"Is there anything more exciting than a new store?"

This statement has been received with an array of responses — “Hey, it’s just a job, man,” to “Yeah, it’s okay, I might get more hours now.” And occasionally, you will hear someone say, “This neighborhood is going to go bonkers over this store. I can hardly wait to open up shop; the produce department is going to rock!”

Which of the three responses do you suppose represents the person with the best attitude, the most promising outlook, and the one people would most want to work with?

This reminds me of the story of the three bricklayers, of all things.

This unattributed parable has many variations. According to the website Sacred Structures, in 1671 architect Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral, and during construction, Wren observed three bricklayers on a scaffold: one crouched, one half-standing and one standing tall, working hard and fast.

To the first bricklayer Wren asked, “What are you doing? 

To which the bricklayer replied, “I’m a bricklayer. Working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” 

The second bricklayer replied, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.”

But the third bricklayer, the most productive of the three and the future leader of the group, replied with a gleam in his eye, “What am I doing? Why, I’m building a cathedral!” 

It’s a reach, even for this raw produce scribe, to compare a grocery store to something as revered as a cathedral. However, the principle of the three bricklayers remains. When building and opening a new or remodeled store, everything does take on a new life. Typically, the store boasts updated features or departments, the latest in merchandising and product trends.

There’s a level of excitement with a new store, as sometimes hundreds of people are working in unison to meet the ribbon-cutting deadline, often putting on finishing touches mere minutes before the final bell.

The store will never be as clean, as neat, and as perfectly stocked as in that moment. In the produce department, every item is equally fresh, every leafy green perfectly trimmed, every item neatly arranged, and every crew member’s apron is crisp and name tag pinned on just so.

There’s a sense of nervousness, to be sure. Every department manager knows they’re under scrutiny to not only open the store smoothly but also maintain new-store standards as long as possible.

This takes a lot of preparation, hiring and training in the weeks preceding the store opening. And things go a lot smoother, new store or established, when a produce manager has more clerks who aren’t “just stocking” but believe they’re part of something bigger.

It’s a real source of accomplishment, something to be proud of. 

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 lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

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