Sometimes it seems that produce managers and front-end folks can have an almost adversarial relationship when it comes to getting accurate rings at the register. Have you ever said to yourself, "I know we're selling more produce than that," or "There is no way I could have sold 400 pounds of red delicious apples! I only bought 200 pounds this week." Or how about, "We sold organic broccoli for 99 cents per pound all week long? That's the conventional price!"
But with that said, I think we forget just how hard cashiering can be these days. There are new POS systems to learn and hundreds of PLUs to remember in produce alone. Front-end folks face the prospect of standing on their feet in the same six-foot area for as long as eight hours a day. Many customers are time-starved and have completely forgotten the meaning of patience. These "busy" people can get surly if cashiers don't ring up their groceries at supersonic speed.
We all know of produce stockers who couldn't pull that off. So how do you get what you want and help front-end personnel along the way?
One surefire way to work together on the goal of accurate rings is to create a positive relationship between the produce and front-end staffs. Produce managers should take time to sit down and meet with the front-end manager or, even better, with the cashiers themselves. Explain what you're trying to do in the produce department and why cashiers are so important to the final outcome.
Take time to listen to their side of the story, too. You may be surprised at what you might hear, for example: "Fujis, enterprise, braeburns and gala apples all look similar when there are several in a bag and you're ringing up a huge order." "The stickers on the organic bananas always fall off." "It's hard to tell which salad mix is which."
Once both sides better understand each other's position, you can work toward a solution. One of my clients started the process with a survey.
A survey can be very enlightening, especially if you start with basic questions:
- What are the 10 hardest products to identify?
- What are the top sellers?
- What sells the least?
- What is the most difficult part of your job?
- Do you understand how the PLU numbers work?
- Did you know that organic produce has a five-digit number that always begins with a nine, whereas conventional only has four digits?
- How do you determine a price when lines are long and you're not sure?
- What specifically could the produce department do to make your job easier?
By asking questions and providing them with answers and solutions, you begin to bridge the gap. There is no better way to show cashiers that you really want to make this work for both of you.
And once you've taken time to get to know their issues, bring them into your world. I always say it's easier to get people to open their ears when you put something good in their mouths.
Give 'Em A Taste
Introducing cashiers to the range of flavors in your department can open all their senses and put an end to confusion. Remember, some of these folks may not even eat produce. It's your job to make an introduction. Once they've sucked on a sliver of ripe mango, they'll never forget what it is. I used to walk through the cashier area every time something new came into my department, giving a taste to everyone. I assure you, they won't forget a new item after they've tasted it. It can make their day; give it a go, you'll see.
This also provides you with a double bonus. If front-end staff like something, they'll tell everyone who comes past their register. You can't beat that type of advertising.
Take A Walk
Another way to get the attention of cashiers is a department stroll. Work out an agreement that cashiers will walk the stand every day before their shifts start to get an idea of any changes in the department. This way you can point out new items, nonadvertised sales or product quirks that could cause confusion at the register. This prevents problems before they start.
If problems persist, consider averaging the prices of commonly misrung items. Potatoes, apples, oranges and greens are just a few items that produce managers have averaged successfully. This, along with a walk-through, can pay huge dividends for your monthly margin, as well as provide cashiers comfort and knowledge.
Read A Book
I often ask cashiers if the produce price books located next to their registers are beneficial. Usually the answer is "yes." Most cashiers memorize the most common numbers, but the book is like having a safety line on a small climb. You may never need it, but it's nice to know it's there.
Whatever you try, remember that everyone wins when we create strong relationships and take the time to listen to each other and work together.
Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 4/p. 36