We all have good intentions. We plan our days, scribbling our to-do lists and making agendas. Then…. “produce” happens. Bombs go off early, often and at the absolute worst times. Explosions come in many different forms: Trucks don’t pick up products, they break down, or arrive late. Coolers load the wrong shipments or cut the wrong commodities. Suppliers can’t fill orders that have been on the books for hours and in some cases days or weeks. Customers cancel orders or reject product. Any of of these issues is enough to throw you off your game, and combination of them can set the tone for a rough week, if you allow them to.
Produce Days Are Rarely What You Intend Them To Be
It’s vital to identify the derailment, fix it, and move on. Ag markets moves hourly and can be unpredictable, so it’s nearly impossible to plan your day, if you’re in the trading business. Problems have to be solved immediately, because if not, they multiply. This not only affects the end result, but also the team and their rhythm. Issues that start on Monday can become irreparable by Friday, if nothing is done to mitigate. Catching mistakes early, drastically reduces the amount of time it takes to solve the problem and the amount of money that’s lost in the process.
After years of arguments, complaining and beating our heads against the wall, we started doing something about it. While we haven’t eliminated the bombs completely, we have made a solid effort in minimizing their damage and am proud to say that we’ve become proficient in diffusing them.
You have to stay alert when you run any business, but produce is on another level. Don’t stay on your toes and you’re toast.
If you or your organization has experienced some of what i’ve described above you should find value in the 6 methods/principles described below.
- Set systems and checkpoints. Everyone on your team should know their specific roles. What systems do you have in place to make sure everyone is on task, communicating, and getting enough lead time? Develop checkpoints to ensure everything is taken care of before mistakes happen. It is vital to create systems, especially in our industry, when there are numerous moving parts. If you are not a process person, hire someone who is.
- Automate the process. Once you know your process, automate it. Automation allows everything to run smoother and ensures other members of your team have a built-in training method. For us, people learn what we’re doing by checking up on our transactions from the previous day, so it’s vital that we have the process integrated and everyone on task.
- Delegate. If you don’t have to do it, delegate it. Making the most of your day and time means offloading anything that can be done by others. You have a team for a reason. Use them. My general rule of thumb is anything that can’t be done by someone else goes on my plate, and everything else goes to the team. In a lot of cases, they are more efficient at day-to-day tasks. Assign your team tasks they are good at, and it will lead to less mistakes and headaches.
- Do the most time-intensive task first. If there’s a looming task, do it first. Block out time, turn of the notifications and complete the task, uninterrupted, from start to finish. This will alleviate a ton of stress and will make the biggest difference in running your day, overall mood and tone of the team. Know what your most time-intensive task is going into everyday, so you can complete it first. This takes discipline but is also a highly useful skill.
- Set less meetings. We live in a death-by-meetings culture. In our business, we rarely have meetings. Think about it: while you’re in a meeting, shit is happening all around you. In the produce industry, if we are all in a meeting, there’s no one to keep things running, to solve problems, or to anticipate any issues. In your own business, if you spend more time in meetings than getting work done, your day might be running you. For every meeting set, assess the outcome and what you will walk away with. If it’s a meeting with no real agenda or outcome, ditch it and get work done instead. (This is one of the most strategic moves to getting your time back.)
- Start early. If you’re someone who needs some “me-time” to come into the day, get up earlier and do something just for you. Read. Workout. Meditate. Do nothing. Start your day without the chaos of to-dos or phone notifications. I start my mornings with yoga, which makes a world of difference in my body and mind.
If you work in the produce industry, few will argue with the statement, “Your day is not your own.”
While this has always been the case in our industry the more exhausting issue is that we’re never off the clock. Produce professionals are a slave to the cell phone. Industry service expectations have approached unprecedented expectation levels. Hell, if you’re the one running the business or in a leadership role, your life is rarely your own!
If you haven’t felt this than you’re likely not listening to your customers.
The produce industry is changing, yes, but we’re always going to have problems. It’s knowing how to anticipate them, before they happen, that matters.
Produce trading is a game of chess with an experienced player, its not checkers with your kids. If you’re not thinking 2–3 moves ahead you’re not playing at your best. It’s time to step up your game before its Check. Mate.
A 20+ year entrepreneur with a no-B.S.-in-business attitude, Shaun Black has powered over $30 million in annual revenue with his trading and importing company, Diamond Produce, founded numerous successful local businesses, and remained on the cutting edge of national start-up industries for over a decade.
His experience as a grocer taught him the importance of exceeding expectations, one relationship at a time. Through systems, automation, and personal touch, his businesses deliver consistent retail-minded service. His “add value” approach to vendor and teams alike has paid dividends and been the driving force behind growth and profit.