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  • Writer's pictureMark Mulcahy

Stay and Play

Updated: Jun 28, 2019

You love working produce and it is evident in everything you do: You set a great produce stand that is so beautiful people comment on it daily. Your customers love you. People come from miles around to shop your department even when there are stores closer to their home. You are the local farmers' best friend. You have the best selection of local produce in town and pay a fair price. Your years of experience have given you a wealth of organic produce knowledge. You love the food, and your passion is infectious. Sounds like a dream job, right?

And yet as a manager the things you love can seem a world away when each day finds you, at your desk, doing schedules, ordering, filling out performance reviews, comparing department financials, and dreading your third meeting of the week. Not to mention you can’t figure out why your staff is so reluctant to engage in customer service. Why don't they see merchandizing of the department the same way you do? Why don't they get excited about selling the great produce you carry?

You probably find yourself wondering, IS THIS PRODUCE? It sure doesn’t feel like it AND I’m not having any fun at work any more.

This scenario is not uncommon in the many produce departments I work with.

The solutions? It's as easy as one word: PLAY! The ordering, meetings, scheduling, etc., is essential to running a great department, but it doesn't have to be the entire job.

When I started feeling this way as a manager, I decided to do something about it. I did all of my essential management work Tuesday through Friday. Then I would set aside Saturdays for my produce play day. And play I did!

I would start the day by showing up an hour before opening and asking the crew how I could support them. I would finish a display, sweep, move signs, etc. I would then head for the walk-in and take a look around to see what I was going to sell that day.

It had to be something I was excited about and would want to share with everyone I came into contact with. Hmm let's see, we have twenty cases of mangoes that are just waiting to make someone's day. That's it! I'm going to make a lot of folks happy with these today!

Then I would gather the rest of the crew have them choose their favorites -- "Ten cases of kiwis: I can sell those, they're delicious!"

"I'll take on the 8 boxes of Minneola tangelos; they are the perfect balance of sweet and tart and will fly out of here."

We would spend the day cutting, sampling, and talking up the virtues of our chosen treasure. All day we would remind each other how we were doing: "I've sold 4 cases," someone would boast. "Well, a guy just walked out with a whole box of tangelos for juice," another would chime in. Customers loved the interaction and the tastings.

All of this was happening while maintaining the stand and helping customers. The day flew by, everyone had a ball, the crew learned invaluable lessons, and the customers got the service they deserve. And I remembered why I loved my job. You can too!

Take time to remember why you love produce. What about the job brings you the most joy? Get down on the sales floor! By doing so you will teach the traits desired in your crew. Your example can teach volumes.

So it's up to you. If starting with a whole day is too much to begin with, then try a couple hours a few days a week during the dinner rush. Adjust your schedule if needed. You won't regret it. As a good mentor you might even plant the seed that will sprout another much needed happy and passionate produce manager. And we all know what a rare and valuable resource that is!

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