The news came by email at 6 pm…our biggest account was putting our category into an unscheduled line review.
Now everything was uncertain…our forecasts, our budgets, our plans.
Suddenly, without warning, we were faced with fighting for our space on the shelf.
Was it really unexpected?
Nothing sends a bigger shock wave through an organization than the unexpected line review.
Rumors fly and productivity decreases. Suddenly everyone is focused on “how could we not see this coming.”
Start off by asking yourself what really prompted this line review:
- Did the retailer’s goals change? Is profit now more important than sales or the opposite? Is the merchant merely driving the corporate message down to you?
- Was it “time” for a review? Had years past since the last time a formal review was conducted?
- Is the category drifting or POS comping negative? Does the merchant need to show there’s a plan to upper management?
- Did the competition heat up? Is there a new player or compelling new product in the category?
Regardless of if the answer is the category is tanking and the competition is sensing blood or the merchant just needs to have a clear plan to take to management, the focus you apply to the line review should be the same.
Put yourself in the merchant’s shoes
The merchant has no loyalty to you. That said, if you have performed well as a vendor, there’s not a lot of reason to create confusion at the shelf. Strong partners support one another.
You bring focus and insight to the category (for both the retailer and your product line) through:
- Market trends
- New products
- Assortment planning
- Competitive insights
- Promotional plans
- Packaging and merchandising
- Service and support performance
Done well, you will only reinforce your value to the merchant. They, in turn, can confidently support you to their management as the vendor of choice. It’s truly a win-win.
Build a plan that solves a problem
Your moment of truth is your pitch to the retailer.
Chances are, the team will include the merchant, their assistant, their boss, possibly a planner and many times an unrelated category’s merchant. That last one is where all the tough questions will come from.
Their job is to be the spoiler – without having to have your merchant be the “bad guy.”
Your job is to build a story that is compelling from start to finish.
Focus on answering questions that your customer is trying to solve:
- What are the shopper insights?
- What are the category insights?
- What does the financial analysis suggest?
- How can the assortment be optimized?
- How can we drive conversion through merchandising and promotion?
Regardless of the reason for the line review in the first place if you answer these questions well, you’ll be seen as the category expert and offering a logical and compelling case about why you should be on their shelf.
The retailer is not the expert in your category – you are
Believe it or not, the retailer is not the expert in your category – you are. But they do have perspective. Perspective from other categories they manage and from hearing what your competitors are saying.
But what they need to know is how they are going to improve sales and profitability. Maybe not overnight, but definitely within their fiscal year. It’s how they will earn promotions and make their bonus. Consequently, any recommendations you make should help them win. Because if they win, you win.
So pitch your presentation in a way that shows:
- Clarity of the alignment between the retailer’s shopper and who buys your brand.
- Insights on what’s happening in the category, why it’s happening, what it’s impacting and what – together – you’re going to do about it.
- How your recommendation brings differentiation, innovation and excitement to the category and directly addresses market and shopper trends.
- A clear picture of how you are bringing the best financial program, the best products and the marketing plan that delivers the most value to both the retailer and their shopper.
The merchant is evaluating your credibility as well as your recommendation
Think of it this way, the merchant is evaluating your credibility as well as your recommendation.
If you come in with clear plan – one that’s supported every step of the way with facts – you’ll be in a better shape because the merchant will be able to use your recommendation and data in supporting the decision to go with you and deliver the goals the merchant’s management team has for the category and department.
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One question that was not mentioned was ” have we been doing our job properly?” There can be a tendency for manufacturers to get complacent, and to not police their own activities as rigorously as they should – are we analysing our promotional activity from the retailer’s perspective, not merely our own?; does our NPD have a genuine consumer or shopper-based reason to be on-shelf, or is it merely a ‘me too’ that adds complexity without additional sales? are we manipulating sales analysis to keep in products that we should really proactively remove from sale and replace with more productive SKUs ( in which case, Category Managers should be pushing marketing depts into action); have we fallen into the habit of referring to the shelves as ‘ours’, rather than keeping the edge that comes from realising that we have to earn the space we’ve been given every day?
The root of this problem is an organisational one: success at the shelf is left to the Category Management dept, while the rest of the business is focusing on classic brand-building, rather than focusing on safeguarding the health of the overall category and providing a stream of brand initiatives that will also consistently deliver category growth – which is what the retailer is interested in
Lynne is absolutely right. Sales teams tend to have the scars of hard fought battles to retain the business. But deeper inside the company, many believe that long held customers are an annuity and will always be there. The focus shifts from “what’s right for the customer” to “what’s best for us.”
If you are on the shelf..you should be prepared to validate your existence.
Should never be a surprise within a consistent planning process and schedule which most large retailer adhere to.
You cover all the key areas…
There are one in one out categories where this scenario could play out…
When I worked for a lighting company we did experience this.
You are right..thinking back it was scary…