Category Creativity – Thinking Outside the Aisle.

As category manager, you’re charged with growing volume across brands and faced with ever-growing reams of demand data. It’s pretty easy to get stuck in a rut, looking at the same data and using “tried and true” planograms. But stagnant planning can mean stagnant sales.

You need to get creative – and step outside your category. Yes, it’s ‘technically’ your responsibility to concentrate on your specific category, but in order to grow volume you need to think holistically. How does your retailer view the category? Is it considered a destination, routine, convenience, a seasonal destination? Does that retailer view gel with what your demand data is telling you? Don’t allow your category to be defined by a retailer’s narrow hierarchy.

Further, consider the shopper’s point of view. All too often, retailers and suppliers alike concentrate on their specific category or department without taking into consideration the shopping experience itself. By thinking like a shopper -and utilizing shopper data - you can gain insight that allows you to consider the retail experience as a whole. How does your category fit within the larger whole of the store? Are there missed opportunities to cross-promote products across categories? Would items from other categories perform better if placed in your category? Or items in your category that lag because they – from a shopper’s perspective – belong somewhere else?

So where do you start? With the demand data you have at hand. But that’s only a start. If your retailer shares market basket analysis data, you’re in luck. This shopper-specific data gives you insight into specific consumer shopping processes. For example, when consumers purchase marshmallows in summer, there’s a good chance they’re also adding graham crackers and chocolate bars to their basket. Yes, this is a rather obvious example – but the point is that market basket analysis can provide you with a wide variety of product correlations that can help you give some pep to your category by going beyond the category – just as your shoppers do.

If your retailer doesn’t provide this level of data, get creative. Conduct independent market research that helps you discover such correlations. Or ask your buyer to share demand data from other categories. Initially, yes, you might meet with some resistance. So build your case for this request with fact-based reports that indicate category SKU laggards and winners, and share the creative direction you’d like to go in with your buyer.

For example, if your category features commodities related to parenting – diapers, food, formula and wipes  — and you know that bottles are located in another department with strollers, cribs and baby clothes, you might hypothesize that parents would prefer to have formula with the bottles and food with the bowls, bibs and spoons. Sound obvious? Now it does. But a few years ago, this product synergy wasn’t in place. The reason? Suppliers and retailers tend to keep their focus solely on their category.

Once you have demand intelligence in hand, start revising the planogram – and go beyond your aisle(s). Think consumer convenience. Examine the shopper specific data to see what items – no matter where they’re physically located in the store – correlate with one another. Then cross-promote within your category. Once you have a fact-based new planogram in hand, what’s the next step? Convincing your retailer to make a trial run. In the next Insight Series, we’ll examine planogram tests and the demand data you need to prove your case and expand what’s “new” in planograms across a retail chain.