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

Sour grapes in the produce aisle aren’t just found in displays.

I was taking a produce manager around with me on my store visits one day. He had fallen into a slump — flat sales, slipping margins, stale merchandising. You name the malady, he had the symptoms. He was for all intents and purposes, the Eeyore equivalent of the company.

I took him to the same store that I took anyone we wanted to impress — to one of our own flagships.

A flagship, as most in the retail produce business know, is a store that has everything going for it. Usually it’s a new or recently remodeled store with a full parking lot, all the registers are lit up, and where customers don’t mind waiting five- or six-deep.

The flagship carries everything. It is merchandised with flair and is staffed with the best department heads — including the most positive, energetic produce manager.

After a lengthy tour of the flagship, and speaking briefly with their produce leader, we drove back to Eeyore’s store. He suspected what I was up to and finally broke his silence.

“My store could look like that too,” he said. “But you do realize that manager has it made. If I had a crew like that, well…”

“C’mon man,” I replied. “Don’t use that as an excuse. He ran a good department before he opened that store. Now he has a whole new set of faces to develop and some of them are brand new to produce.”

I went on to stress that one of the big reasons for the flagship manager’s success was that he had a reputation for doing things right and not cutting corners.

“He makes it clear to his crew what he wants done every day and holds them accountable,” I said. “He can be firm, from what I hear from his help. But those clerks either conform or they don’t stick around for long.”

We talked at length as we sat in traffic. I assured our Eeyore that he had what it took to be a better produce manager. I reminded him how he had the same reputation as the flagship manager and it had only been recently that standards had slipped.

It wasn’t long before he started reflecting about how he had indeed been a stickler for doing things right — demanding that his clerks be on time, insisting that they faithfully rotate displays, etc. He spoke about how he still savored putting together his merchandising plan.

When I dropped him off at his store there was definitely a spark.

Sometimes all it takes for someone to pull out of a slump is to get them out for a day.

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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