Is there ever justification for shopping at your competitor?

Odd question, but yes. However, I’ll get to that in a minute. This column is devoted to you, the produce retailer who goes the extra mile. You arrive early and stay as late as necessary. You double-check your orders for accuracy; you execute the direction handed down from your produce supervisor or director.

Likewise, you make certain that you’re following all the company programs. You know your store manager’s pet peeves and make sure what they want to see in your produce department is what you strive to deliver, be it a certain sales level, a specific gross profit margin, or maintaining a squeaky-clean operation.

It isn’t easy, trying to keep everyone happy: upper management, your produce crew, the store manager and assistant, the regional produce supervisor, and, if you’re as self-driven as most produce managers, you can include yourself in this list.

How about the one group missing, your customer?

That’s the one segment that means the most, after all. Without satisfied customers there are no sales, no profit, no reason to stock a single case of produce. And no reason to open for business every morning, is there?

In visiting one of our stores in a remote college town early one day, I remember something backfired and the store didn’t have nearly enough bananas to make it through the day.

Any produce manager knows that bananas are the No. 1 sales item in a store. It is the leading produce item that is compared to other chains when it comes to price checks. A category on its own, it leads in volume and is the one thing you never want to run short on, if possible.

Knowing the store had all day to weather steady customer traffic, I simply asked the manager (who stammered out the usual litany of why-they-were-out excuses — not that any mattered), “So, what’s the plan to replenish supply?”

“Our next delivery arrives tonight,” he said. 

With no sister stores to pull from close by I suggested (which is corporate-ese for just do it) that he get some cash out from the front-end manager, get into his car and visit his competition and buy 10 or so cases to get them through the day. 

“You’re joking,” he said.

I kid around about a lot of things, as anyone who knows me will attest. But not when it comes to taking care of business. The produce manager took care of it.

It’s rare, going the actual extra mile to patronize a competitor. But in this case, it was either that or risk having your customers make the trek. 

Just try not to make it a habit.

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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