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The Price of Trying

by Adam Zack — April 19, 2017

Adam Zack

Be proud of your accomplishments

I harp seemingly incessantly about trying new things. New products, services, personnel relations, advertising methods, blah, blah, blah. And while I’ll go to my grave believing the only constant in the grocery industry is change, very little has been mentioned about how to cope with the results of failed attempted change. I used to work with this know-it-all blowhard that attacked every change I made to the organization. No matter what it was, it was a bad idea that he could do better. Turned out he just had an inferiority complex, but it still resulted in many struggles and battles that were counterproductive at best. Like all wars, there were battles won and lost. Not being a very good loser – actually just hating to lose, not being a bad loser – it affected me personally when one of my new programs failed. I was asked why it bothered me so much. Why did I take every defeat like it was the end of the war? It was business, right? And in the course of business there are dozens of setbacks every single week. The strong leader learns from them and moves forward. But still, that’s the easier said than done part because when we are fully invested in our company, in our project, in our team, every failure t...
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IT IS WHAT IT IS

by Adam Zack — April 12, 2017

“OK, I’m bored with my store’s sandwiches anyway.”

A few years back I worked with a guy who frequently said “It is what it is.” Always kind of bugged me the way he said it, as it implied “Those idiots running the company are going to do what they want, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I am resigned to just passively make generalized, broad comments about my inability to affect any type of positive change.” And since I was one of those idiots running the company, I took some offense to it. It’s a pretty stupid comment anyway. Of course it is what it is. That’s the definition of it. It IS what IT is. It’s NOT what IT is not.” Duh. It made me think of a much more meaningful, actionable and thoughtful saying: “If we keep on doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep on getting what we’re getting.” Yes there is the need for consistency in most of our procedures, services and operations. Consistency in producing uniform quality. Consistency on operations that positively differentiate you from competition. But consistency of mediocre quality and so-so operations and products results in consistent mediocrity. And your competitors love pouncing on mediocrity.“How’s their deli?”“It’s...
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New Business

by Adam Zack — April 5, 2017

Adam Zack

“My grocery store sucks!”

I was talking with DW the other day and he said “How are new business prospects looking? We are finishing up the major website work and the designers and programmers will be ready for new work.” I had to admit that there was nothing major in the pipeline and I would re-examine my contact list and push ahead with making new ones. The difficulty in attracting new business – any new business – is that the prospective customer has to have at least a little feeling that he has a need for change. And that is particularly difficult in the food business where change is resisted like trips to the dentist and purse strings are pulled so tight. So how do you attract new customers to your store? They need to have a need. (“I’m hungry” or “My grocery store sucks, I need to find a new place to shop.”) They need convenience, a sense of value, appreciation of their new patronage, quality that doesn’t disappoint. What makes it more difficult is that new customers don’t identify themselves usually —they come in unannounced and experience your store and if they have a bad experience then they just don’t come back. You never even knew they were there. It’s one of the reasons great operators use a first rate Myster...
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But I don’t like it…

by Adam Zack — March 29, 2017

Personal preferences, not business reasons…

I was talking to this guy who is a grocery manager today and I told him that I found a distributor who would supply him with these tortilla chips that I thought would really sell. He said “But I thought you didn’t like those chips. They changed the type of tortilla they use for them.” I said “Hey guy, it’s true that I don’t like them.” (and I really used to until they changed recipes), “But it’s not about what I like, it’s what the customer wants.” Sounds pretty damn wise and insightful, doesn’t it? Nothing to make you feel old like being wise. Anyway, it struck me that so many of our business decisions are based on what we like, and not what might best suit the needs of the customer. Wine guys are notorious for it. “I don’t like buttery chardonnays.” So no displays are built around buttery Chardonnays, even though it’s the most popular style, and most consumers are not into the “no-oak, minerally” chardonnays. They want something that is like the profile of their Kendall Jackson or Rombauer. It’s good business. But “Those wines are terrible!” whines the wine clerk snob. “I want to educate them on something better!” Well, buddy boy, they just want some...
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Apple’s and Orange’s

by Adam Zack — March 22, 2017

Adam Zack

Black Grapeless Grapes $1.48

The three most important keys to great sales are: 1. Presentation 2. Presentation 3. Presentation. Customers buy with their eyes. If food doesn’t look great, no matter how it tastes, they are far less likely to buy. You can always let them taste the delicious Ugly Rice Salad and get them to purchase it, but with hundreds of choices of fresh foods you can’t even sample 10% of the delicious but hideous items that may be put out. Fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, salads, hot foods – they all need to look tempting. That’s why packaging and signage is a billion dollar industry. It tells the story of the beautiful food. But how about what is written on the packaging and signage? Because so much of our commerce is food, everyone can relate to it. And since it’s so widespread, nowhere is the misuse of grammar and punctuation more prevalent. These are real signs seen in our grocery stores:
  • Banana’s 59¢
  • Open Sunday’s 11:00-4:00
  • Jam’s and Jellies
  • Black Grapeless Grapes $1.48
  • Pop Tards 2.69
  • Yumbo Jams 3 lbs/$1
  • Rot Chicken 7.99...
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Can I be honest with you?

by Adam Zack — March 15, 2017

“Does this dress make me look fat?”

