This week in Las Vegas, 23 supermarket baggers from states all across the U.S. from New York to California compete for the top prize of $10,000 and a personalized gold checkout lane in the National Grocers Association's 25th Best Bagger Championship. These contestants are already proven winners from regional competitions that were held the months prior. The most important facet of this event is not about the money or prizes — or even the fame that comes from competing against David Letterman (a former bagger himself) on his program, or appearing on the “Today” show as past winners have.
If you have attended one of NGA's Best Bagger competitions you already know what you are about to read. Just spending one hour in a room with hundreds of supermarket people and their families on their feet (and sometimes chairs!) cheering and yelling, hoopin' and hollerin' and not just for their own, but for every bagger on stage will change the way you look at and feel about our industry.
Some contestants' co-workers print up T-shirts with the finalists' photos and slogans, some bring 20-foot-long banners, some handwritten signs, I've even seen custom hats — all created for the same reason. To support one of the most important people in the supermarket: the bagger.
The first of the NGA “best bagger” champions was Jorge Baca of Fiesta Mart in Texas — the master of ceremonies on that day was football great Terry Bradshaw (in full disclosure, I have had the pleasure of hosting the competition for the past few years and again have the honor this time) and since 1987's competition there have been documentaries, television episodes and even a full length feature film based on the event.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing, motivating and joking around with baggers of all shapes and sizes and from every ethnicity. Men and women, boys and girls, 15-year-olds and one store manager who wanted to win to celebrate his 50th birthday. At the Best Bagger Championship everyone is equal. Everyone respects each other's desire to be the “best.”
So, why is there all this attention on one of the lowest-paid people in our stores?
The bagger, I would suggest, in most stores is the last person our customer has contact with before they leave the store. It is the bagger's skill and smile that determines how our shoppers remember that day's shopping experience. It is how well the bagger performed his or her job that will determine, once the shopper is at home unpacking their groceries, satisfaction of the experience.
Many who started out as baggers have become the store managers, supermarket owners and CEOs of our food industry. They all share a unique skill — making the customer happy.
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Phil Lempert is contributing editor of Supermarket News and CEO of The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com.