Tools of the Trade

“Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.”

Steve Jobs

While much of what we do involves “tools” in the narrow definition.  However if we take a broader view it’s so much more and personifies many intangibles that we might not consider to be tools in the narrow definition. In an era where employees are hard to come by due to a shrinking labor pool it is important to recognize the investment in your staff as simply a part of your toolbox!



Customer service

Customer service is a soft skill that is hard to evaluate in an interview, but can return huge dividends when it comes to positive interactions with your customers.  Every time a staff member interacts with a customer it’s called a “Moment of Truth” it can be the single interaction that develops a lifelong relationship.

Professional Development

Providing training and professional development not only increases productivity of a staff member it also demonstrates that your store is committed to them and you are willing to invest in them.  It is a morale booster and it builds loyalty. 


Employees tend to remain with a company until some force causes them to leave…..Don’t be that force!

Be willing to show compassion for those you work with.  Consider that most of us work full time which constitutes about a third of entire work week, which means we are spending a fair amount of time with our colleagues.  No one is a robot we all have good and bad days and it’s an important intangible to have support on those bad days from your colleagues.

Coaching and constructive criticism

A mentor once told me “The more you try and control the less control you have” Over time I’ve come to realize coaching and constructive criticism are very important tools for success.  Allowing staff members to make decisions even potentially wrong ones has value. Providing regular coaching is critical in the success of any business.

Effective Evaluations

Having a shared vision is an elementary business standard, and providing feedback on how everyone is proceeding with that shared vision should also be a standard.  Setting goals and celebrating when the goals are achieved should also be a standard as well as being accountable for underachieving.  All part of an effective tool for growth.

In closing,

Invest in your staff, give them tools to be successful both personally and professionally.  Guide and coach them to be better people and good community members. Seek outside assistance when necessary to achieve these goals. Be what you expect from your colleagues.

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Know your roots

by Kevin O’Donnell

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”

Marcus Garvey

Vermont state flag depicts the agricultural importance of our state.

Vermont state flag depicts the agricultural importance of our state.

Our nation was built on an agrarian economy, self- reliance and hard work. Not until the Industrial Revolution did we see a major shift in agriculture and some might argue not for the better! For some of us who are in the food business it’s more about the roots of why we do what we do and maintaining traditions that bring the local community together.


Fresh, local and safe

Locally produced food is the freshest it can be! Often picked within an hour of delivery to our local coops and natural food stores. While some complain about the price/value of the locally produced food, I choose to look at it from a different angle. Recent spikes in food recalls suggests there is some value in knowing your food is safe to consume. While small producers don’t have the economy of scale some big corporate farms do, they do more often going the extra mile to do the right thing because we are all neighbors.


Knowing where your food comes from (local sign insert)

Walking into a grocery store and seeing a sign with the local farm producer listed on it for the product is very reassuring! This always gives me a great sense of security and compassion about where I live and I’m grateful for that.



Knowing your neighbors

In my town we have a great Saturday morning farmers market.  It is one of the best social events of the week throughout the summer, fall and winter. It represents a warm sense of community to see the wide diversity of our community members and tourists interacting with all the local farmers.  It’s not merely an economic engagement it’s about community and knowing your neighbors.


Stewardship of the land

Agriculture keeps the landscape productive and open allowing for open beautiful views and vistas.  It sustains a variety of wildlife. With proper crop rotation, organic fertilizing techniques it becomes sustainable for future generations. And with new technology allows for a host of value- added products such as cheese making.  While maple syrup production is the end result of good forestry practices and supports wildlife habitat.  Meanwhile, sustainable forests provide materials for building and paper industries. And help our communities grow.

I’m proud of the state I live in.  Vermont has a agriculture based economy, it’s not without it challenges but I would rather dwell on the positives and be grateful for the bounty we have to share with our community.  Coincidently, Vermont is the only state capitol in the entire United States without a McDonald’s.  There is something to be said for that!  My local coop has over 500 local vendors and producers and does over seven million dollars in sales of local organic products. 

Yes it is (usually) more expensive to shop at the co-op, knowing your food is clean and with every dollar spent there it is multiplied six times for the benefit of our community. Support my local community is a choice, one I’m willing to support.

It is an important reminder everyday I drive by our State House and see the Roman goddess of agriculture who adorns the top of a golden dome and signifies our values and support of agriculture and reminds us that our present was built on the past and community is strongly rooted in that history and for that I’m eternally grateful!

Ceres the Roman Goddess of Agriculture

Ceres the Roman Goddess of Agriculture

Labor, Waste & Taste

by Kevin O’Donnell

In prepared foods the ultimate goal is to have great tasting food that your customers buy. It takes a well-trained and passionate culinary team to implement the plan and control the waste. Here are some simple steps to assess your team's output. Ask yourself these simple questions as it relates to your prepared foods department.

Here are some simple tools to help make your team more productive. 

Do we use Standardized Recipes 

Having quality tested recipes provides consistency and good tasting products.

Do we use Daily Production Sheets?

Monitor output and eliminate time-wasting practices. Don’t have a production sheet? You need one! Get one to reference here.

Are we tracking our shrink in a Shrink Log?

Document what is selling and what is not, revise your menu when necessary. Focus on strengths and experiment with new recipes and flavors. Test and standardize new recipes and add them to the production schedule.

These tools can help to make your prepared foods department a contributor to a healthy bottom line.  Focus labor, reduce waste and increase taste!