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Obsession

by Adam Zack — July 20, 2021

No one has just one obsession.

What’s your obsession? I was asked that question by a young friend Stephen this weekend as we were sitting with our families at the beach in Carlsbad. I was momentarily speechless. Was it a trick question? Was he asking in front of my wife to get a salacious answer? I’ve been asked “What’s your problem?” before. Many times, but that’s a long list. The question has so many potential angles. Obsession can be bad like addiction or good like attention to detail. It can be broad like a life goal of serving others or a gambling addiction. I didn’t really know how to answer and was processing the question when my wife answered, “Pool.” We got a pool table a few months ago and now we shoot a few games a night after work before dinner. We’re terrible, but it’s fun, it doesn’t matter who wins, and we are not quite as bad as when we got the table. It was a good answer. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and to be successful and have longevity in the grocery business we have to have an obsession with our stores. Whatever your business model – low price, prepa...
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Unseen Greatness

by Adam Zack — July 14, 2021

“White asparagus never sees the light of day.”

Most of us aspire to do great things. To leave a mark on the world, or at least on those you know. We all have at least one great quality that makes us who we are and drives us to get out of bed and go to work. There is so much unseen greatness that only requires a little cultivating to bring it above the surface. Think of it like white asparagus. I personally hate asparagus, but pretty much everyone I know loves it, so I am always happy to cook some when I’m grilling. So white asparagus never sees the light of day. It looks pale and unnatural. It’s only when it breaks through the soil and into light that it enters the “green vegetable family” and makes all my friends and family who think it’s so great happy. I guarantee that if there was only white asparagus, it would not be nearly so popular. Unseen greatness needs that light of affirmation to grow. One of the best, most affirming statements you can ever say to someone is “That’s a great question.”  Successful speakers do it all the time. Especially in a public setting, someone who has the nerve to raise their hand to comment feels 100% less nervous about it when the validity of their question is acknowledged. The same g...
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The Good Protege or the Bad Teacher

by Adam Zack — July 7, 2021

“Impart your experience, knowledge and skill.”

It takes a special person to be a teacher. Very special. I was talking to a friend who teaches design and the stories of distractions, excuses and the inability of some students to grasp basic concepts sounds extremely challenging. But school is much different than being a teacher at work or in life. In school they pass or fail, class moves on, and the cycle starts again. Rarely does the student surpass the teacher in knowledge and skill. In work and in life, the role is really more of a mentor than a teacher. You’re not teaching masses of students. You are imparting your experience, knowledge and skill to someone who has a high interest in achieving your level of success. They appreciate your wisdom and want to make you proud. Mentoring can take place over months or years or even decades. It involves taking a personal stake and an unselfish view to really succeed. But how do you tell if you have truly succeeded in mentoring your protege? Is it OK to be just an okay mentor? In most cases, that’s the case. You impart some teachings that make the student better, sometimes drastically better, but it’s not often that they surpass you in a way that they could mentor you. It’s...
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What makes the grass greener?

by Adam Zack — June 29, 2021

“The greenest patch around.”

A lot of people think there’s greener pastures for them out there. They look to switch jobs often, always thinking that they can do better or that their current job is just too hard or the boss looks at them funny or they are just not appreciated. And a lot of times those things are true. I remember one of my very good friends who also worked for me wanting to start a seafood restaurant about 20 years ago. We have a great relationship, so he sought my advice. We weighed the pros and cons, expenses and benefits, trying to see the grass ahead and if it was indeed greener. He had my support on whatever he decided (I’m here to help think things through, not hold anyone back.) Ultimately he decided not to hop the fence and has made a life for himself that he can be very proud of. As leaders of people who often see greener grass over the fence without really looking down at the grass they are standing on, what can we do? Finding good employees is difficult right now, so how can our grass be the greenest in town? Wolfgang Puck told a story that the grass is greener where you water it the most. As the head groundskeepers of our grocery store grass, it’s our job to diligently water it, fertilize it and keep it...
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The Standard Greeting

by Adam Zack — June 22, 2021

“Have you ever touched a monkey? “

Everyday, as I encounter people I know and strangers, my standard greeting is something along the lines of “Hi, how are you today?” and they respond something like “Good, how are you?” and I say “Great, thanks.” I think it’s “Greeting Small Talk”. And I really dislike small talk. It’s mostly insincere and a silence filler. It’s not engaging and it really doesn’t require you to be “present” or even really care. I think about it a lot, and often vow not to reply the same way, but can’t seem to break the habit. So I was listening to David Sedaris (a terrific observational writer if you’ve never read any of his books) and he talked about how he meets a lot of people on his book tours and speaking engagements. He strives to ask interesting questions that often turn into stories in his essays. One that really made me laugh was when he asked a woman if she had ever touched a monkey. She replied “Oh, can you smell it on me?” Turns out she volunteered with some kind of monkey rescue organization. So I thought of some questions that I will try and ask instead of the small talk “how you doing?”
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I know, I know…..nothing!

by Adam Zack — June 16, 2021

“Every day presents many opportunities to teach and be taught.”

