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In the Trenches: Opportunities and challenges are masquerading as problems

Lightning strikes about 20 million times a year. Many people claim that lightning won’t hit in the same spot twice. Is that true? Not according to a produce manager named Harold.

Harold depends on receiving his delivery order from the warehouse on schedule. One day, during the height of a major holiday week, his delivery had still not arrived after being late by several hours. The delay depleted the department.

A frantic Harold called the warehouse supervisor complaining of the late delivery crisis. The supervisor explained that it was hectic in the warehouse and that the load was on its way. He assured Harold that it wouldn’t happen again and actually remarked, “lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.” The following week, the truck broke down on the freeway and Harold was back on the phone again.

Some people prefer to call those situations “challenges” or “opportunities.” Applying other terms are simply smokescreens people use rather than admit to the true meaning. Difficulty, dilemma, obstacle, trouble or a headache, whatever you call it, it is a “problem.” For example:

A produce director approached his boss and asked, “Can I talk to you about a serious problem I have?” His boss replied, “Problem? There’s no such thing as a problem. It’s called an opportunity.” The produce director replied, “Alright then, I have a serious gross profit opportunity.”

Problems can pop up unexpectedly and at any moment. It happens in all businesses, but why does it have to strike in the produce department so often?

Most people don’t realize what the produce manager faces dealing with many abrupt situations. The produce manager also has to please customers without them knowing that any such problems even exist.

Here are 10 of the more common problems produce managers face:

  • Labor encounters: When employees call in sick or the scheduling hours get cut and chopped — that’s a problem.
  • Inexperienced employees: When companies do not invest in practical training programs and turn an inexperienced employee loose — that’s a problem.
  • Refrigeration breakdowns: When all the produce in a section of the case must be removed in order to repair it. It interrupts sales for the duration — that’s a problem.
  • Late trucks: When deliveries are late, resulting in many department out-of-stocked items — that’s a problem.
  • Ad item cuts: When advertised items are cut back or completely scratched on the order, the produce manager has to face the customers — that’s a problem.
  • Customer grievances: When the produce manager on the front lines has to hear about high retails, overripe bananas, a tasteless melon, organic pricing, better competitive ads, etc.— that’s a problem.
  • Erratic bananas: When bananas arrive too ripe, too green or too chilled, it hampers the sales — that’s a problem.
  • Item add-ons: When the warehouse forces out items to the store and the produce manager gets stuck — that’s a problem.
  • Product recalls: When retracting an item causes a scare, extra labor, pulling the item, recording paperwork, making phone calls, customer confusion and loss of sales — that’s a problem.
  • Stifling selling: When company policies disallow aggressive table waterfalls, massive merchandising, auxiliary floor displays, then ask what happened to the low produce sales — that’s a problem.

You really haven’t experienced anything until you’ve worked inside of the produce department and encountered the common daily encounters. The sad part about unexpected problems is the fact that it interferes with selling. When time is spent fixing problems, it mostly decreases sales.

Needless to say, the responsibility of a produce manager is tough work. It takes a special, hardcore person to fill those shoes. They sometimes have to jump from one fire to another extinguishing the flames. Therefore, those are far from being called opportunities — they are problems.

Ron Pelger is the owner of RonProCon, a produce industry advisory firm. He is also a produce industry merchandising director and a freelance writer. He can be contacted at 775-843-2394 or by e-mail at ronprocon@gmail.com.

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