ATLANTA — A convenience store can’t afford to go without a category manager, no matter the size.
Kim James, senior director of the global center of excellence and merchandising and marketing for Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.'s Circle K chain, drove this point home as part of a presentation that she, along with Dave Nolen, vice president and general manager of small format for The Hershey Co., gave at the 2019 NACS Show in Atlanta on Tuesday.
An important part of the category management role is finding partners you can trust, James said. Retailers and suppliers should always be clear on their goals.
“We’re trying to accomplish the same end goal together, and it only works when we actually align on what that end goal is,” James said.
And those discussions need to start now, Nolen said. The plan-o-gram process for Hershey, Pa.-based Hershey starts about five months before it’s implemented in stores, he said.
New category managers can follow a six-step category management process that begins with understanding and refining the category definition, James and Nolen said. A category is defined by examining shoppers’ needs and behaviors toward the category. NACS provides a category hierarchy guide that can help define this.
Other steps are to determine the category role; analyze performance; develop the plan; communicate and implement the plan; and review the plan.
When it comes to analyzing performance, retailers should focus on “go-forward” opportunities, or what they are learning and how they are changing. Even if performance data isn’t perfect, it should generally point in the same direction.
James said category managers should keep these questions in mind when developing their plans: What am I doing? How am I doing it? How is it going to affect my business?
After they develop a plan, category managers need to make it happen, she said.
“The buck stops with you. You wrote the plan, you’re responsible for executing the plan,” James said. Category managers sometimes have to wear different hats, including attorney, innovator and project manager, she said.
“It’s part of what we do,” James said.
The final step is to review the plan on a weekly, monthly and quarterly—or annual—basis, depending on the company.
Measuring goals is key, Nolen said: “Why do it if you’re not going to measure it?”