is regularly checking signs, verifying pricing, replacing missing tags or messy signs, the chore can be done very quickly, especially if the produce department has a well organized and fully stocked kit with which to work.

Required for department’s success

Sometimes, the boss made me do the sign walk twice in a single day.

This didn’t happen very often, but he used it as a sharp reminder just how important signing is for a successful produce department.

Customers like to first look at the produce item and be attracted by the quality. As they reach out to shop they always glance at the sign, perhaps just to make sure the beautiful tomato on vine is affordable. However, if they have to hunt for the price — or worse, when the customer gets to the checkstand and sees the item costs something other than what they thought — there goes a chance at a repeat sale.

If you run a sloppy sign operation long enough, there goes a chance at having repeat customers.

So after becoming a produce manager, I followed in my old boss’ daily sign-check footsteps and did the noble thing. I put my assistant in charge of the task.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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