Store-level Salesmanship

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

In the never-ending search for ways to differentiate one operation from the competition‭, ‬progressive companies often reach outside their industry and see what successful companies in other businesses have done for inspiration‭. ‬The grocery industry‭, ‬however‭,‬‭ ‬doesn’t always view this method as a way to learn since most members of this industry think the world of grocery is‭ ‬“unique”‭ ‬and doesn’t react the same as other industries‭. ‬

This is especially true of the approach to produce by most upper management‭. ‬When the subject of developing store associate’s knowledge and selling skills comes up‭, ‬the management reply is often‭ ‬“everything sells better in produce‭,‬”‭ ‬and‭ ‬“produce sells itself‭.‬”‭ ‬Executives look upon this effort as a waste of time and resources‭. ‬They think associates should be used to maintain and fill displays to keep their department ready for business‭. ‬This management attitude and lack of vision once again proves‭, ‬“they just don’t get it‭!‬”

When it comes to innovative solutions to problems‭, ‬one needs to look no further than the technology sector‭. ‬Progressive produce‭ ‬operators can learn a lot of successful techniques and procedures from this industry that can be applied to their own operations‭. ‬With the consumer so in tune with advances and the technological allure of new products and systems‭, ‬taking a page out of their‭ ‬“playbook”‭ ‬can pay big dividends to a produce operation‭.

One needs to go no further than the success enjoyed by Apple stores across the country‭. ‬Who hasn’t seen or experienced the crowds that are often in these retail outlets‭? ‬The stores’‭ ‬atmospheres create the kind of‭ ‬“buzz”‭ ‬that’s needed to drive additional sales and profits‭. ‬The question to be asked here is‭, ‬“why do all of these consumers flock to the stores‭?‬”‭

‬The answer is a combination of education and skill development that Apple invests with each of the company’s associates‭. ‬This combination of product knowledge and suggestive selling‭ (‬salesmanship‭) ‬serves Apple well‭, ‬as the consumers‭ ‬“trust”‭ ‬and rely on these associates to provide the information they need to make an educated purchase‭. ‬While selling technical hardware and software is vastly different from selling fresh fruits and vegetables‭, ‬the process is the same‭. ‬The Apple example illustrates how important it is to provide education‭, ‬training and skill development to gain a highly qualified and motivated sales staff‭.‬

Apple has seen the success of this approach and gladly invests a great deal of time and effort into each new associate‭. ‬Apple’s investment is paid back many times over through increased sales and trust from the consumer‭. ‬The simple fact that Apple’s strategy is so sound‭, ‬their competition is copying‭ (‬or attempting to copy‭) ‬the program‭. ‬There is no greater compliment to Apple and its program’s success‭. ‬

There are examples in the produce industry of companies that have adopted this type of strategy and are willingly to‭ ‬invest in the development and education of produce personnel‭. ‬These progressive‭, ‬innovative companies enjoy strong sales and are‭ ‬perceived by the consumers as‭ ‬“the”‭ ‬place to buy produce‭. ‬These stores enjoy the‭ ‬“buzz”‭ ‬factor throughout their operations that you would find within an Apple retail store‭. ‬

This is the key formula to provide differentiation to their produce presentation‭. ‬The problem within the grocery industry is not enough of retail management‭ ‬“buys in”‭ ‬to the commitment needed to provide the necessary resources to invest in developing each associate‭. ‬Cost is always a factor with management when evaluating proposals‭. ‬But the benefits of this type of strategy far outweigh any costs‭.

‬Not adopting this type‭ ‬of strategy is a shortsighted vision by management that results in an uninspiring presentation and leads to an indifferent‭ ‬“me too”‭ ‬expectation by the consumer‭. ‬It certainly doesn’t result in a differentiation between one operation and another‭. ‬It leads to a‭ ‬“herd”‭ ‬mentality‭, ‬and since there is no difference between individual operations‭, ‬the consumers can be easily motivated to use the Internet to satisfy their needs‭.‬

Given the technological trends in the world today‭, ‬it would behoove the grocery‭, ‬and especially the produce industry‭, ‬to emulate‭ ‬the success of some of the key methods on display in the technology sector‭. ‬There is nothing more pleasing to the consumer than‭ ‬the knowledge they can walk into an enlightened produce department‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬replete with well-educated‭, ‬motivated personnel ready to answer any of their questions‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬and obtain useful knowledge about how to utilize the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available in the department‭. ‬

The‭ ‬“uniqueness”‭ ‬of produce can be enhanced by the delivery of information to the consumer on the taste‭, ‬texture‭, ‬flavor and nutrition available‭ ‬about each item on display‭. ‬This type of‭ ‬“buzz”‭ ‬spreads like wildfire from customers with first-hand experiences they have shared with family and friends‭. ‬These communications‭ ‬establish a strong correlation of uniqueness‭, ‬and the message differentiates one retailer from the rest of the pack‭. ‬This is certainly an example of thinking‭ ‬“outside-the-box”‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬one that can drive sales and profits‭.