by Adam Zack — October 8, 2015My dad always said, “Our people are our greatest asset.” And it was true. Our people gave the stores personality, dedication and consistency. In fact, the most frequent customer compliments were about employees. It was a time when young people could make a career in the grocery business and the training and development spent were rewarded with years of wonderful service. I don’t think anyone will argue that times are much different now, and that perhaps the greatest challenge facing grocers today is finding quality employees that will be great brand ambassadors. Generation Y has different priorities, goals and work ethic than previous generations. Not that it is a bad thing, it’s just different. Store managers and owners have to learn to evolve their hiring and recruitment practices to appeal to today’s job seekers. That brings me to today’s topic: What to do when you encounter a fantastic employee in your everyday life. One of the easiest, most overlooked and cheapest (admit it, we are grocers and we watch every penny) ways to recruit is to have your business card at the ready to present when you get great service. You’ll see it at Starbucks, In-n-Out, Chick-fil-...read more
by Adam Zack — October 1, 2015An employee that is excited about your store, or about a new product or promotion is by far the best selling tool there is. The signage can be perfect, the ad just beautiful, the price spot-on, the product a winner, and if executed correctly sales will be good, maybe even great. Add employee enthusiasm to that mix, and BAM! Out of the park! Think of it this way. You can have a crappy to so-so sign, a price that is maybe not ideal and a product that maybe tastes great, but is not so easy on the eyes. Think chipped beef on toast (or SOS as my dad used to call it from his Army days. Stands for S*#@ on a Shingle). Or a bowl of plain refried beans. Not exactly the most appetizing looking foods. BUT, toss in an employee that is just bubbling with excitement about that SOS. One who is informed and actually likes it and can tell the customers just what makes this the best SOS they will ever have. One who is honest and sincere and, well, enthusiastic and you have tripled the sales. Quadrupuled. Maybe even increased them ten-fold, all because of their enthusiastic approach to SOS.So Adam, where do you suggest I find these enthusiastic employees? Pretty easy to say from there at your computer while ...read more
by Adam Zack — September 23, 2015DW’s excellent column about conventional wisdom reminded me of the extreme importance of change in the food business. A grocery store is like a shark – it has to keep moving or it will die, literally. The biggest obstacle to change is indeed “conventional wisdom”. It takes strong and visionary leadership to get the old guard to keep innovating and changing to meet the changing needs of our customers. I think if all of us had a buck for every time someone said “Um, well that’s how we’ve always done it” we’d be buying that vacation beach house.I was speaking with a prospective new client yesterday who I have really come to like and enjoy talking to. We were discussing the challenges of getting multiple members of leadership of a store chain to agree and to make decisions that result in some serious changes in their marketing and how much of a chore that is. You can have great ideas and vision, but without anyone buying in and actually implementing change, you only have stagnation. You have status quo. You have conventional wisdom. You may be maintaining your status quo and doing a great job at it, but if yo...read more
by Adam Zack — September 16, 2015So I was tossing a baseball around with my brother and he threw it wildly over my head and broke a window. What to do? Of course, I called a plumber. Then I wanted to learn how to make fresh pasta, so I looked around online and signed up for a class on Mexican cooking. Then later I wanted some help with my fantasy football picks so I did some research and found the guy who was the best horse race handicapper in the state! Lucky me! This morning when I was cleaning up the mess the plumber made I fell and broke my finger. Luckily I was able to get an appointment later this afternoon with San Diego’s best proctologist, who I am sure will fix it right up. So what the hell am I talking about? Well, bear with me a bit. With the grocery debacle that is Haggen now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy I wondered how they could fail so spectacularly and so quickly. (For those of you not familiar with Haggen, they were an 18 store Northwest grocery chain owned by an investment firm who agreed to purchase and rebrand 140 Safeway, Vons and Albertsons stores in the Pacific North and Southwest. The first stores were converted this past spring and the sales decline began almost immediately.) Of ...read more
by Adam Zack — September 9, 2015The general public has considered jobs in a grocery store for generations with general disdain. Tell your uncle that you work at a grocery store, and the first comment is something along the line of “What are you going to do for a real job?” It’s an industry that is under-appreciated. It’s thought of blue collar, at best. Think of someone with a career in grocery, and what do you think of? Mr. Whipple? A grouchy old meat cutter? A cashier that snaps her gum and complains that her back hurts?The reality is that the grocery business is one of the hardest industries there is. Intense competition, demanding customers, always working on weekends and holidays and fairly low wages. It’s no wonder your uncle expects you to get a real job. But there are thousands, if not millions of employees who are not just working because they need the paycheck. They actually love their job. They love their customers. They love their co-workers. They love food. And they take pride in their market. Every day. The missing link comes in when store management and ownership fails to recognize and appreciate these employees. Worse than that, they fail to communicate with them. It happens ...read more
