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Empowering category managers to exemplary outcomes

Friday, September 22, 2017 - 06:00
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What can hinder the best-laid plans in building a profitable product assortment and gratifying customers? Poor internal alignment, limited collaboration and weak data optimization are three common failings in category management strategies with retailers, says Sue Nicholls, president of Category Management Knowledge Group.

My own experience resonates with Nicholls’, as we recently discussed — along with how these principles apply to the auto care industry — at the July 2017 NACE Automechanika trade show with a Bosch USA Automotive senior category product executive. Here’s a summary of our conversation.

Internal alignment. “A problem well stated is a problem half solved,” quipped Charles Kettering, the innovator behind AC-Delco’s automotive aftermarket business. Ask yourself, “Have senior management and their multifunctional teams agreed on setting goals for the product categories?” That conversation is the shining opening when expectations are clarified and when growth metrics are sealed.

The worst interaction, which any merchant should avoid, is when the boss spouts out assumptions saying, “Just get it done and make me some money!” Internal ambiguity is a recipe for company misalignment, an indirect impact to shopper disconnect.

Collaboration. Once product leaders and their direct reports have defined the parameters for the way forward, vet a supplier partner who is capable of collaboration. Collaboration, Nicholls explains, is really not about two people getting along. Nor does it mean when vendors force distribution of their products onto their accounts’ shelves.

By contrast, a two-way dialogue considers store format, banners, competition, tactics, and above all, the shopper, an approach that Nicholls calls “shopper-centricity.” Do-it-yourselfers and the commercial repair technicians buy hard parts, chemicals and supplies for different reasons. Given the blurring sales channels, parts stores and their vendors should work jointly to best understand the path to purchase of building a shopper-centric relationship.

Data optimization. Finally, big-data comes into play. Treat this dynamic as an organizational think tank that performs the research to deliver actionable insights about what the repair shop and what the shopper values. Big-data shared with the retailer and the vendor can produce meaningful discoveries in terms of what both consumer segments are willing to pay for. That’s why Nicholls stresses using multiple data sources from this described partnership, or even more from third parties.

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