I think about repeat sales, especially in so many walks of life, such as when I get my hair cut. My neighborhood barber shop (Louie’s) is always there for me and countless others, to trim and tidy up what nature grows. 

I could get my regular haircut at any of a dozen places around town. Many are chain businesses, charge a bit less, or send coupons. What sets my independent-run barber shop apart?

They have a great reputation and more.

My barber pays a lot of attention to details that I think matter to his customers. He and his small crew make it a point to interact with the customers. They ask about the family, banter back and forth in good-natured teasing. 

The television is tuned into sports, and they cater to the younger ones with treats for sitting still, support local sports teams with posted schedules, and have a pop machine on site that charges only 50 cents a can. And even though they charge a bit more than the norm for haircuts, they usually have a waiting line.

Do they know how to keep their customers coming back, or what?

Fresh produce sales depend on repeat business too. I suppose the barber reference could be tagged as what kind of culture a business presents. If so, I’m all for cultivating a positive and enriching culture. 

So much of what we do as produce professionals may seem on the surface that we’re simply displaying an array of fruits and vegetables with the hope that full, inviting displays and marketing fresh produce at competitive prices is enough. And perhaps in many cases, it is.

However, I’m also of the opinion that the above-average produce department is a lot like Louie’s humble barber shop: a place where people drive a bit farther to do business, who are willing to pay a bit more. 

They expect and receive a higher level of quality. They’re welcomed with a warm greeting, and are attended to a bit closer. They get service superior to “the guy down the street” and feel like they’ve been appreciated that much more.

I suspect the average produce department can’t cater exactly the same as Louie’s. After all, the business model is different. But it sure seems like there are some lessons to be learned in this informal compare-and-contrast exercise. 

It starts at the top. An effective produce manager will be the example, interacting with customers on the sales floor; showing a sincere interest in their questions; helping sample, select and direct the shoppers in full view of his or her employees.

That in itself can cultivate a good beginning.

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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