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Mark Mulcahy

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The Art of Sales in a Produce Department

Updated: Jun 28, 2019




I was walking through the park the other day and stopped to watch a woman painting a landscape. While the artist was painting her picture, I couldn't help but be moved by the way she was able to transform the blank canvas into an amazing work of art. With each blending of color and stroke, her brush reminded me how each of us has an artist within.

For years, when I was training produce workers to set the stand, I would first teach them the basic rules of produce. Next, I would ask them to reach down and find the creative artist laying dormant within them. I would explain how their hands were the brushes, and the produce – with its infinite colors and textures – was the paint (I guess that makes farmers the paint companies of the produce world.) As long as they were sure the produce was 1) easy to buy; 2) wasn't hurt by the display; 3) easy to rotate and stock; 4) displayed to show the best face of the product; 5) and drew the customer in, they were free to paint their masterpiece each morning.

I was constantly delighted and amazed to see how creative these new artists could be. As with any craft, you could see the wheels turning and the links connecting as they were given the opportunity to use and master their artistic talents. It was always a joyous occasion when all the pieces fell into place.

Many athletes speak of being in the zone, where everything works right. You pitch the perfect game, score 40 points, pull down 20 rebounds, have 10 assists, and block every shot on net. It feels effortless, as if you are almost doing it in an unconscious state. You can also get into the artistic produce zone. I know many produce managers, including myself, who have experienced the phenomenon when creating stands in the morning. You take a step back, elated with your artwork, yet not quite sure how it all came together.

I have often turned around and found a customer who had come into the department while I was finishing up, just standing and gazing at the display. When queried on whether they needed assistance, they would say they were just admiring the gorgeous display. Or another would say how it made them want to buy everything. To which I'd say, "Be my guest."

That's job security for me.

One manager I was recently consulting with, who is well known for his artistic displays, told me that he wants to evoke an emotion with his displays. He wants to help the customer past the normal or familiar shopping experience and move them toward being a more active participant. He wants them to revel in the spirit of the food. I thought, "Wow... who wouldn't shop there?"

Another produce clerk says she likes to make her department look like a garden. At times, the produce is so beautiful that it can provide the inspiration you need to create a beautiful work of art. The stories go on and on.

Nearly 85 per cent of produce purchases are impulse buys. Further, produce departments are the calling card or destination point in most successful stores. With this in mind, you may want to look beyond the familiar and review your department. Have you settled into a sterile, linear and lifeless routine? Or do your displays explode with life, inviting customers to be active participants in the choices they make? If the department reminds you more of paint-by-the-numbers than a work of art, then maybe it's time to change. Try melding form and function with bounty and beauty.

How do you get started? If this is all new ground, start small. Don't overwhelm yourself or cause headaches for the crew. Buy a few new props, play with your food – even though Mom taught you not to. Stand your greens on end to show the whole face instead of laying them flat. Make sketches of new ideas to help get things going. Allow yourself to be inspired by the world around you. Tour farmers' markets or local arboretums. Your department, customers, staff and, of course, the artist within you will all be delighted with the results.


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