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.