Tag Archives: merchandising

Paying to play

Supermarket
Expensive real estate (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The reports of Walmart paying bribes in Mexico to get permits to build stores  have certainly stirred a lot of industry buzz.  Pundits pose on both sides of the issue, debating whether this is truly illegal or merely how global business is done today. (For a thoughtful discussion of this issue, see:  www.perishablepundit.com )

While the final verdict on the case may take years and we’re not expressing our opinion, nor are we legal experts (disclaimers!), we can safely say here that this type of thing is rampant in most parts of the world.  In fact, in most cases it is just life as usual.

In Brazil, for example, the country would not function were it not for what the Mexicans call “gestores” and in Portuguese are “procuradores” and their many minions.  In a country where bureaucracy is endemic,  it’s the only way to survive.

If you have to wait in line for a document to prove you are still alive, you may very well die before you get it.   That’s why you hire someone to stand in line for you:  so you can get on with your life.

We assume this also applies to commercial construction permits.   In retail, a month may be a lifetime, so it’s easy to see the type of pressure this exerts on a company trying to enter a new market.

But let’s digress a bit to something we do know a little about, and that’s the concept of “paying to play”.  When we talk about this we are of course referring to the cost of doing business at retail outlets, sometimes delicately termed “real estate fees”.

Clients are often shocked when we tell them what it takes to get their products up on supermarket shelves.  Shelf slotting fees are said to be a $9B+ industry alone, and can easily run over $30,000 per SKU. (AMA)

So, if you have a brand with three different flavors, that’s three separate SKUs (you do the math.)  Note that this is typically in addition to off-invoice, case allowances or any other relevant fees to get your products promoted properly.

When you look at the one to two percent annual margins of most supermarket chains today you can see  that slotting is an attractive profit center.   But it’s important to also remember that a simpatico retail partner can make or break you.  So,  if you’re lucky and end up with your products on their shelves, why, you may soon retire in grand style.

Yet many of the sweet-hearted folk who make the great-tasting  jams you see at your local farmer’s markets don’t know or understand this.  They remain at the farmer’s market for that key reason:  they can’t get their products into the great indoors because they have no money.

We often run into the great  jam-&-jelly-makers of this world who spend thousands of dollars to participate in trade shows where they hope to meet supermarket buyers, yet have no capital to go any further.  They believe that just having great-tasting stuff is enough.

It’s like a pretty, aspiring actress hoping to be discovered sitting at a Hollywood lunch counter.   Does it still happen?  Maybe, but the “price” can be high, as these gals will tell ‘ya…

“No such thing as a free lunch” is the adage marketers need to keep in mind here.   If not actual hard cash, then certainly you need the “capital” of a well-thought out strategic marketing plan and a product that is totally of  the moment:  ideally, an “Aha!” item a chain may wish to keep for itself.   Additionally, to deal with the pressure you need a large set of what from Spanish roughly translates to “spherical male organs”…

Still, even if you have THOSE, you may wish to pray for some venture capital angel or a M&A expert to show up and offer to sell your wonder product to a major company so you can go sip Margaritas pool-side and forget all this stuff.

Rewriting retail rules

Apple Computer
Temptation greater than Adam & Eve's fruit

Lately, we’ve been focusing on some of the new things that are making us look at marketing in a different way.  We’ve discussed social media, shopping apps, on-line gaming and auctions, plus the myriad ways marketers make money by using badly-disguised “tricks”.

Yet one thing missing here lately has been report of innovative bricks-and-mortar retailing.  Not surprising, as we read about the consistent quarterly downturn of majors such as Walmart, The Gap and so many others.

While savvy chains like Target, Tiffany, Costco, Publix — plus our frivolous favorite, Gumps — are doing well or just holding their own,  let’s admit it, many chains haven’t added any real “Oomph!” to their operations in a while.

But there is one company you really never thought of as a retailer which  is now making the corporate suits at the chains tremble, and that’s Apple.  From all trade reports, not since Adam and Eve has there been such excitement over an opening.

Ten years after its first Apple Store opened its door, the company has grown “faster than any retailer in history”, fawns a recent feature on USA Today, heralding the opening of their latest New York emporium.  With sales last quarter topping $ 3.2B — an increase of over 90% YTD — Apple is said to be rewriting the rules of retail. (Darn, and we were just learning them!)