by Adam Zack — September 3, 2015When I was young I was different from all the other kids. Everyone I knew either wanted a dog or had one. I didn’t. Maybe it was the thought of cleaning up after them, or maybe the possibility of incessant barking. Or maybe it was just never got the “I need a four legged buddy” gene. Even my own dad told me “There’s something wrong with a person who doesn’t like dogs!” I didn’t say that I didn’t like them (or maybe I did). What I said was I didn’t want one. Still don’t. But I am definitely in the minority. Dog (and cat) business is BIG business, and I do like business. Which brings us to this week’s topic, creating promotions and campaigns aimed at your four legged friends and their owners. The most shared and “liked” Facebook posts include dogs (specifically puppies) and cats (here kitty…). It’s a bond that grocery retailers need to embrace. The pet owners go to the pet store when they need pet food or supplies, but they come to your store much more often because they don’t buy their food in 40 pound bags. So are your pet toys, chews and treats really current and trendy or is it the same old Hartz products, Alpo and Kal Kan? Are they strategically placed in impulse locations or are the...read more
by Adam Zack — August 26, 2015I was recently talking to an executive chef that ran a restaurant/gourmet market/patisserie in downtown Los Angeles. It’s called Bottega Louie and they do an amazing amount of sales volume. Amazing. One of their signature items is their homemade French macarons. They sell something like $20,000 a week in these pretty little cookies. And the key to those sales, he felt, was the packaging. They spent money for design and a fancy box, which resulted in the cookies becoming a distinctive and prestigious gift item. Think about it – how often are your purchasing decisions initially influenced by the package or wrapping your eye sees? The king of branded packaging has got to be Tiffany. The sight of a Tiffany Blue Box with the signature white satin ribbon has made girls’ hearts race since 1906. It’s brilliant branding. As grocers we are always working to reduce costs and a significant expense in the industry is wrap and packaging supplies. We are always looking for cheaper. But does that sandwich on a foam tray wrapped tight in plastic wrap really help the sales? Nope. And does that fruit parfait that gets put in the least expensive plast...read more
by Adam Zack — August 20, 2015Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates. That may be true to a point, because you really don’t know what you’re going to get from life. But if you have a box of chocolates, you know you’re at least going to get chocolate. I think that life, no make that a good life, is like a great sandwich. And what makes a great sandwich? A half pound of meat? No. Interesting ingredients? Yeah, that helps. Great quality? Sure. But what really makes a great sandwich is balance. A truly awesome sandwich is one that has the perfect amount of the main ingredient. For this example we’ll say house roasted beef. The bread is vital, as it is the bookends of our sandwich. It’s slightly crispy, light and airy. It’s the compliment to the insides, not the dominatrix. The condiments are artfully smeared. Not too much mayo or mustard, maybe some horseradish aioli. If our sandwich has some veggies, they are crisp and fresh. And of course the cheese is sliced thin and layered very gently. Our perfect sandwich is not too big. In fact we can eat the first half, savor a sip of iced tea, and then eat the second half without feeling overly stuffed. There are no regrets of “Ugh, I ate too much” with the perfect sandwich. ...read more
by Adam Zack — August 12, 2015A while back I recounted something my Uncle Butch (yes, that’s his real name) told me about waterskiing. “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.” It really is applicable to most anything in life worth doing, If you’re not failing at times, or making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. Even someone named Perfecto (supposedly he makes the best Paella in Los Angeles) makes mistakes. Excellent managers realize that their team is going to make errors, miss targets, under or over estimate and fail sometimes. It is the effort that counts – when it’s well thought out, planned and executed with the best intentions. The upside of making a mistake is the learning portion that comes with it, and the result of the next effort being better than the previous one. But this is not about making mistakes and doing better the next time. It’s about what to do when you do make a mistake. Human nature is to hope no one notices. The Blame Game is very popular, as is the Denial Shuffle and the It Doesn’t Really Matter Two Step. So when we make a mistake, the hardest part often is owning up to it, and the hardest words are I’m Sorry. And not the eye-rolling, “Sorrrr-ryyyy” like you used to give your mom. Or the half dismissive “Uh, yeah, sorry” that you mumble out. No, real learnin...read more
by Adam Zack — August 6, 2015Are great leaders made or born? And what are the traits of a truly great leader? I define a great leader like this: A great leader could call their team at the middle of the night, tell them that there is a plumbing problem and all the toilets and sinks are backing up in the store, and their help is really needed. Then, not because they fear for their jobs, not because they are worried about lack of sleep or getting their hands dirty, but because the leader needs their help and wouldn’t have called if he didn’t, they head right over to the store. And the leader is there, plunger in hand, directing the team and helping at the same time.
- a person or thing that leads.
- a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.