This is easy enough to visualize: It’s the beginning of a busy day in the produce aisle. One or two clerks have just put on their aprons and are still sucking down hot coffee while they walk up to the produce manager and ask: “So what’s the plan?”

Plan to win the produce war

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

That’s one question every produce manager should always be prepared to answer, whether it’s from the crew or the store manager.

How business is managed is often compared to warfare. In the 500 B.C. book “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu has this to say about planning:

“The general who wins a battle makes many calculations … here the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory and few to defeat.”

Thankfully, the battles we face as produce retailers have far less-reaching consequences, but the principles remain the same.

But, one may argue, who has time to plan? In our management-by-crisis environment that many retailers abide by, it’s true that many days start by hitting the ground running, without much direction at all.

Thing is, you must have a plan to succeed. Therefore you must make time to plan. Dave, one of the best produce managers I had growing up in the business, arrived at work at least an hour before anyone expected him for this very purpose.

Every morning Dave mapped out his plan. It was broken up into what we needed to accomplish immediately, what to be prepared for in the coming days and what we needed to expect for the weekend.

It was nothing complicated, mind you. Just a to-do list on a yellow legal pad on the backroom desk. Here incoming clerks found their daily assignments. But it was Dave’s planning in the calm of the early morning that set the tempo.

Once a week, Dave also stayed a little later for planning that extended into the following week or so.

Shuttered in the office, Dave would figure his upcoming ad merchandising or write a labor schedule, planning that all too often gets pushed into too narrow a time slot, resulting in wasted efforts, time and money. Dave rarely let that happen.

Planning took precedence in the store too. Besides the usual weekly meeting, the store manager held an off-site monthly session with the department managers. Separated from the distractions of the store, longer-range planning (for holidays or events) took place at a nearby coffee shop. The meeting rarely pushed much past an hour, but what a glorious hour that was.

It was good to be prepared.

Robin Sieger, author of the book "Natural Born Winners," put this way:  “Planning is as natural to the process of success as its absence is to the process of failure.”

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

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