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

"You’re being transferred.”

These few words, whether met with indifference, joy or even fear, mean a world of change is ahead for a produce manager.

A chain factors in many considerations how they position their produce managers. For many reasons, a chain chooses this time of year to make a few strategic changes. The timing works well as this period is post-holidays and summer volume is a good six months away. This gives the transferred produce manager time to settle into his or her new store.

One question remains: Why move managers around like so many chess pieces?

One reason is simply putting a strong manager into a weak operation. Perhaps the existing produce manager is out on extended sick leave. Perhaps the move is made to backfill a retirement. One thing is certain — a chain needs its strongest managers in its highest volume or most-challenging stores. Typically produce managers have to work their way into being considered for these stores, as a transfer to a new or heavy-volume operation requires plenty of experience.

Sometimes transferred managers thrive in new locations, even if they have struggled in others. I’ve seen this “chemistry” equation work many times. A newly transferred produce manager, for whatever reason, can connect with a dysfunctional crew and bring them together as a cohesive unit. Alternatively, some managers are able to step in and shape up a department that has struggled with gross profit margins or bring the inventory into line or a dozen other achievements, for no apparent reason.

However, a transferred produce manager relies on much more than clairvoyance or mojo to get the ball rolling in a stagnant department. It’s a matter of identifying who has certain strengths and matching them to the location. Within reasonable commuting distances, of course. A heavily disciplined manager may be ideal to convert a laissez faire crew, while a laissez faire produce manager might mesh well with a group of self-starters.

Sometimes, there is no apparent reason for a transfer scheme of a half-dozen produce managers moving about in a district. I’ve heard supervisors or district-type managers say all they want to do is “shake things up.”

It certainly does.

In just about every instance of such a round-robin transfer the results were almost always the same: Impressive. We consistently saw positive comparative sales after a manager transfer move. New blood in a store means that whatever attributes were inherent in one store now become part of another, resulting in different merchandising schemes and more.

This compelled customers to notice the new look, which resulted in higher sales — and a stronger bottom line. They sometimes even go so far as to ask, “Is there a new produce manager here?”

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.

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.