What’s amazing is that this growth comes when the entire category (computer retailing) appears to be dying.  Witness the list of chains that have already shuttered all or some stores, or plan to:  Gateway, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Best Buy.  In contrast, Apple plans to add 40 new stores to their current total of 330, all expected to create the camp-outside-night-before-opening fervor they inspire in their fans.

To us, the Apple Store mystique is not entirely new.  We were already onto them way back on 8/24 when we posted about how fun they were.  After parting with beaucoup bucks for an iPad at one last year, well, we simply became groupies like the others…  

Not that we actually hang for hours at these stores, sitting at different terminals, writing a book (as apparently one customer did) or flirting with the quirky Genius Baristas (their “geek” sales team).  After all, we do have a business to run!

But we sure like to visit them.  The stores exude excitement and coolness, like a hot, stylin’ nightclub where you’re a VIP and from where you’ll never be bounced, and finally emerge, hours later, drunk on new tech.

Then, one day, not long ago, the iPad developed a serious problem:  the on/off switch stuck.  So we bundled the baby up and rushed it to the nearest Apple Store.  Like an efficient paramedic, a Genius Barista immediately came by, looked at it grimly and rushed it back-stage.  We feared the worst…

But it was just minutes later that the young Genius emerged with a brand, new iPad.  No muss, no fuss, no questions, and certainly no request for more money.  Could retail be any sweeter?!  

(Did we even bother to ask why the thing stuck in the first place?  The answer is an equivocal “No”.  We simply took the new unit and ran…)

The person responsible for this retailing nirvana is none other than former Target merchandiser-in-chief,  Ron Johnson.  Focusing on the the customer experience and sound assortment strategies that made Target a great place to shop, Johnson did what many said was impossible:  he turned a great computer-maker into a great retailer.

Marketers like to say:  “Well, we focus on our core competency, nothing else. ”  Heck, we’re guilty of that same sentiment.   But we admit we may be wrong here, as many apparently were about Apple. 

It’s not that they even had to go into retail.  Or, as though they weren’t already on top of their game with their numerous “iProducts” and now, the brand new, barrier-breaking iCloud.   And it’s not like Steve Jobs isn’t already a guru, if not a god, becoming more so with each re-appearance of his ravaged body at new product launches.  

It’s just that this is a company that decided to take total control of their brand.

That’s why Advertising Age just named Apple “Marketer of the Year”.   If they’re also named “Retailer of the Year”, well, then the rules really have to be rewritten.

Working it in store

supermarket 70774
Where impulse will get'cha

The proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes, and especially so when you are talking ROI for marketing programs.  We’ve posted often enough about the value of metrics and measurement, and nothing is quite as satisfying for a marketer than to see those sales needles jump in-store.

That’s because no matter how brilliant or elegant your marketing plan is, if it doesn’t play in Peoria (or wherever your target market is) then you’ve failed.  The ability to have it work in-store — where the rubber meets the road — is where it counts.

This is especially so when you consider that in-store marketing has recently surpassed the $18 billion mark and is projected to grow significantly in the next five years.  Regardless of the relevance and performance of  primary drivers (see last week’s post), over 70% of buying decisions are said to be made in-store .

Savvy retailers then partner with their vendors to ensure they are keeping a sharp eye on the results of their programs.  Unfortunately for most retailers, developing a program template that achieves reliable results is still a work in progress.  According to MarketingLab, most claim less than half of programs are successful, but as with much of media, the question is:  which half?

The chart below reflects the interesting results of  what promotions and merchandising activities seem to work best:

To us it’s not surprising that “Seasonal Programs” are the  most effective , with almost 30% of responses.  After all, if most shopping is done on impulse then “what’s hot now” is certainly a key motivator.  We would combine this with the “Short Term” stat because, again, it’s the now-or-never inpulse that drives sales.

Within the seasonal focus we would add themed promotions.  We’ve found that when you build an event and display around a well-executed theme — even ones as mundane as “Christmas in July” “Winter Wonderland”, “Fruitful Fall”, or even “Fiesta Days” –customers are drawn in by the visuals (retailtainment)  and the promise of a bargain.

When it comes to the second most effective in-store tactic being media-specific, again, we are not surprised.  Radio, especially, which does not require shoppers’ active attention and plays a strong subconscious influence, is the most cost-effective and easily-measurable.  

VOXPOP, a leading in-store media company, reports that over 40% of shoppers who listen to in-store radio are influenced to buy differently.  They also report 300%+  lifts from their campaigns.

Finally, the higher percentage of success with in-store as well as department-specific programs reinforces that a cohesive effort that goes across all store departments is the best.