retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are all kinds of things we love writing about here at MNB and we believe all of them are important. Whether it’s technology or great hamburgers, supply chain innovations or movie metaphors, we hope you find it all makes sense and matters because the truth is it all should make sense and it certainly matters.

But occasionally we have to remember that what makes the food retail industry go is much more basic. As a CEO of a company told me years ago, “Nothing really matters if we don’t sell a few groceries.” So let’s pause for a second to discuss selling a few more groceries and fresh products.

At last week’s Food Marketing Institute (FMI) show in Dallas, one of the workshops that resonated most with me was about that simple topic: selling more groceries through creative and logical merchandising. It’s a topic we can’t discuss enough.

The session, moderated by my friend Thom Blischok of Booz and Company, examined the sales and profit successes recorded in two specific cases when a single retailer and supplier worked together to do what this business is all about: sell more groceries. As Blischok and his panelists detailed, there are some simple steps that should never be forgotten. Things like:

• Merchandise products that consumers use for the same need together, no matter how they are traditionally displayed. One example was the importance of putting juice displays near cold and cough remedies because the same people looking for health relief are also looking to ingest more fluids.

• Think about simplicity in merchandising, especially in categories where the number of SKUs makes the shoppers choice increasingly difficult. Take a hard look at your variety and debate whether you are really helping the shopper choose, or just obfuscating the options with clutter.

• Remember that when motivated trading partners work together great things can happen. The workshop detailed joint efforts by Clorox and Roundy’s, and Coca-Cola and Kroger, and the results were sales gains in both cases. Nothing bad about that except that, as one audience member pointed out, more retailers need the ability to jump on such programs.

Not the most profound or cutting edge stuff, but certainly every bit as important as Kevin’s session on e-commerce or mine on social networking. Because while those new trends demand our attention, so do the basics of the business like teaming up to build creative displays and increased sales.

Of course, if things were that simple, everyone would succeed ... so it’s important to point out the challenges every company faces today which make merchandising so challenging. In a workshop at the co-located American Meat Institute meeting, Anne-Marie Roerink detailed findings on shopper decisions when purchasing meat products.

As Roerink (a former colleague of mine) pointed out, price is the ultimate trump card these days for so many shoppers looking for ways to balance a budget, which is hardly a surprise. But it might have been more eye opening when she examined cooking techniques and pointed out that frying is way down and slow cooking way up. Such insights though small on their own can help retailers understand new points of emphasis that can also build sales.

The details differ for every store and every product and that’s why retail success is so challenging. You have to find the answers every day and in countless ways. And that’s why it pays to pause from the new and complex repeatedly to contemplate the key question of success in business. How do we sell more and how to sell it profitably?

That’s a discussion worthy of any company or any meeting.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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