Natural Foods Merchandiser

For All That Matters, Use Your Platters

Produce Perspectives

Magic-bullet ads promoting cure-alls, though big on late-night TV infomercials, aren't my thing. But if I were writing an ad promoting a panacea for produce managers, here's how it would go:

Want to improve morale and have a more motivated staff? Does your staff feel there's no room for advancement? Do you feel constantly overwhelmed with your responsibilities? Have you heard yourself say, "I have to do everything around here?" Or "I'd love to start a new project, but I've already got too much on my plate?"

If you've answered yes to any one of these questions, then consider the new, improved Platters Program and start making your job better today.

Let me tell you a story. Once there was a produce manager of a very successful all-organic produce department. Ideas for improving the department were hatching in his head all the time. Each time one hatched, he would take it on. Pretty soon his work platter was more full than a Thanksgiving table.

I was growing leaders, so to speak, while making the department much more sustainable.
The more he tried to juggle his regular workload, new projects and home life, the messier it got. Finally, his assistant manager sat him down and gave him an earful: "The crew isn't motivated because even though they like being part of your vision, you aren't going away anytime soon so they can't advance. And you try to do everything yourself. They want to do more, you want to do more and everything's a chaotic mess."

That sparked a change for me (uh-huh, me). I knew if I were going to live my dreams and not burn out, I had to let others join in so we could get there together. What could I take off my platter?

First, I let one of my crew start doing the 5 a.m. wet-side shift (my favorite when I wasn't buying at the market). Sure enough, the first morning I came in it was different. Gulp! I bit my tongue, and asked if the set followed the rules I had taught him. He walked me through, and sure enough, it did. And you know what? It actually increased sales and became the department standard.

Then I decided to let another crew member start ordering and going to the market. Guess what happened? He brought in some new items that I was sure wouldn't sell because of past experience. But when he took responsibility for generating interest and selling them to the customers, sure enough, they sold. It didn't work every time, but it was enough to open my eyes.

Now that the crew was taking on new things, the dominoes began to fall. Someone else took on the prep shift, and another employee switched to receiving from midshift. Yet another crew member with better handwriting and a more artistic eye created the produce signs. I was growing leaders, so to speak, while making the department much more sustainable. I wasn't the only person hatching ideas anymore—the department became an idea incubator.

With my newfound time, I started a program for elementary school kids, which took me into the classroom, out to the farm and through the store leading tours. We started a local grower program and put more grower names and farm locations on the signs. You could say, in some ways, the shift allowed me to start my consulting business and do seminars on organic retailing at conferences around the country.

So, what can you take off your platter? Pricing, ordering, setting the stand?

Whenever we ask this during our Rising Stars Workshops for up-and-coming produce managers, I see people struggle with the idea. It is almost as if they like the comfort of chaos. But I guarantee taking the risk will be worth it. Bring the crew together to find out what folks are interested in and what each could pass on. Dream together. This will slowly create a culture change—from a crew that used to see more work as you dumping responsibility, to one that recognizes their opportunity to grow. Once you motivate the crew, what would you love to do to motivate yourself? You'll never know until you empty your platter.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or by e-mail at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 8/p. 26

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