Dressed to Sell

All too frequently, retail co-ops concentrate on lofty concepts involving things such as global food distribution ethics while overlooking the basics. But let's face it folks: If we're going to run successful retail grocery stores, we must run them professionally.

One of the most commonly ignored aspects of co-op retailing is how we present ourselves to our members and shoppers. Our personal appearance speaks of our concern for our customers. I'd venture to say that most co-ops pay little attention to how the employees dress. While local standards may dictate customary "street dress," there are certain basic guidelines you should consider. Studies sometimes show that cleanliness, not price or product line, influences shoppers most when selecting their primary grocery. How does your staff measure up?

Aside from the issues of sanitation and safety (open-toed sandals are one of the most commonly seen violations), the "well dressed grocer" dresses for efficiency.

Let's look at the "well dressed grocer," the tool s/he carries, and the benefits both in terms of professionalism and efficiency that being "dressed to sell" offers.

As noted above, the basic guideline when setting dress standards is cleanliness and safety. Loose fitting sleeves should be avoided around equipment such as conveyors or machinery. Comfortable, closed toe shoes should be mandatory. Clothes should be clean, moderate, and tasteful. Your custom ers came to buy food, not to judge fashion. Nevertheless, clothing should be chosen that indicates that you care about how you look. Common sense prevails.

All cashiers, clerks, and stockers should wear a clean apron, and one with large pockets. An apron is one the basics. Not only does it identify the employees as such to shoppers in need of assistance, it protects clothing and gives a convenient place to carry the tools described below. Wear the apron, and carry the tools, at all times.

The Tools of the Trade

1. Name Badge. A name badge is an important item in the grocer's wardrobe. Customers like to know who's who. Name badges can often be used to display your logo and are available through stationery as well as grocery supply houses.

2. Box Cutter. It's amazing how often I see frustrated "stockers" trying to pry open the lids of cases rather than using a box cutter. I like the single edge flat style that is most commonly used. Its retractable blade can be easily changed. It's light and cheap. Caution: every employee should be trained in the safe use of box cutters. In the nearly 25 years I've worked in the industry, I've never seriously cut myself. The trick: keep your "other" hand out of striking distance by holding it on the opposite side of the case being cut. Most cuts occur when your two hands come together.

3. Feather Duster. Dusty cans, shelves, or price molding are signs of slow product movement and inattention to detail. Carry a duster and use it frequently.

4. Pricing Gun. There are as many pricing gun models and styles as there are co-ops! Probably the most popular nowadays is the label gun. Manufactured by several companies, they are typically made of lightweight but durable plastic and are relatively inexpensive. One benefit to these "guns" is that they can accommodate a variety of colored labels, handy when trying to separate various departments. Many models also allow code dating, particularly convenient when stocking perishables. These label guns can be operated very quickly, producing labels that are easy to read at the register. However, they make price changing difficult. Holsters that attach to the stocker's belt make the price gun accessible yet keep it out of the way.

5. Pencil and Notepad. Always be prepared to jot down customer requests, pricing discrepancies, etc. The grocery business can be fast paced, and memory may not always serve you.

6. Scotch Tape. Tape is great for sticking labels back on cans and jars, or putting up signs and shelf talkers.

7. Marking Pen. I suggest carrying a large tipped marking pen for quick sign making.

The business of selling food is just that -- a business -- and co-ops are not exempt from the requirements that others in our industry face. Appearance, safety, and efficiency are basics to the grocer who is "dressed to sell."

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