Amid the sea of “I know” conversation responses (I know! I know, right? Ya, ya, ya, I know.), the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. My wife and I joke about how our response has gone from “I know” to “What do I know? Nothin’!” I have a new appreciation for just how much I can learn from others just by listening and observing. Every day presents many opportunities to teach and be taught, just by being aware of what’s going on around us. I find myself saying more frequently “I never knew that” about someone. By not paying attention and jumping straight to “I know” I bypassed actually knowing something. I am working towards being that old man who sits on the front porch and observes life around him. And I’ll be ready to impart what I’ve learned as the opportunity arises.  Not the grumpy old man type who yells at whoever gets in my way, but the cool old man that doesn’t complain about everything and who you share a cold beer with, asking to tell you some things he knows.  Like the time he accidently got kicked in the eye at a punk by a crowd surfing, Doc Marten wearing kid. Good times.

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Do the best most

by Adam Zack — June 9, 2021

“Not the best, mind you, the most.”

I was in Oklahoma this past weekend and was struck by the genuine kindness and caring that Oklahomans show to each other and visitors alike. It seemed like such a contrast to the “Me First” way that I typically see here in California. A guy in line for the men’s bathroom just in front of me at the Women’s College World Series game was asked by a guy behind me “Are any stalls open?” The guy in front of me said “Yes, one, but I’m leaving it just in case someone runs in with an ‘emergency.’” Wait, what?? Patiently waiting to use the bathroom and being considerate of others? On a bike tour of the city, our guide, a native of the city, explained that Oklahomans always try to do the most with what they have. Through the Dustbowl time, economic busts, adversity, and even the horrific bombing of the Murrah Federal building in 1995, the general philosophy is to do the most. Not the best, mind you, the most.  Instead of what we typically think “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” they take it one step further and quench the thirst of as many people as they can with that lemon...
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Family Strong

by Adam Zack — June 2, 2021

“Timeliness, appearance and performance have to be the examples. “

“Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.”-Unknown When I started work in my family’s grocery business at age 15, the store had a rule that family members couldn’t work in the same department. And members of the same family working in the store was seriously frowned upon. Fraternization between employees was so frowned upon there was actually a non-fraternization policy, which is crazy because my mom met my step-dad when she was a cashier at the store and he was general manager. He asked her out and they got married a year later! How the heck did I even get hired with that policy in place?Over the years policies and thoughts have changed dramatically, and since 90% of small businesses are family owned, the way that family members – especially second and third generation – are treated and interact with non-family employees is worthy of discussion. On one hand, having family members participate in the operations of the business...
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Practice Preparation

by Adam Zack — May 25, 2021

“People are raring to go and experience tastes and food excitement.”

I’ve never given a lot of thought to the church choir. Or any music at church. They get up there, sing or play, and then move offstage. No one claps or yells appreciation. There’s no standing ovation or encore. The sermon resumes and everyone goes about the rest of their Sunday business. What I didn’t give any appreciation to was that those church musicians actually have to practice. They practice a lot. The commitment to do something they love for a religion that they are committed to says something very strong about the character church musicians and singers possess. Face it, no one is singing in the church choir to land a record deal or to even score big tips when the guitar case is passed around. And the hours and hours that they practice and prepare are mostly taken for granted by the congregation. It reminded me that to be successful grocers and business people, we need to practice and prepare to really shine. As we emerge from the pandemic, promotions and store events are going to differentiate you from the chains. People are raring to go and experience tastes and food excitement. We have to practice and prepare to nail it. Nail it, and they ke...
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Some people never learn. Some do.

by Adam Zack — May 18, 2021

“If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not learning.”

When I was a young driver in my 20’s I would always try and look ahead of the car in front of me when we were at a stop sign to anticipate when it was going to be my turn to go. The first time I hit another car was a light tap. I saw the opening into traffic, watched the car in front of me start to go, then started to go myself, bumping bumpers when the driver ahead didn’t actually go. It was a no-harm, no-foul situation. I apologized and we went on our way. A few years later, waiting behind another car in front of me to go and get on the highway, I looked ahead and saw the opening. The car in front of me started to go, and thinking that I had time to merge in too, floored it. Except the car ahead decided she didn’t have time to safely merge and BAM, I totally rear ended them, causing thousands of dollars of damage to both our cars. It was the last time I made that mistake. Now I focus squarely on the car in front of me, not even looking ahead, until they are gone. I even taught the lesson to my two daughters. One listened and remembered. I think about learning from my mistakes every time I drive now. I still make plenty of mistakes, but that one lesson has helped me not make th...
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