Why Not Just Retrain and Retain?

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the June 2018 issue of Produce Business.

As we enter the busiest season for Produce, we must look at all the opportunities there are to improve our overall operation, including the training and retention of good staff in each department.

During this time, management usually seems content with having enough people to perform the necessary tasks and is resistant to adding any extra expense that involves training or retaining individuals on the produce team.

Don Harris - Retail PerspectiveA forward-thinking produce manager views this important time of year as a fertile training ground for developing new, efficient and motivated personnel and developing a strong team that pays dividends beyond the summer selling season.

Upper management doesn’t always see the same opportunity and often resists. Many times, management does not support the request for additional hours, training and support. This attitude once again proves that “they just don’t get it.”

The best produce retailers always seize on opportunities to improve their operation. The retention of trained, qualified labor is always a priority. Making this effort can bear significant results not only for the produce operation but ultimately the entire store.

We all recognize the cost of constant turnover of produce personnel: degradation of the presentation and reputation of the department because of a lack of basic skills and task completion. To constantly keep retraining entry-level personnel has a substantial cost.

That cost can be reduced significantly by better training and mentoring of present personnel. Investment in individual clerks or team members will pay back dividends many times. A well-trained, engaging staff increases efficiency and fosters goodwill with customers.

Although it may be a tough sell for executives concerned with cost control, encouraging them to take a chance and test this program will show that the results more than justify the additional expense.

Training and development of staff must be coupled with enhancements for team members, including financial rewards, advancement potential or “a piece of the action.”

Training and development of staff must be coupled with enhancements for team members, including financial rewards, advancement potential or “a piece of the action.” Overall, it may be as simple as a multi-tiered wage scale that reflects the advancement in skills of the employee — a clear path up the ladder of responsibility — and, most controversial of all, sharing in the bonus potential of the department.

These are all ideas that have been floated in the industry from time to time but always end up being rejected by upper management as too costly or too big a break from tradition. Given the labor situation as it now stands, these potential solutions should be reconsidered.

Some retailers are implementing these concepts while others are looking at incorporating them into their operations. The most forward-thinking and innovative of these retailers are combining all three into a comprehensive package of enhancements, while emphasizing training and development that will be needed to meet challenges in the future. This approach appeals to many young workers, including Millennials, who are looking for employment that offers advancement as well as personal gain. It also projects a positive image of a company as one that not only looks to hire but also develops its employees into important parts of the overall organization.

With all of the new influences on the retail market, it behooves the retailer, in order to survive and flourish in this type of environment, to look at any possible manner of retaining labor after investing in their initial training and development. The continual turnover of entry-level personnel that has been the historic norm for the produce retail industry cannot continue if the industry is to survive in these changing times. A fresh, new look at how labor is recruited, trained, and kept should be a priority for every operation. Inevitably, as the labor market tightens, these actions will increase not only the marketability of each retail company but also the benefits and strengths of that company to attract and keep quality, well-trained personnel.


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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