Weaver Street Market is well aware that their market trade area is the entire Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, and they’re not shy about moving into it. Currently, two Weaver Street Market food co-op locations, as well as Panzanella, their restaurant, are serving that population of 80,000 people. The co-op is now actively seeking yet another new grocery store location.
James Watts, operations manager at Weaver Street Market, said the co-op’s ability to seek growth that can position them to saturate their trade area is directly related to the skills within their tiers of management. Developing a strong management team and their assistants has been a long-term strategy of the co-op, and one that is carried out in a systemic way. Watts said they’ve used a variety of approaches over the years: management retreats, finance and operational training, and department business plan development.
“ All of our programs are built around the professional development of middle management,” Watts said. Developing a department’s assistant managers is a big part of that. “We seek to expose them to more and more, and ask them to participate in things beyond their function.” Watts said he does this for two reasons. He seeks their thoughtful participation, but also because he believes it enhances the level of leadership demonstrated in the department. “They know why change is important and can answer questions better for staff, get buy-in. To me, the worst case scenario is for someone to tell someone to do something ‘because James said so.’”
Collaboration is also one of the most important elements Weaver Street Market incorporates to develop its managers. Watts said this is especially important as they continue to build new locations. He said they learned from building their first additional location that there’s often a perceived lack from staff on which location gets more attention and resources. “As you grow you have to put more and more resources into communication. Informal communication channels don’t work as well with a staff of 200 or multiple locations. Systems are important to keep everyone on the same page.”
Of course formal training opportunities are important and necessary, but Watts said probably one of their most effective ongoing development tools is their biweekly management team meeting. “Education and professional development is woven through our meetings all the time,” Watts said.
This year, Weaver Street Market decided to have all its managers add onto their sales and marketing goals changes to their departments they think will have the biggest impact on improving levels of service to the customer. “We asked them for real ways to make change,” Watts said. He said striving for excellence on service is as much about management development as customer satisfaction. “Don’t underestimate your people. Be willing to put as much in front of them as you can, and then some. They’ll surprise you.”