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

I once sat in on a seminar that addressed several key retail topics.

One of these topics had to do with merchandising space. We learned that space was considered more valuable than anything else that a chain held near and dear. Space was cited as more important than the number of checkstands, more important than merchandising schemes or even — gulp! — customers.

I can just sense the response. But, Armand — how can this be?

I suspect this internal session reflected the overall philosophy of our parent company.

Space affects everything

Space, as it was explained, enabled everything else to take place, such as arranging traffic flow, merchandising, space allocation, and the number of stock-keeping units in any given department, including what is offered for sale in the produce aisle.

Every produce department has a certain amount of space, usually defined in square footage. Within the confines of the department are permanent-type of merchandising fixtures, heavy-set tables or refrigerated cases. The cases may be multideck, which adds to the available space.

Meanwhile, there is also an array of mobile display space. Typical fixtures include nesting or incline tables, orchard bins and mobile refrigerated cases. These extend to the produce department perimeter, fore and aft.

Border thieves

It’s exactly this space, the fore and aft, that must be guarded.

Internally, someone is always trying to steal, er, acquire this space. It may start out as a harmless, “Hey, OK if we set up the Entenmann’s rack here for a week?” Or the grocery manager wants to encroach in your space with soda, chips — the list goes on. Late October is the slowest time of year. Few summer volume items remain, it’s a few weeks before the winter citrus comes on strong and produce space withers. Especially on the perimeters. We’re vulnerable to space loss.

And anytime you give up space, you run the risk that you may not get it back.

The answer is to never give up the space in the first place. Stick to your guns and tell them, yes, you do need that space.

Build a secondary display of something that won’t affect your shrink much, such as new crop potato or apple displays. A fall set of low-risk items such as gourds, pumpkins and hard squash displays can eat up lots of space, which you will need soon enough.

Certainly next month you will need the space for the all-important Thanksgiving push.

Too much space?

On a side note, there’s a downside to having too much space. The more a store has, the greater break-even point it must hit in weekly sales in order to operate at a profitable level. Excessive space can also contribute to increased shrink.

However, even in this case a produce department must guard its space and never surrender it, even


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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