Our produce director was very clear about the produce specialist/supervisor role.

“Your job is to make sure that the produce managers are following company guidelines,” he said. “But keep in mind that above all, you’re their point person. Teach them. Help them.”

Too many produce managers dread or even fear a visit from their supervisors. It’s human nature, I suppose, that the occasional check from “the main office” can make a produce manager nervous. 

It certainly was this way for me in the early part of my career. Thoughts ran amuck as I watched the supervisor enter my store.

“What is he looking for? He’s spending a long time examining that front multi-deck case. I just cleaned it, maybe I messed up some packaged salad facings. He’s comparing my front display with some notes in his pocket. Am I in trouble? He’s talking with my part-timer now, neither is smiling, is my clerk complaining? The supervisor is culling something and handing it to the clerk, now he’s taking a phone call. Oh man, of all days for him to pop in. Here he comes.”

“Hey Armand,” the supervisor said. “The department looks great. Got time for lunch?” 

All those worries bouncing around my thick skull for nothing. The truth is, my supervisors set a great example for years later when I became one myself. Their approach was to be calm, stick to basics, be a good observer, and a better listener. They looked for ways to help, left sound direction, and shared ideas.

Hardly the “Gotcha!” billy-club that some supervisors like to swing.

It all comes down to attitude from both parties. I recall one meeting when a produce manager challenged the supervisory staff with “Well, you guys want this, and you guys expect that ... ” To which our produce director calmly asked, “Aren’t us guys and you guys the same guys?”

A forward-thinking supervisor and produce manager must share similar goals: To find ways to build sales, be creative, train everyone in a consistent way, foster great customer service, and discover ways to increase profit margins while controlling shrink. The list goes on.

If a produce manager wants to make a good impression, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally communicate with the supervisor. It’s a welcome sign when a department head calls with a question, or shares something noteworthy such as meeting a challenging goal.

It’s also good, when a produce manager does needs some help, that the supervisor is a valuable resource to turn to. They are usually more than willing to help reset a department or offer direction. 

Produce supervisors may not have all the answers, but it’s good to know that they’re in your corner. Really.  

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 lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

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