Never underestimate the value of a good coach.

Young players need a coach on the field

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

It’s true in the NFL, where several coaches have already fallen by the wayside (and the season isn’t even over), and it’s true in produce departments too.

I was picking up a few items for a salad recently while shopping in a Southern California store. Two seasoned produce veterans were on the sales floor stocking: one covering the wet rack while the other was taking care of the tables. I traded small talk with the first one while he moved quickly, neatly hand-stacking a tomato display.

“No produce manager in today?” I asked.

“Oh sure,” the veteran clerk shot back, without looking up. “He’s taking care of something in the office that has to get done. But as long as Steve and I are here, we have it under control.”

This was true. The department was in great shape, especially considering the evening rush was on. The manager was fortunate to have this kind of experience on the sales floor. More times than not the help I see is green. While inexperienced clerks work hard, their shortfalls come from lack of direction. That’s where the coaching comes into play.

Keeping up with stocking requirements is mostly a matter of listing priorities and knowing what timeframe is involved.

This takes experience to see and more to direct. For example, if a clerk is stocking, say, a hard squash bin when the lettuce display is nearly empty, it’s time to step in. The slower moving items can usually wait. When a manager has inexperienced clerks, it’s best to spend time with them on the sales floor. Especially during busy periods — before the manager retreats to other, behind-the-scenes duties.

Usually this means giving clerks specific guidelines, such as what to watch for and a general time expectation. There’s nothing wrong with lighting a little fire under them to generate a sense of urgency.

One example from a manager to clerk might sound like: “Ted, these three tables are your responsibility. The priorities are the end caps, those ad items and especially keep an eye on X, Y and Z. The stock levels should be maintained at this height. The goal is to spend no more than 10 minutes stocking any cart.”

And then, hold the clerk accountable for the assignments.

Before clerks can work unsupervised and keep up with the demands of stocking, the produce manager’s role is to work alongside and supervise the action. Eventually, the training will pay off, and the department will look good on a consistent basis.

Until this happens, the coach has to ride the blocking sled.

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.

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