Good ideas come at a cost – The Packer

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Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
I like new ideas in the produce department. 
That is to say, I like to try just about any idea that comes along. You never know when someone suggests, “Hey, how about we carry a clamshell packaged berry, or asparagus that comes to the store, pre-banded?”
It wasn’t that long ago that even these two very common pack changes weren’t so. Chains devoted entire shifts to sorting and capping pint strawberries, or prying open wooden lugs to hand-band the asparagus. It took a lot of labor, a lot of time, to get to where we are today.
Mostly, it took a good idea to make a difference.
What produce and store directors have to realize sometimes is that good ideas just don’t fall into our laps. We have to start with plain old ideas. The “good” tag can only be applied if the idea actually flies.
Most of the time, it doesn’t. Even the brilliant inventor Thomas Edison is supposed to have said of his quest to light the world, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that (a light bulb) won’t work.” Of course he persevered, and he eventually hit pay dirt on 10,001. Or 10,002.
The point is, produce merchandising ideas, or any idea in the produce aisle, started out as someone thinking (or saying), “This probably won’t work, but have you thought about doing it this way?”
In all likelihood “that way” was a dud. In fact, you can count on a dozen or so duds before stumbling across something that works. The thing is, you have to give ideas a try.
Destination merchandising? Buy-one, get-one free ads? Theme ads (multiple grape colors, multiple plum varieties, apple themes) were likely met with a scowl at first. And maybe the ideas didn’t catch on right away. However, many eventually did, to the point that other produce operations followed suit and advertised and merchandised likewise.
When asked what one feature I’d like to see in my new store as a produce manager, I told my supervisor I wanted tables with wheels so I could easily move the fixtures around, creating a new look with little effort. I see wheeled tables everywhere today, but they stay locked in one place. Always. It’s a pity.
Fully executed, the idea is a clerk stocks produce from behind a makeshift counter, interacting with customers. Empty, it’s a lot of premium sales floor space wasted. Either something is a good idea worth pursuing, or should be dismantled to try something else.
I like the idea of an open sales floor kiosk, where the produce clerk can stock from behind a counter and talk to customers. I saw such an operation in Las Vegas again this past week. In previous trips, it seemed to work just like I imagined. On my last visit, the interior space was vacant. No produce, no clerk. Wasted space.
You can’t tell if an idea is good or not unless it’s nurtured. You’ve got to keep swinging. 
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail lobatoarmand@gmail.com. 
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