We Could Learn A Lot From The Independents

Wholesale Market Paul Manfre

Originally printed in the September 2019 issue of Produce Business.

Eye appeal is buy appeal. Does your produce department say ‘buy me’?

I can tell you if you have everything in plastic … if you have those rack systems that many of the largest retailer utilize … if you have one-box displays, IT DOES NOT SAY BUY ME!

What about your pricing? Chances are your prices are ridiculously high or your prices are low, but your produce stinks, so people only shop at your store once or twice. I am trying not to call out these stores by name, but I assure you there are stores that fit these parameters, and they might be your stores.

The one group of stores that almost always get it right are the independents. They have great displays, value pricing, serve their neighborhoods with ethnic products, have knowledgeable, one week-out ads and concentrate on fresh, not grocery. I have been preaching all of these things for the past 20 years. I have to tell you, these independent-store produce departments do twice the volume, in half the space of the large retailers, more profits and with about one-tenth the customer count. Maybe you can learn something here?

Let’s get to your objections.

  1. With that much produce on display, there will be too much shrink.
    First, let us put this into perspective. I am not saying you stack $100,000 of produce if you are only doing $50,000 a week, but don’t let it look like you are doing $5,000 a week. You know what cuts waste better than anything else? SALES! Get rid of those rack systems. Take that beautiful produce out of the box, and display it with pride. Get rid of all unnecessary packaging; produce is more beautiful naked. Stack it high, and watch it fly. Use dummy shows to make your stands look awesome with less product. Obviously, you can’t have a dummy making your produce look and sell beautifully, which leads us to our next objection
  2. We can’t pay that much for help.
    Let me be clear … a real produce man is a profit-center, not an expense. He keeps your waste down by proper maintenance of your displays as well as your walk-in box, the rotation of your product on the stands and in your box. That employee makes your displays pop to increase sales and is a customer service representative. When the shopper needs a sweet melon for a Saturday night, he knows how to pick the perfect one. The produce manager who set up that store that thousands of you WOWED last week does not get $15 an hour. He is worth his weight in gold, and I can GUARANTEE you his department is more profitable than your department even after his hefty salary. This superstar is also training all of your lower-paid, entry-level employees so that in a few years’ time you have a stable of superstars to fuel your growth in other locations. You get what you pay for, and when you pay more, you get much more in profits. On a personal note, take me for example. I am a very expensive employee. The caveat is, I don’t cost you anything. Why? First, I guarantee I do the work of 10 of your bargain employees. Second, I make more profits no matter what you pay me. Ask anyone I have worked for in the past 40 years. Again, you get what you pay for.

    On another tangent, you know what boggles my mind? Chain Store A goes out of business. Chain Store B hires Chain Store’s A management to implement change in Chain Store B. Am I missing something here?
  3. If we lower the price, consumers will not buy any more.
    You may have a point here, but, in my experience, especially in ethnic areas, this is not the case. They buy more when prices are low and buy less or not at all when prices are high.

    But let’s assume you are right. Let’s say you have the right produce man or woman. Your displays look great, and now you throw value-pricing into the mix and you get away from that old pricing paradigm that your accounts gave you and you incorporate a more pragmatic approach. What would happen? Usually, consumers shop at more than one place, so they will see your pricing and compare to the others in your area. They see that your produce department always looks great and your prices on many, but not all, items are much better than the rest. They don’t buy any more than they use to buy, but I will bet the ranch you will get more customers in no time.

    This one scenario alone is the reason I have one independent store owner who only opens stores in close proximity to the large retail giants, and he wins every time.

    Another important note is that produce is also in a fight with other foods. Most people know the benefits of fresh produce and if given the choice, would always pick health-friendly produce to feed a family. Sometimes it comes down to money. A box of macaroni and cheese is $.99, and a head of broccoli is $2.49. We are going to lose that fight. What really makes me CRAZY is when the large retailers are selling that broccoli for $2.49 a head and broccoli is $4 FOB a box, which hurts everyone including themselves, but again those accounts don’t know produce.

    If lower prices don’t work, why do you all put products on sale? I would also bet the ranch you sell more volume of that item when you do.

Please understand I say these things for my love of produce, not to disparage you.

Paul Manfre
Paul Manfre

Paul Manfre is general manager, purchasing, sales, and a supply-and-demand specialist for Top Katz LLC, an importer/shipper/grower that has offices New York City, Nogales, AZ and McAllen, TX. Top Katz specializes in “contract pricing” for a variety of commodities throughout the world.

This article was excerpted from Paul Manfre’s The Produce Manifesto, which can also be found at: linkedin.com/pulse/produce-manifesto-retail-paul-manfre/