Cracking the Shopper Strategy

As competition grows, category management matures

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

Gus Durso (left), Jerry Mitchell, Ben Wynkoop,
Samantha Oller

ATLANTA -- Product mix, plan-o-grams, point of sale. These are all crucial parts of the category management equation. But the concept has taken on new dimension as retailers and suppliers alike turn their attention to the shoppers themselves.

For Jerry Mitchell, vice president of marketing for Road Ranger, category management is about figuring out who is "beyond Bubba."

"How do we meet the consumer where they are going, not where they are today?" he asked. "We know where they are today."

Mitchell was part of a panel of convenience store retailers who took the stage along with CSP senior editor Samantha Oller at the Category Management Association's annual conference, held in late October in Atlanta.

The panelists, who also included Gus Durso, director of beverages for RaceTrac Petroleum, and Ben Wynkoop, director of visual merchandising and category planning for 7-Eleven, all noted an increased sophistication in the way their companies approach category management. Upgraded technology, increased time evaluating scan data, customer feedback and the quality of personnel were cited as ways retailers are making category management more into their own hands.

"The decisions on the category manager's desk are multimillion-dollar decisions," said Wynkoop. 7-Eleven has focused on developing category management through a combination of strategy development, process work, training and working with knowledgeable suppliers. The retailer is trying to build a standard that is repeatable, teachable and thus less reliant on each category manager's expertise, with the end goal of developing an institutional knowledge and ability to get new category managers up to speed quickly.

The panelists also discussed the role of the supplier in the category-management equation. They ask for a relationship that's mutually beneficial, where the supplier comes to the table not with a preconceived notion of what's best for the retailer, but with a set of questions to begin to learn the retailers' needs and perspective.

For Durso, a successful supplier relationship is one where they work to grow the entire category's sales, "not just Vendor A sales or Vendor B sales."

Wynkoop also emphasized the importance of trust. "There needs to be mutual trust between the retailer and supplier," he said. "Without trust, the two cannot truly collaborate." When a category manager and a supplier build mutual trust, he explained, then they are able to share ideas and insights openly and co-develop mutually beneficial plans.

No doubt, increased competition has helped elevate category management in the c-store channel. Wynkoop explained how the breaking down of channel walls has led his company to focus on trip missions. "Which trip missions are driving our guests to our stores, which trip types can we own and how can we increase the market basket on each trip type?" It's important to understand the different trip types, when they occur, why, and how a retailer is able to best meet the needs of that shopper, he said.

Durso concurred that competition is coming from all corners. "Take a step back and ask yourself, 'Who is my competition?' for every category."

All the panelists came back to that ultimate desire to understand who the shopper is, what they'll want tomorrow and how to take those insights and translate them to the product mix, the plan-o-gram and the point of sale.

Abbie Westra, CSP/Winsight By Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP
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