Produce Career: "If You're Gonna Stay, You Gotta Play"

Let's see if this sounds familiar: You set a great produce stand, so beautiful people don't want to touch it.

You are loved by your customers; people come from miles around to see your department; you are their produce guru. You are the local farmers' best friend; you have an amazing selection of local produce and pay a fair price. Your inquisitive nature and years of experience have given you a wealth of organic produce knowledge. You love the food, and your passion is infectious.


Hunger Mountain Co-op Produce Stand


So where are you now? At your desk: doing schedules, ordering, filling out performance reviews, poring over department financials, and preparing for your third meeting this week. You find yourself staring out the window, wondering:
   Why is your staff so reluctant in customer service? Why don't they see merchandizing of the department the same way you do? Why don't they get excited about selling twenty flats of strawberries or ten cases of local corn in a shift?

On top of all of this you just aren't having any fun at work any more.

This scenario is not uncommon in many produce departments I work with these days. This is produce?

Want to know how you can find solutions many of these dilemmas? It's as easy as one word: PLAY! All of the ordering, meetings, scheduling, etc., is essential to running a great department, but it doesn't have to be all of the job.

When I started feeling this way as a manager, I decided to do something about it. I would do all of my essential management stuff Tuesday through Friday. Then I would set aside Saturdays for my produce play day. And play I did!

I would start the day by setting up one side of the stand (my favorite was the wet side). Then, after painting my masterpiece, I would head into the walk-in and take a look around to see what I was going to sell that day.

It had to be something I was excited about and would want to share with everyone I came into contact with that day. Hmm let's see, we have fifty lugs of ripe and ready to eat O'Henry peaches that are just waiting to make someone's day. That's it! I'm going to make a lot of folks happy with these today!

Then I would gather the rest of the crew and they would choose their favorites -- "Ten cases of elephant heart plums: I can sell those, they're delicious!" "I'll take on the 30 boxes of local Sharlyn melons; they are like candy and will fly out of here."

We would spend the day cutting, sampling, and talking up the virtues of our chosen treasure. All day long we would remind each other how we were doing: "I've sold 10 cases," someone would boast. "Well, a guy just walked out with a whole box of plums for preserves," another would chime in. Customers loved the interaction and enjoyed all the wonderful flavors.

All of this was happening while maintaining the stand and helping customers. The day flew by, everyone had a ball, the crew learned invaluable lessons, and the customers got the service they deserve. And I remembered why I loved my job. You can too!

Take time to remember why you love produce. What about the job brings you the most joy? Get down on the sales floor! By doing so you will teach the traits desired in your crew through osmosis. Your example can teach volumes.

So what's stopping you? Your boss won't mind, because you are probably the best sales person on the crew, and sales will increase. The crew won't mind, because they would love to have your leadership and share your knowledge. Your friends or partner won't mind because you'll definitely be happier.

So it's up to you. If starting with a whole day is too much to begin with, then try a couple hours a few days a week during the dinner rush. Adjust your schedule if needed. You won't regret it. As a good mentor you might even plant the seed that will sprout another much needed happy and passionate produce manager. And we all know what a rare and valuable resource that can be!

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