One of the best things a produce manager could say about a clerk, wasn’t that the person was the fastest stocker. Or that the person was thorough or neat or prompt — although these are certainly desirable traits.

My ideal reference? “Tom stands out. He has a great attitude.”

I like that. A great attitude sums up what a lot of produce managers desire in a clerk. It says that the employee has an open mind. It means that they’re on time every day (or early), show an interest in the produce business, and probably don’t complain about all the usual little things that drive produce managers crazy, like last-minute schedule changes or being asked to work a little late.

The employees I thought had the best attitude were defined by this: Flexibility.

Retail is all about being flexible. On every application I’ve ever seen, there’s a series of boxes for availability. An applicant is free to select from days/evenings/weekends only/weekdays only and even a blank box to write in desired shifts.

The applications we most often kept and hired from had one thing in common: The box checked “full flexibility.”

Full-flex employees fit retail produce operations best. These are the stockers who are passionate about the business and like everything about the produce business — where produce was grown, what time of year was peak season. Topics such as varieties, packs and sizes, flavor and more are of keen interest. 

Flexibility also means a willingness to change, to adapt. The flexible employee found ways to say “yes” when called in on their day off. To come in early to work, to cover for a sick call or stay late when the produce department had an especially busy day. Flexibility meant volunteering to work even when conditions were not convenient.

For example, we always cleaned the wet rack on Wednesday nights when I was a struggling part-timer. Two clerks (with more seniority) on the crew always asked for that night off because they joined a bowling league. A fan of “The Big Lebowski,” I would have loved to do the same. But because I remained “full-flexibility” I got stuck cleaning the case each week. 

No matter. I always ended up with a lot more hours each week than the senior clerks, who griped about not measuring up, wage-wise. Eventually I was promoted to full time and further down the road, into management (although my bowling average suffered as a result).

It’s impossible to maintain a perky, good-attitude front all the time. 

Even though it pains a person to do so, sticking to the job, remaining flexible, pushes a clerk into the “good attitude” arena.

That’s a good place to be.

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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