CSP's Category Manager of the Year Awards 2017

CSP Category Manager of the Year

Forget strategists, analysts, forecasters and even we editors: Category managers arguably know more about today’s consumer than anyone else—particularly their own customers. CSP’s Category Manager of the Year awards are our way of identifying and celebrating this crucial group of retailers, and there’s no better place to recognize their skill than in our annual Category Management Handbook.

Each year, we ask suppliers to nominate who they believe are the best-in-class category managers. From there, finalists are chosen based on the largest number of nominations. We then enter a three-month voting period to determine our winners, and the results are revealed at our annual Convenience Retailing University. This was the first year we announced the winners live from the stage, and their excitement and pride were palpable.

From the entire CSP team, congratulations to our winners, and thank you for sharing some of that expertise with us on the following pages.

—Abbie Westra, Director, Winsight Retail Content Group

—Portraits by Skopein from photographs by W. Scott Mitchell

Foodservice: Tara Anderson

Tara Anderson

Tara Anderson has been with Holiday Cos., Bloomington, Minn., for nearly 17 years. Today she is foodservice category manager for the lunch daypart, and she thrives in the fast-paced retail environment.

Q: What are you most excited about in the category today?

A: Innovation in foodservice is exploding. Coming out with unique and signature items that will drive customer traffıc keeps the category moving at a breakneck speed. That is good for me. Product and menu development is the part of my job I love the most.

Q: What are the challenges?

A: For the lunch category, a huge increase in the amount of [quick-service restaurant] and fast-casual competition, along with more people working from home, has made it a more challenging daypart.

Q: What data or resources do you use to guide you?

A: We review restaurant menus as well as use trend information from vendor partners, Technomic and Datassential. Inspiration can be taken from anywhere, and I often come across great ideas in airports and grocery stores.

Q: Tell us about a winning promotion.

A: We moved our roller-grill program to be cobranded with Johnsonville and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. We kicked it off with an employee incentive where we gave out $18,000 in cash prizes and a trip for two to New York City to be a judge at the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, which also happened to be Nathan’s 100-year anniversary.

Q: What’s in the works for the category this year?

A: We limited our promotions to a select few and are doing more [limited-time-only] item features this year. Although value is a big play for us, we are betting on new items as our driver.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: The Wizard of Oz. Just follow the yellow brick road: Sales, analysis and trends will lead you down the right path.

“Tara is willing to take chances to offer her customers high quality and variety on the roller grill.”

Snacks: Tim Burner

Tim Burner

Tim Burner spent 13 years in the grocery industry in retail, accounting and category-management roles before joining Holiday Cos., Bloomington, Minn., where he serves as category sales manager of the snacks and edible-grocery categories.

Q: What is most exciting about the snack category today?

A: The growth potential and the excitement of all of the new-item innovation.

Q: What kind of data or resources do you use to help manage the category?

A: Holiday has an extensive amount of internal data that can be used in many different ways. We also rely on our manufacturer partners and distributors to provide market data—Nielsen and IRI—to see how we measure up to our competition. We also use manufacturer data to identify opportunity gaps. Trade shows and networking events are another element that I use.

Q: What promotions have turned out to be winners?

A: I had a lot of success last year in promoting across categories and segments where a customer buys a product at regular retail and receives a product from a different brand group for free. Two examples of these successful promotions that we executed were “Buy an Oberto Jerky, get a free Giants Sunflower Seeds” and “Buy a Combos, get a free Snickers Bar.” I plan to execute more of these types of promotions this year.

Q: Any new products that have proven a hit or offer potential?

A: Quest Bars were a huge success in growing our nutrition business last year. Two new items with a large amount of growth potential in our stores are the Jack Link’s a.m. [line] and Giants Pistachios.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: Jerry Maguire. “Show me the money!”

“Tim is a great partner. He has been a champion for our brand and an innovative thinker.”

Alcohol beverages: John Deichler

John Deichler

As category manager of beer for Murphy USA, El Dorado, Ark., John Deichler has spent four years leading the category’s rapid expansion in the chain. He predicts an even brighter future ahead.

Q:What new opportunities do you see for beer as Murphy USA expands beyond its kiosk model?

A: I am very pleased to see that our future growth plan includes beer at nearly every location.  Additionally, we are beginning to accelerate the raze and rebuilding of high-volume kiosk locations, each of which will turn into an equally high-volume beer location. Combined, these two strategies mean a 15% to 20% increase in total beer sites annually. It’s hard not to feel bullish with that level of momentum behind you.

Q: What are some keys of a successful promotion?

A: As we build out market density, we understand that partnerships at the brewery and distributor levels are key to winning. However, [because] our network includes 350-plus distributorships, the sheer scope can be a challenge. In late 2016, we initiated a new program, with brewer support, that enabled collaborative decision-making, clear communication and more complete execution for our promotions. Trends responded, and we look forward to doing more of the same in 2017.

Q: What’s in your category-management toolbox?

