“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” — The Who

I transferred to several store locations as I worked my way up in the retail produce business. I suppose for all the usual reasons: Supervisors who wanted new blood; new store openings or remodel assignments; or simply trying to manage a store closer to home.

In just about every new assignment, the crew imposed a feeling-out period. Similar to how kids will test a new babysitter, every crew tends to do the same with a new boss.

“We don’t know why you expect us to clean the fixtures as often as you schedule. We never had to do that before. Our old produce manager always let us skip lunch and go home early. No need to order much specialty produce, this is a blue-collar neighborhood and only the basics sell.”

Right. You don’t need to see their identification. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

When a produce manager takes on a new store, he or she must go in with an open mind. They have to remember that a crew has strengths, weaknesses, and, of course, a plethora of opinions. Like facing a substitute teacher, your charges may try to convince you to stick with what’s easy or familiar. Or wrong.

For example, the first week at one store I noticed one of my clerks rather quietly filled a large order for a customer. It was a dozen cases of vegetables that weighed down the cart. Suspicious, I questioned what was up.

“Oh, this is Mr. Smith. Wonderful customer. He owns the restaurant down the street and every week I sell all this to him at cost. Since it’s at our cost we’re not losing anything, right? Steady business is a good deal!”

I pulled the clerk aside. “It’s a good deal all right — for him,” I said. “We’re not a wholesaler. We’re a retailer. When you sell something for cost the retail portion that we’re accountable for never shows up in the register. That missing margin shows up as shrink.”   

As it turned out, my “experienced” clerk was popular with other such small businesses in the area, who rewarded him with free meal coupons. It didn’t take long to see where a good portion of our shrink originated.

A new manager must set the standards and set them early.

Everything must be done the right way. From ordering to merchandising to sanitation to making sure that everyone has a name tag and clean apron. And when a clerk says, “Our old manager never made us do it that way,” I’d shoot back, not unkindly but firm and determined: “Well, I’m not that guy.” 

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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