Last updated on November 28th, 2016 at 03:31 pm
by Art Patch/Special to The Shelby Report
As a college student, I had the good fortune to work for a manager who was willing to share with me what it took to run a grocery business. He let me know right away that no question was without merit. But before he began responding to my barrage of questions, he wanted me to understand that he had two principles that he felt were critical in a manager’s success: 1) A focus on detail and 2) attention to the sales floor.
1) A supermarket has so many moving parts that you must be able to focus on details; in other words, the devil’s in the details. This includes understanding administrative and personnel issues like payroll, workers compensation, food safety, etc.
2) When he told me the supermarket business is a pennies business, he must have noticed a funny look on my face, because before I could ask the question, he responded that the average supermarket makes at the very most five pennies for every dollar of sales.
Since this was during the holidays, the manager asked me to join him as he made what he called his “holiday pennies for profit” trip around the store. It would give me the opportunity to learn how he focused on profit opportunities.
As our tour started, he pulled a paper from his shirt pocket that was obviously a list of items. Our first stop was the produce department. He asked me to check for fresh herbs and water chestnuts. Confused, I asked why didn’t he have lettuce or bananas on his list. He had asked me to find the holiday for-profit items—that’s why. He had confidence that lettuce and bananas would be fresh and full.
In the meat department, he asked me to check for 16/20 shrimp in the seafood case. His logic was that to find shrimp, I would have checked the entire display to see if it was fresh and full.
The center store was more comprehensive, but the same idea. My short list included capers, gravy mix, balsamic vinegar and ranch dip mix. The manager checked such items as red and green colors of Jell-o, cloves, baking cups and Chex Mix. Together, we completed our list.
By walking his “holiday pennies for profit” list, he could be reasonably sure his customers were going to be happy shoppers because they were able to complete their entire list. The exercise took less than an hour.
I asked the manager how he could afford the time to do the pennies-for-profit exercise on a regular basis when it seemed his job had so much office work. His reply still makes me smile. “The office portion of my job helps us save money, the time I spend walking the sales floor ideally makes money!”
After a 40-year career that included executive-level positions with Safeway, Lucky Stores, Appletree Markets and Save Mart/Food Maxx, Art Patch retired from the retail grocery business in 2007. He is a graduate of San Jose State College and the Cornell Food Executive Program. Patch is on the ExecuForce Team of Encore Associates and is a counselor for SCORE, helping new and emerging businesses develop business and marketing plans. He welcomes your feedback. Email him at [email protected].