Call them supervisors, merchandisers, specialists or, uh, one of many colorful colloquialisms.

Don’t freeze when corporate casts its eyes upon you

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

The supervisor visit in produce departments can be a welcome or a painful period. Most visits are surprises. At least to the produce managers, that is. They have to be by nature. We once had a rather unreserved supervisor who gave away his daily agenda. As soon as he left, phones started ringing and the whole district was in alert mode, ready for his “surprise” visits.

Exactly what are supervisors looking for? They’re usually serious, with low tolerance for foolishness. Like Joe Friday on “Dragnet,” except instead of a badge the supers carry a name tag and a trim knife.

Ever been caught in bad shape by the supervisor? It’s a rare produce manager that hasn’t been caught with his pants down. Remember trying to persuade the supervisor that the bad condition he sees is not how the department usually looks? You would say something like, “I’m still catching up from yesterday’s sick calls” or “You caught me on a day I’m letting the department run down to rotate.”

Ideally, he’s not there to penalize but to evaluate, to be the “eyes” of the company. What he sees may not be your best profile, but it’s a snapshot.

Supervisors look for general stock conditions. They want to see if you’re doing what is expected. The super wants to know what you may be struggling with so he can be of assistance. Or if you are succeeding — so he may incorporate what is working for you in other stores.

Supervisors can see things the average store manager can’t, like greening potatoes or if apples are dehydrating in the base of a display. They can see if you are ordering correctly and if your priorities are in line.

They look to see if you’re keeping up with your business, from programs to paperwork, from the back door to the sales floor.

The supervisor has one overriding purpose: To be the “they” in the produce manager’s subconscious, as in “I better do things the right way. ‘They might be in to check.”

Lest we forget, the most important “they” is the customer. And you can bet “they will be more far discriminating that the supervisor. And they are in your store every 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. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

Got any tips for how to deal with supervisors? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.