Ever walk in a store and say, “What the Dickens is going on here?”

Big displays for on-ad items makes long-term sense

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

Does it ever seem like an “artful dodger” is managing the produce department?

The Artful Dodger is a character in a Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist; a boy in 1837 London that leads a gang of small-time mischief-making thieves. Today, the name is sometimes used when describing someone who avoids responsibility.

Unfortunately we have a few “artful dodger” produce managers.

These are guys who are so driven to maximize profits that they dodge direction to build large ad displays, ad displays the corporate office directs should be “Prominently featured … Minimum of ‘x’ amount of cases … Large enough for six people to shop simultaneously…” The artful dodger believes his responsibility is not so much to maximize sales as to control gross profit margin. By limiting the (typically lower-margin) ad item space, he believes they will move less ad merchandise and in one manager’s opinion “not lose so much money.”

The artful dodger doesn’t understand that most customers will not even pick up a copy of the ad. These shoppers look for items on their list and are compelled to purchase items from ad displays that appeal to them. If a consumer doesn’t normally buy avocados but sees a display of, say, two for a dollar, the consumer very well may pick some up. But he or she won’t if the item is buried in a poor, reduced-space location. Then the ad item will obviously not sell very well.

The well-meaning produce artful dodger also may not realize it, but if all the managers in the chain shared this hide-and-seek philosophy, ad merchandise would back up in the warehouse, creating a logjam that will deteriorate and cost the company far more money than if they sold it outright. Where’s the profit advantage now?

The artful dodger is short-sighted. By thinking only “profit” in the short term, he doesn’t realize that ad promotion produces several long-term advantages:

  • Added sales. The customer who picked up those ad avocados will likely pick up other items too, like tomatoes, chilies, onions; maybe some chips and drinks. Note: Here’s where you can enhance margin. Tie in high-profit items to help balance the scale.
  • Repeat sales. Perhaps the biggest advantage of running an ad is what happens after the ad. If you get customers conditioned to enjoying ad items, they will continue to buy them afterwards, at full price — and at full profit margin.

Incidentally, at the end of the novel, Dickens’ Dodger was sent to prison. He never got the girl and ,as far as anyone knows, never won an award for having the highest profit-percentage produce stand, either.

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 armandlobato@comcast.net.

Have some tips on how to manage a retail produce department? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.