A: I pore over Beer Business Daily, Beer Marketer’s Insights and several others each morning before I begin my day. Obviously, Nielsen and IRI data are very important when analyzing your own performance against the remainder of the market. However, I also maintain a robust network of friends and partners who are encouraged to share ideas and thoughts. While it occasionally feels like drinking from a fire hose, these industry veterans often challenge my own views and add to my perspective in helpful ways.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: National Lampoon’s Vacation. [It] is a lighthearted take on the challenges of encountering and overcoming barriers ... while "having so much fun, we’ll have to get plastic surgery to remove our smiles!"

“John understands beer styles and intricacies as well as most brewery associates [do].”

General merchandise: Steve Desautels

Steve Desautels

As senior category manager of general merchandise and nonfoods for Murphy USA, El Dorado, Ark., Steve Desautels has a lot to juggle, given his focus on lottery sales in 22 states. But then, he’s known as “Nickels” for his ability to maximize profıts in smaller categories.

Q: What do you find exciting about managing this sometimes challenging category?

A: No two days are ever the same. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t another category in the c-store industry that launches more new SKUs each month than the lottery category. On average, four new scratch-off games are launched within each state, which means we have at least 88 new SKUs added to the lottery category each month, in addition to the 660 currently selling lottery SKUs. In most cases, these 88 SKUs become your top-selling tickets within one to two days after being launched.

Q: What’s working for you right now in lottery?

A: In 2016, we worked hand in hand with our lottery partners to design, build and roll out some very innovative lottery merchandisers for all of our stores. These new merchandisers allow us to better maximize the space allocated for lottery by replacing the standard acrylic lottery ticket boxes used in most states. The new merchandisers also provide us with the means to increase our game facings without increasing the overall lottery footprint.

Q: What’s next in your plans for the category?

A: I have a new line of health and beauty products that we are testing in our larger-format stores. These items are typically only found in the big-box stores, so it will be interesting to see how well they perform in our c-stores.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: The Perfect Storm. When all of the contributing factors are aligned correctly, the storm can produce  massive waves—of sales.

“[Steve is] smart, hardworking and always looking for permanent improvement rather than a quick fix.”

Dispensed beverages: Connie Kelehan

Connie Kelehan

Connie Kelehan brings a background in retail buying for department stores to her role as category manager of dispensed beverages for Kum & Go, West Des Moines, Iowa. Her focus is on building a better experience that lures customers in.

Q: What innovations do you find most exciting in this category?

A: The innovation in hot beverage through espresso-based specialty coffee equipment, brewing techniques with cold brew and the application of nitrogen for nitro coffee.

Q: What products show a lot of potential?

A: We are in the process of launching fresh-brewed iced coffee in the majority of our stores. This is a great way to extend our own Java Ridge coffee and provide our customers a dispensed beverage that can be customized based on their individual preferences.

Q: What is the most challenging thing about managing this category?

A: Many components must come together to provide the perfect and fulfilling customer experience. The beverage needs to be made according to specifıcations, the equipment needs to function at optimum capability, the price needs to be competitive while also supporting the cost of goods, and the condiment offering needs to provide a variety of customization options.

Q: What kind of programs or promotions are you planning this year?

A: With the launch of our &Rewards loyalty program last year, we now have the ability to offer exciting and compelling offers to our most dedicated customers. Free samples for new-product launches and [limited-time-only products], Happier Hour pricing, double points, promotional pricing for all cup sizes, and clubs are all promotions we have already implemented or plan to implement this year.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: Field of Dreams. I selected this not just because it was filmed in Iowa, but it also was built on the preface, "If you build it, they will come." Build a great dispensed-beverage experience and the customers will seek you out even with all of the many other options available.

“Her dedication and insight have guided her categories to sustained growth.”

Tobacco: Ruth Ann Lilly

Ruth Ann Lilly

Ruth Ann Lilly, senior category manager of tobacco and beer/wine for Sunoco Inc., Dallas, faces a group of “snowflakes” when it comes to variety of store size—no two are the same. She takes whatever tobacco space she’s given and looks to maximize it by segment.

Q: What are you most excited about in the tobacco category today?

A: Our growth. In a category with expected declines, we feel very good about our current pace.

Q: What are some challenges?

A: The category is incredibly complex with the number of states we are in. There are multiple tax jurisdictions, even within the same state, dictating pricing rules. The programs offered by suppliers, while they work in our favor to grow share and volume, add another layer of complexity.

Q: Tell us about a recent success.

A: The year 2016 was all about building relationships with operations as I began managing the category for Stripes (acquired from Susser Holdings Corp. by Sunoco parent Energy Transfer Partners). Getting to know them and working hard to build credibility and trust was my main goal. They are my customer and being able to work closely with them is the best way I know how to be successful.

Q: What’s ahead for the category?

