A friend mentioned this recently. 

He said, “You might appreciate this story. I stopped into my grocer the other night. The evening rush was winding down and two cashiers, working side by side, were chatting up a storm. So much so that neither clerk said so much as ‘hello’ or ‘did you find everything?’ like I’m used to hearing.” He went on. “In fact, they were gossiping about some other employee, and not in a very nice way.”

Ugh. I see several big retail no-no’s demonstrated here. None of which a customer should have to endure.

Which raises the question: Does this similar scenario occur in the produce aisle? Of course. Retail clerks and managers are only human. And it’s human nature to engage in some conversation on the sales floor with other crew members while working.

When training your clerks on the topic one message should be clear: They’re never completely alone while stocking. In fact, produce clerks (or any clerk) who work among customers have an even greater responsibility to exercise the best manners and be aware of their surroundings. 

When working around shoppers (to quote the great Green Bay Packer’s coach Vince Lombardi), “You will talk like, you will look like, and will act like the most dignified professional in your hometown.” 

Or at least strive to. 

The first concern with the cashier example above is that clerks were disengaged with the customer. Every customer should be acknowledged, greeted, and given proper attention. Anything less makes a customer feel unappreciated — and worse, ignored. It’s a recipe for losing customers.

My second concern is what level of conversation takes place between on-floor employees. It is one thing for clerks to interact with general comments such as if a storm is coming in, or what time a game starts that night, and quite another if the subject is something as unsavory as employee gossip.

Another problem I have with overly chummy or chit-chatty clerks is that productivity slows to a crawl. On too many occasions I had to break up a duo, needlessly sharing a task on the produce sales floor, and re-direct them to separate work areas. “I know you guys are pals,” I’d offer. “But split up. There’s lots of ground to cover here. Socialize on your break.” 
To be fair, some tasks, such as unloading trucks or handling heavier produce items, go smoother with a team. But produce retailing teamwork is best defined by how well the overall department stock conditions are for your customers. 

You work for them, after all. Give customers a clean store, the freshest produce, with plenty of variety and selection. 

Most of all, give them your undivided attention. 

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 him at [email protected].

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