The Art of Retailing: Your Presence on the Sales Floor

In a typical produce department the manager has a pretty large job. They are responsible for coordinating schedules, setting the retail prices, handling invoices, and coordinating inventory; these being only a few of the responsibilities that fall under the leadership of a produce manager. Rarely is working a shift on the floor penciled in as one of those duties. Usually if this happens it’s because someone is unable to make their shift and the manager is simply filling in. The truth is, there is no way to handle all of the administrative duties and participate in the daily retailing activities as well. Whenever the leader of the department is present, things tend to go well in that area. So, if the leader is focused on the administrative aspects of the job, those will go well. Unfortunately, when a produce department is having problems or looking to move forward, it’s rarely the administrative end that comes under scrutiny. What is evaluated is how to improve the actual retail operations - merchandising, marketing, customer service and selling. In order to ultimately create a successful produce department, the working model of having the leadership handle all of the administrative duties and spending very little time actually selling the product will need to change.

Over the years what has happened in the Natural Foods Industry is that our best retailers evolve into administrators. Typically the way you became the leader of your department was because you excelled at merchandising, customer service and efficiency. Then, once you become promoted to the leadership role, you rarely have the opportunity to do the very tasks that allowed you to shine in the first place. The trend that we are seeing is that the best people (the people who are most knowledgeable about the product and best at selling it) are being removed from the sales floor to perform administrative duties. Without question the administrative duties are important - they are vital and critical to the success of a healthy produce department. What does not always make sense, however, is that these duties are always relegated to the manager.

If you are not already spending at least 50% of your time on the sales floor, then the easiest step you can take to improve the overall well being of your produce department is to make sure that your schedule permits this time allotment. Here is a look at some immediate benefits of such a schedule:

1) Sales will Improve - assuming that you are the best retailer in your department, how can sales not improve if you are spending more time involved with the product and with the customers? If a baseball team has been missing their best hitter and suddenly they are back in the lineup, one would assume that the team will most likely score more runs.

2) Team Morale will Improve - there is nothing better for the morale of a team than to have their leader working side by side with them performing the same tasks. Your teammates will feel like you are more available to them and you will have much more of an opportunity to inspire their work.

3) Operations will Improve - the more you are involved in the actual daily workflow of your department, the more you will be attuned to how to shape the operations in a manner that will enhance the efficiency of your team. It’s often quite challenging to improve upon operations if you are not involved in the daily tasks that make up the operational workflow.

4) Customer Service will Improve - the more that you are on the sales floor, the more the rest of the team will follow. Customers love talking with and seeing the manager on the floor - it gives them the perception (and hopefully the reality) that they are getting more expert information when talking with the department manager. You will, by example, set the tone for the standard of customer service in your department.

In short, there is absolutely no downside to spending more time on the sales floor participating in the daily operational functions of your department. So, how do you make this happen with an already busy schedule? This is not a proposal to work more hours, but rather a proposal to begin delegating more of the administrative tasks to your different team members rather than automatically assigning them the tasks of working the sales floor. If you are truly a good manager, then your job isn’t necessarily to perform all of the administrative duties, but rather to set up systems whereby any one of your team members can plug in and perform these tasks.

It’s time to shift the paradigm. If you want to both improve your department and excel in your role as a manager, then return to your roots as a “produce person”. Do the things that got you there. Handle the product, talk to your customers, be a part of the team and watch your department flourish! We need our best people on the sales floor. It’s good for your store and it’s good for the entire Natural Foods Industry.