I was reviewing last week’s column when Russ T. Blade appeared between some books on my desk. “Rusty,” as readers know, is the miniature imaginary produce manager who pops in occasionally to talk shop.

Rusty: What’s got you bugged about the previous piece? Isn’t that what they call ‘last week’s news?’

Me: Huh? Oh, maybe. I wrote about visiting a store and two of three people in produce couldn’t answer simple questions, despite being on the job several years.

Rusty: I hope the one in the clear was the produce manager.

Me: It was. But the trouble with that breakdown is, is there only one knowledgeable person?

Rusty: I put that on the produce manager. It’s the manager’s job to train clerks so that customers get the right information.

Me: I suppose. It just seems that with all the produce managers have on their plates, with constant meetings, ordering, and so much more, they don’t have much time for training.

Rusty: I know this sounds like a rough line, but sometimes you must make the time. When I transferred to another store, I could tell in the first few days just how strong or weak my crew was. It showed in their interaction with customers, in the quality of their work, in their speed. It always seems I had at least a handful of clerks that needed work. My approach was simple: For the first month I was at my new store, I worked a lot — from the wee hours of the morning until past closing.

Me: So, you threw yourself into an otherwise challenging situation to get things straightened out in the new store?

Rusty: Partly. A new manager almost always must remerchandise to a better level, to clean everything, get the inventory in line, change the schedule if need be to better fit the business pattern. And of course, work with the crew.

Me: Didn’t they get the impression you were just a super-stocker?

Rusty: Hardly. By working alongside even my weakest clerk, it showed them I was interested in improving their work and trained them on all I could think of. Call it a 30-day produce crash course.

Me: Then you went back to working normal hours?

Rusty: That’s how a good manager invests in the crew. It’s teaching, but holding everyone accountable, too. 

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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