Finishing The Season Strong

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the December 2018 issue of Produce Business.

As the end of the year approaches, we all begin to think about the holidays, and our minds turn to celebrations with family and friends. Retail grocery is not immune to this process, and management often believes the balance of the old year will take care of itself. The tendency of allowing our businesses to go on cruise control is widespread throughout all levels of some companies, and upper management often seems content to allow this to happen.

Allowing employees to be immersed in the holiday spirit is a good thing, to a degree. However, it can be detrimental when it leads to a lack of focus, and it then permeates the organization. Produce operations can suffer more severely than others, as it is a fresh, ever-changing business and requires constant attention to optimize its operation. When managers allow holiday distractions to take place, it shows again “they just doesn’t get it!”

It is easy to fall into the trap of letting that holiday spirit supersede the needs of your operations, but it is vital you maintain your focus. You must push your departments to finish out the year with strong results and positive sales momentum. The innovative retailer finds concepts that provide positive ways to enjoy the season and still move the operation forward.

By directing your departments to capitalize on consumers’ generally positive, festive mood during the holidays to generate sales, you can turn a good year into a great year by avoiding the pitfall of cleaning the books at the end of the season.

There is also a tendency in the industry to operate at the individual department level, in such a manner that all the goals for the year are achieved before the last four weeks of the year. This accepted, unofficial policy can lead to lackluster results in the final accounting period, when all the “sins” of the year are absorbed. By directing your departments to capitalize on consumers’ generally positive, festive mood during the holidays to generate sales, you can turn a good year into a great year by avoiding the pitfall of cleaning the books at the end of the season.

How can we provide direction to stores on how to achieve this process without appearing to be a “Grinch” during the holidays? It is always best to go back to the basics. By providing direction to the stores to properly order, prepare, build and maintain the displays in departments every day, you offer consumers an invitation to shop your departments and boost sales. Adding festive touches is a good way to not only get your employees into the proper holiday spirit but also in helping to promote the festive mood throughout the store. Presenting the best possible look to all your departments will pay large dividends and overall results. Some creative retailers also incorporate a holiday decoration display contest to involve their employees and further stimulate consumer interest.

This may seem simple to do and easy to communicate to your teams, but it is a challenging process to execute. You are essentially challenging — and trying to change — traditional ways of operating, going against the spirit of the holidays. But it is good business to maintain focus and operational direction. Your employees should feel satisfaction by their “participation” in celebrating the season in their everyday work and truly making a difference.

The innovative produce retailer can keep in the “spirit” of the season while providing results that boost the bottom line, while being a fulcrum to head into the New Year. It would be the perfect holiday present to your organization to top off a successful year.


Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to [email protected].

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