‘Best Baggers’ Instruct and Inspire

Discussion
Feb 09, 2007

Commentary by Al McClain

At the recent National Grocers Association (N.G.A.) convention in Las Vegas, Brian Bay of Macey’s (Utah) won the first annual “International Best Bagger Championship,” edging out Joanne Edwards of Longo’s (Ontario, Canada). At first glance, there may not seem to be much significance in an event that appears to be a throwback to a bygone era.

Contestants were judged on speed, bag-building technique, weight distribution between bags, style, attitude and appearance. By now, I imagine you’re thinking we’re making a big deal about bagging groceries. Yes, we are. But we’re not the only ones. There is even a movie about bagging groceries coming out next year, called “Bag Boy,” I believe. (It’s a comedy.)

So here’s the thing: this event wasn’t goofy or quirky at all. Over the years, I’ve been to hundreds of conventions where executives of all types were honored for their contributions to industry, society, charity, their companies, and so on. And while most, if not all, of these awards were well deserved, it always seemed odd to me that so many retailing industry awards are handed out to those on the very top of the pyramid.

So there was something really refreshing about watching the “best bagger” contest. Seeing how well the contestants were able to do their jobs and how proud it made their friends and family, it was downright inspirational. Makes you think there ought to be more retailing industry awards for those on the frontlines – those who see customers every hour of every day.

Congratulations to all those retail workers who labor hard every day, for low pay, and less than premium benefits packages!

PS: Congrats to the runners up: John Sandell of Chris’s Food Center in Minnesota, James Hunter of Nuggett in California, Karianne Sullivan of Village Supermarkets/ShopRite in New Jersey, and Casey Miller of Publix in Tennessee.

Discussion question: What other industry-wide awards would you suggest to demonstrate appreciation for store-level employees? What are the best examples of showing appreciation you’ve seen at the company level?

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10 Comments on "‘Best Baggers’ Instruct and Inspire"


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James Tenser
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

After witnessing last year’s finals, I must profess a real warm spot for the best-bagger competition. I know it may seem quaint in some respects, but even a humble customer service is worthy of doing well.

Worth remembering – the absolute last element of the supermarket customer experience occurs when the shopper carries the bags in from the car. A good bagging job therefore resonates all the way to the pantry.

Many other aspects of store service practice deserve recognition, but may not share the visual interest and universal consumer appeal of the bagging competition. It would be nice to see a deli service award, or one for produce department creativity. How about one for supermarket florists? I’d also advocate awards for various elements of retail execution, including shelf compliance and promotion implementation.

Dan Raftery
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I’m with Bittner on this one. As long as there are groceries, there will be bags. This is only a “throwback” to those who have forgotten that shoppers might actually choose a store based on their experience with this service or lack of it. Smart operators have not forgotten this at all. Trouble is, not all have invested in the training necessary to pull it off.

Remember carport service? It still exists as an extension of top notch bagging service. A few days ago, one of the questions posed to BrainTrustees dealt with urban stores and parking challenges. Duh! Check out the Fox & Obel on Illinois Street in downtown Chicago to see how this is done if you’ve forgotten. The store is within walking distance of many of the hotels used for the FMI show. This may be your last chance.

Matt Werhner
Guest
Matt Werhner
15 years 3 months ago

Many store level employees advance up the ranks, and it is important to show appreciation to those on the lower end of the ladder. Sometimes you can forget that store level employees are the face of the business. Some of the following suggestions would encourage creativity as well as showcase skills.

Here’s my thoughts:

Best meat cutter

Best fork-lift operator

Best stocker

Fastest end-cap builder

Best merchandiser

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
15 years 3 months ago

Al, I love this award and I am sorry that you felt it necessary to apologize for bringing it up by referring to it as “a throwback to a bygone era.” I understand why you felt that way and although you go on to support the award, the fact that you felt the need to apologize points out how we have all lost touch with the basics. Retail is made up of a lot of little actions that build to the big picture. It requires that every individual do their piece for the whole to succeed. I also love Jimmy Buffet’s “It’s my job” from the “Coconut Telegraph” album. It explains why we should all try to be the “best bagger” in whatever we do.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I attend the NGA convention every year and the best bagger contest is only one of the awards given at the convention. The NGA also recognizes Best Ads and Best Merchandising from entries submitted by their members. The independent retailers still believe in creativity and do a great job of getting their individual stores and regional groups involved in competing. The winners are recognized at a reception and the ads and pictures of the merchandising are prominently displayed in the convention hall for all to see. The best bagger and these ad and merchandising awards separate the independents from the cookie cutter mentality that is widespread today.

CPG manufacturers used to foster this kind of creativity with their customers and consumers with all types of events that retailers could utilize. In addition many retail chains and groups used to have their own programs. Sadly many of these have gone away in this era of “clean floor” policies and total category management driven merchandising.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I wish there was an award to give to my neighbor who works at Wal-Mart. He rides his bike two miles uphill almost everyday to Wal-Mart. We have two seasons in the Milwaukee area–winter and 4th of July. Lately its been subzero weather and there he is on his bike, riding uphill in the dark facing a head wind with a wind chill of minus 20 at 6:30am. For about 8 hours a day he is hauling carts in from the parking lot. And for what? Maybe $8 an hour? I have more respect for that guy than just about any other retail worker I have ever known.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

We have to incentivize our employees to focus on safety, attitude and, above all, customer service. Rewarding the recognition of the best performers in each of these categories not only highlights local, regional and national performance excellence, but also demonstrate the company’s concern over these areas. These bring the focus of the employees to reflect the same concerns of the corporation as well as driving a competitive urge to excel in these areas. This results in a “family” approach to these key markers of customer and employee service.

Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I’ve seen the Best Bagger contest several times now and always have been impressed with the professionalism of the contestants. Having spent much of my high school years as a bagger and cart control worker at my dad’s store, I’d personally like to see a competition for cart collection added to the Best Bagger contest. A better contest would get the customers involved. Have customers nominate the best staffer in three areas–service areas (deli, bakery, meat, seafood & floral), center store (includes produce, frozen & dairy) and checkout. Then have nominated staffers present the process they go through to make sure customers are satisfied. Hold a vote in the store with ballots that have coupons attached to them. You see where I’m going with this. All sides win.

IGA has long done a great job recognizing both store-level associates and managers at the distribution centers servicing the stores. There are a lot of positive lessons to be learned from their experience.

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

How about “Most Attentive Self Scan Pod Manager”?

Self scan is great in my book–as long as it works! But the constant “Approval needed” and “Item removed from bagging area” and (“name your favorite aggravating message here”) messages slow the line and drive me bonkers. Having someone at the command post who is a)paying attention to start with, and b) knows how to clear the annoyances quickly is a customer service home run.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I’m not sure if they still do it, but MBS Textbook Exchange (the largest used textbook wholesaler) used to run a Warehouse Olympics every year. There were contests for accurate quick picking, and some of the staff improved their times by using roller skates. Everyone had a lot of fun.

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