Real estate agents say a well-staged home sells faster than a vacant one.

This, I think, is partly because buyers see the “product” not as it is, but because of what it could be: flowers on an entry table, or a dining room table beautifully set, waiting for dinner to be served.

Successful produce marketing is a lot like this. Don’t just set up a fresh corn display, build it with a spillover using bushel baskets. Flank the display with similarly displayed bright red new potatoes, the baskets lined with checkerboard cloth.

Does this paint at least a partial picture in your mind? A backyard cookout, a wisp of burning charcoal finding its secret way in your memory? Being surrounded by family, friends? If you think like many customers, this may slow you down enough to buy.

Old-time salespeople used to say it all the time, “Don’t sell ‘em the steak, sell ‘em the sizzle.”

The grocery stores I walk through throughout the U.S. seem to be an either-or type of operation. Either they’re set up creatively, with every display so inviting it’s hard not to grab a cart and start shopping. Or it’s “just a grocery store” that has what you need, but with all the appeal of a warm, flat can of soda.

Sad to say, I see considerably more flat, blah-merchandised produce departments by far.

It’s not their fault. These are chains that are too-often run by the bottom-line only senior managers, whose philosophies trickle down through the ranks.

It’s reflected by store managers who make a beeline past the mundane merchandising each morning to their offices and study all the numbers — sales, labor and more as they focus on cost controls and doing everything to ensure the gross profit percentages are in line with company goals. 

To some degree, management must be on top of all these points.

On the other hand, does a chain meet its long-term goals by managers permanently burying their noses in a computer screen? Or can a chain work the other end of the spectrum and capture additional sales with the inviting corn-type displays, training clerks to be suggestive salespeople, and having a regular, rotating, friendly demo team that includes fresh produce in its rotation?  

I’ve seen both types of operations. And I’ve worked in both types of chains, and I think my counterparts along the way would agree — the chain that encourages creativity, that dares to risk and push for sales is the chain that has the more positive culture, is fun to work for, and ultimately comes out on top.

When aromatic, sizzling fajitas are served at a nearby table, it gets everyone’s 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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