I’ve been obsessed with speech phrases, responses and habits lately. Someone finishing my sentence before I finish drives me nuts. Responding with “I know” makes me crazy. “Perfect” – really? Contradicting every statement with “No” and a correcting comment: Put me in a straight jacket. It’s me, I know. I’m a grammar and speech lunatic. So the latest one that I keep hearing over and over is “Can I be honest with you?” Think about it. What’s the right response? “Um, no. I really prefer to be lied to.” Or “Why would you, I’m never honest with you.” I suppose if I asked “How does this shirt look on me?” or “Does this dress make me look fat?” when answered with “Can I just be honest with you?” might be appropriate – and at the same time make me (or someone, I don’t wear dresses) feel sad. But in the course of everyday conversation it’s a waste of words – one of those automatic responses like “perfect”. I think it came from some guy who was always a yes man. “Yessir” and “I just do what I’m told.”, who one day got sick of it and said to the boss “Can I just be honest with you?” The boss, thinking this guy had always been honest in the p...
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The Little Things

by Adam Zack — March 8, 2017

Adam Zack

Treat little things like they are important

I’ve maintained for years that it’s the little things that matter most – in relationships, in business, in families and in everyday life. The little kindnesses shown consistently add up to great appreciation. Little problems solved, questions answered and efforts made greatly reduce the probability that a big problem will have to be dealt with. Consistent awareness of what your partner, or your customer, values most makes the need to something big. Treat little things like they are important and there’s no need to buy that diamond bracelet to make up for your thoughtlessness or to send that customer who stopped shopping with you a $100 gift card to return. It’s easy to tell someone that the little things matter. They will agree wholeheartedly every time. They’ll say “I know, right?” And although they agree, they’ll never do the little things consistently that add up to make the big impact. I don’t even think you can teach someone to do little acts of kindness. You either get it and do it or you don’t. The more selfish the person, the less likely they are to do the little things for their spouse, their friends and family and their customers. So when you see that employee that alway...
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Worth The Wait?

by Adam Zack — March 1, 2017

Waiting can be so excruciating

Waiting can be so excruciating

Waiting is a two edged sword. I don’t think anything besides waiting can be so excruciating or satisfying, with little, if any, leeway in between. I say this as I wait at the Oakland airport as the result of a cancelled flight and having to wait three hours for the next flight out. Excruciating. Even with a bar in sight. Each minute seems like a dozen. Waiting sucks. It’s the same in our grocery business. Every minute a customer spends in line seems like a dozen. Waiting at the deli counter for a sandwich seems like eternity. Take a look at the people waiting in line at your store. They look at their watch. Repeatedly. 12 times a minute. They roll their eyes and give an half-hearted, half pissed-off “thanks” when their order finally is ready. Waiting sucks when you’re a customer. Is waiting ever good? How about “Good things come to those who wait.” Or “Worth the wait.” Do they? Is it? Convincing a customer that the two months it took to build their website or the extra day it took to build the ad was worth the wait is a tough job. Telling a customer to hold their horses and just be patient usually does not help, except when dealing extremely patient people (of whic...
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The Best Expense

by Adam Zack — February 22, 2017

Adam Zack

The excitement is contagious

It seems like it’s the grocery industry trade show season.  It’s kind of like the Movie and Television award season, but just pushed back a tiny bit.  From the Fancy Food Show in January, NGA in February, Natural Foods Show in March and many supplier food shows (UNFI, Unified Grocers, Tony’s Fine Foods) in the next couple months, the opportunity to see what’s going on in our industry is abundant.  But with grocers increasingly busy with daily operations and trying to control expenses and out-duel competition, many see attendance to these shows as just not important enough, too inconvenient or just too expensive to pay employees to attend. That’s where they get it all wrong.  Attending one or more of the most relevant shows for your store with some key employees is an investment that pays big dividends. You are constantly looking for ideas to increase sales and energy in the store, so let the employees do that work for you by exposing them to new products and idea that they will actually implement. After the show, have a 30-minute meeting with those that attended (and some key employees who may not have) and have them present the three best products they saw. The excitement is contagious and their enth...
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Listen Up, part 2

by Adam Zack — February 15, 2017

“Can I finish my story?”

“Can I finish my story?”

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. CoveyAbout 18 months ago I wrote about a guy who during any conversation just had to finish the other person’s sentences. It’s one of the most annoying habits – and it really is just a bad habit – that someone can have. I’ve noticed it a lot lately with a young guy and a lady I know. It’s a combination of incredibly poor manners and even poorer listening skills. I struggle with the urge to reach out with a quick smack to change the behavior. Or just roll my eyes. A good friend of mine actually gets this pissed off look on his face and says “Can I finish my story?” when people cut him off before he’s done talking. So the question here is how can you effectively and tactfully point out the habit and give the lesson that listening is one of the greatest skills and most important tools for success? How can we as managers be better listeners and teachers? In the Heart of Leadership class by Amba Gale, if someone in the group interrupted (or even got up to use the bathroom) during her lesson, instead of just ignoring the disruption and going on, she w...
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