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

It seems that at every grand opening there were equal amounts of excitement and tension.

For the produce manager at a grand opening, it was especially tough. This is not something for the faint of heart. A new store — or worse, a full-scale remodel — typically takes months of preparation.

As the grand-opening week draws closer, so does the task list: Setting up fixtures and drawing merchandising plans, writing the initial orders and trying to figure out how to funnel many loads of fresh produce through a store that usually manages much less.

There are schedules to write. Lots of them. Schedules for pre-grand opening weeks, the one for the setup and the grueling grand opening week, and the all-important post grand opening weeks.

Typically I had a produce manager write a total of four weeks ahead of time, and we carefully timed the shifts to handle the multitude of details. A grand opening week tests the nerves and patience of everyone.

The most important part of those schedules? The produce manager’s days off.

Oh sure, the dedicated, adrenaline-jazzed produce manager argued: “I want to be here every day. I’ll take time off down the road when it’s all over.”

“Not so fast,” I’d say. “We need you all right, but we also need you next month and next year. A grand opening is a marathon, not a sprint. See those blank spaces next to your name on the schedule? Those are days we expect you to be gone.”

This wasn’t hard to arrange. Typically we recruited a handful of some of our better produce managers in the vicinity of the newly remodeled store. Their job was to help out for a two- or three-day stretch, to keep standards at the highest level, to keep the younger or less-experienced clerks in line or to make merchandising or ordering adjustments. Just as if they were working their own store.

Having these experienced managers around to help out with the grand opening also gave the regular manager the opportunity to take a couple of days off. It wasn’t just a convenience but a necessity.

We didn’t care what the produce manager did on these days off during the store’s grand opening. We encouraged the manager to go bowling or fishing or see a movie — anything. We just didn’t want them hanging around the store.

I’ve run into produce managers over the years that did the opposite. They talk about working 90 hours a week or not having a day off in months. This can lead to burnout. I’ve seen good produce managers get so stressed that it starts to affect their performance, their longevity and even their home life.

No grand opening is that important.

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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