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

I was tidying up my desk when Russ T. Blade poked his head around my screen wearing a red Santa hat. He turned quickly away when I snapped his photo. Russ, as regular readers know is my diminutive, imaginary desk-produce manager that visits me from time to time.

Me: Camera shy, Russ? I’d hardly peg you as an introvert.

Russ T: Just don’t want to be seen with the hat, OK? I was just looking for my assistant produce manager, Simka Rosa.

Me: You haven’t mentioned her in some time. Is she still on the promotion list to manage her own produce department? How is she coming along?

Russ T: That’s what I want to talk about. Too many produce managers have their assistant up for promotion yet expose them to so little.

Me: You mean things like letting them figure labor schedules build displays or write orders?

Russ T: Yeah, yeah. My assistant is already good with those things. What I mean is that managers literally do not “bring them along” to important functions.

Me: Such as?

Russ T: For example, when I go to the Monday department head meeting. I like to bring my assistant along sometimes, at least for a while, if it isn’t too busy on the sales floor. Simka needs to experience how the store manager goes through the items on the agenda so she can see firsthand how the produce department fits into the grand scheme of things.

Me: So you don’t think most produce mangers think in terms of physically including their assistants this way?

Russ T: Not enough anyhow. I can’t always swing it, as there’s only so much labor to go around. But whenever I get a chance, I tell her, “Hey, I’m going to do a competition check. Want to tag along?” Or, if I have to run to the warehouse to pick up some inventory, I’d like her to join me. It’s good for her to briefly talk to the buyers or quality control inspectors or even the produce director, if he’s around.

Me: I like your way of thinking: Include the assistant inside and outside the store, as much as possible.

Russ T: We have quarter-end inventory at the end of the month. When we’re done I’ll bring her along to meet the other grizzled produce managers at the local brew-pub.

Me: You’re wise to bring Simka along this way.

Russ T: Yeah, well, nobody ever learned the ropes by just holding a clipboard.

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. E-mail

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