A: We will continue to maximize our tobacco space, leverage tools and resources from our suppliers, and tweak pricing to manage both margin and growth. Continuing to build relationships with our franchise group is also a top priority, ensuring they have the same opportunities for growing share and profitability.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: Thank You for Smoking. Of course!

“Ruth Ann Lilly couldn’t be more passionate and engaging in the category as well as the industry as a whole.”

Tobacco/OTP: Mike Nelson

Mike Nelson

Category manager of tobacco and snacks for Mapco, Brentwood, Tenn., Mike Nelson has 22 years of c-store operations experience in managing other tobacco product (OTP) sets that each typically feature more than 300 SKUs.

Q: Tell us about a recent promotional success.

A: I worked with my cigar vendor to offer an aggressive fuel discount with Mapco’s My Rewards. The results showed an overall increase in these cigar sales after the promotional period, and we continue to see growth in the brand.

Q: Which new OTP products have been a hit or perhaps show potential?

A: Copenhagen Mint was a successful brand launch that has also proven to have continued momentum. Our customers are purchasing more wintergreen and mint offers, so this was a great fıt for the category and where it’s trending.

Q: What do you use to guide your management of the category?

A: I use data provided from my vendor representatives, our own internal data and store visits to better understand what the data is showing me.

Q: What are the challenges in OTP?

A: Leading our category through everchanging consumer shopping behaviors, especially within the e-vapor segment.

Q: What’s next for OTP at Mapco in 2017?

A: My plans for the category this year are to remerchandise our tobacco category to better optimize the space for our top-selling products. I also want to continue to drive sales with multiunit promotions, as well as offers for our rewards customers. When we offer a more unique shopping experience for our customer, they receive more customized choices and our business thrives.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: Pulp Fiction. It’s really complex and there are way too many things going on to keep track of.

“[Mike] is diligent at monitoring trends and making key decisions in the best interest of his chain.”

Candy: Felix Oliu

Felix Oliu

Felix Oliu’s 30 years in the c-store industry have included nearly seven years as director of category management, center of the store, for Murphy USA, El Dorado, Ark. He’s still all about confections with his recent move to Ferrara Candy Co. as a key account manager with responsibility for McLane and other high-profıle retailer accounts.

Q: What was the biggest challenge for you in managing the candy category at Murphy USA?

A: We have 760 space-challenged kiosks. However, we do have some 3,450-squarefoot stores that have 9-foot sections of candy and gum. With limited space, it is always a challenge on innovation, specifıcally what to take out and replace with [innovative] items. That said, innovation is the lifeline of candy, and sales increase the opportunities.

Q: Describe a recent success at Murphy.

A: We decided to take out the Sathers two-for-$1.50 line and implemented the two-for-$2 price point. We saw a signifıcant rise in the dollar-volume increase, as well as the unit increase. The two-for-$2 [price] is perceived as a better value by our customers [and it] does indeed have a better value on a cents-per-ounce basis.

Q: Which products show great potential in the category for c-stores?

A: The Trolli line has been very successful with its innovation. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with Reese’s Pieces was a homerun for Murphy USA, and the Snickers & Hazelnut Bar has great potential.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: Lone Survivor. After you deal with the bigger categories (tobacco and beverages), the candy category is often left with smaller promotional opportunities.

“Felix is a true professional. He cultivates great relationships with all vendors, striving for win-win deals.”

Packaged beverages: Damian Wyatt

Damian Wyatt

Damian Wyatt, who was beverage category manager for Mapco, Brentwood, Tenn., for more than fıve years, recently was named the company’s director of category management.

Q: What are you most excited about in this category?

A: There are so many new and never-seen-before flavors and brands producing not only healthy margins but also a healthy, better-for-you product for our health-conscious consumer.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge in managing packaged beverages?

A: The innovation is truly remarkable. However, it proves to be difficult in deciding what are the right brands and correct SKUs to carry.

Q: Tell us about a recent successful promotion.

A: I started experimenting with medium to larger grocery-size packages, such as a six-pack of tea, water and energy over the past 18 months. Our convenience-store customers see value in these bulk packages and they prove to be a great basket add-on inside our stores.

Q: Which new products have been a hit?

A: Two of the biggest success stories that have come out of the Mapco cold vault are enhanced water and iced coffee. Both of these categories have produced signifıcant growth in sales with tremendous revenue and profıtability.

Q: What are your plans for the category this year?

A: We will continue to promote heavily in the immediate-consumption category. Multiple-offer discounts, where you buy two or three, will still be a big piece of our promotional platform and, of course, our Mapco My Rewards program. Our supplier and vendor partners see a huge value in this  program in driving their products. Our customers love it even more as they get tremendous discounts on the product, as well as saving dollars at the fuel pumps.

Q: What movie title best sums up your category and why?

A: The Departed. I have recently been appointed to director of category management at Mapco. With this I will be leaving the category manager of beverages role, which is bittersweet. ... This is just the beginning for the packaged-beverage category.

“[Damian] challenges his network to think big and come with creative new solutions every year.”