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IN THE TRENCHES: Let's bring the fun back into the business

by Ron Pelger | June 02, 2010
Joe Namath, former star quarterback of the New York Jets, once said, "When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things."

There's a Western-themed restaurant in my town that offers in great food, friendly service and a good atmosphere. The waiters and waitresses enjoy working there, and they occasionally entertain customers with a country- western dance that really excites the crowd. The employees have a lot of fun at this restaurant, and the customers keep coming back again and again.

Are you having fun at work? Is it exciting to work for your company? Are there smiles, laughter and joy throughout the building? These questions are not always answered with positive replies these days.

At a recent industry event, I spoke with several people from all levels of the industry. I asked how they were doing with the current business environment. One person replied, "The business is not fun anymore." Another said, "There just isn't any sales excitement like in the past." These words came directly from people in the trenches. Like it or not, this is the real world today.

Whenever visiting a grower, shipper or retailer, I can always sense the mood of the company. Whether walking into a store, touring a packing facility or just sitting in a meeting, the surrounding atmosphere usually reveals a snapshot of the workplace. Make no mistake about it, if the air is full of tension and the employees are stone-faced, it's a sure sign of an unsettled organization.

Staff members need to have the desire to enjoy working for their company. Currently, many seem to be centered on completing a task rather than accomplishing a fun challenge. When the smiles and enjoyment are taken out of the business, sales and profit go with them.

I remember during my time at A&P when all our produce supervisors used to have fun competing with each other to see who could build the most creative display. They would call a buyer and have pallets of specific items shipped out to their stores. Then they would follow up with detailed display instructions and encourage the produce managers to sell more than the other stores in the district.

Those displays sold massive amounts of produce, and everyone had a lot of fun doing it, which enhanced sales and profit immensely. Fun and excitement are what this business is all about.

Do you know of anyone who wants to sell more produce, but feels too discouraged to do so? If so, there is something troubling about his or her company, especially if management has everyone concentrating on control areas outside the sales circle.

Where are the true company leaders today? What are they doing to create some fun in selling? After all, it starts at the top with mentoring, a process that could certainly be improved these days.

What caused workplace fun and excitement to go by the wayside? Two of my industry colleagues believe that it began with retail. Companies started focusing primarily on shrink controls, inventory management, gross profit rates and additional labor cuts. While this is understandable as a responsibility to the bottom line, it saps the fun out of generating sales. The true motivation today is not getting excited about selling product but rather achieving financial measurement goals. Meanwhile, sales are getting lost in the shuffle. Now, is that fun and exciting?

Another industry associate explained that when the industry went through the consolidation and merger trend about 10 years ago, grocery people started to take over the produce business. Then it became more about gross margins and less about sales.

It is evident that there are a lot of financial distractions affecting growers, shippers and retailers today. The economic impact on businesses is greater than ever, and no responsible company leader is thinking about fun. True, that part may not call for fun and excitement. Nevertheless, that is no reason to toss aside employee sales motivation.

Selling should be fun, and company leaders need to bring it back into the workplace again. I'm not referring to company employees wearing Halloween costumes or playing jokes on each other. Instead, the fun should be found in motivational selling.

A friend told me, "When you and I were in retail together, we took great pride in building those big massive displays, taking the chance and challenge that we could sell it all. It was how we got our self-gratification and sense of worth. Today, the mantra is not to throw anything away or else. How can you have fun or be excited under those circumstances?"

Having fun is what really makes work more enjoyable. People who have fun in their jobs are more productive. I found that the main ingredient is always having a lot of fun in what you are doing.

I challenge every CEO and management leader to put the motivation back into your employees to have fun selling produce again. I guarantee it will be an exciting adventure and you will generate a lot of sales. And as always, with sales comes profit.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at, or check his web site at www.power-