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So You Want to Be in Retail? Here's the Scoop

by Alf Nucifora

With seventy percent (70%) of all purchase decisions being made at the retail level, according to the Point-of-Purchase Advertising Institute, commanding visibility and presence in the retail space becomes an imperative for those marketers for whom moving product is a matter of life or death. Within that retail environment there are three primary activities which will help garner product prominence on the shelf, including gaining increased display activity, generating more in-store merchandising, and securing more inclusion in the retailer's advertising i.e., getting the retailer to feature the brand and the brand message in their own newspaper ads, circulars, newsletters, broadcast advertising, etc.

What's the Strategy?

According to David Botsford of the Botsford Group, an Atlanta-based promotion agency and member of the Fitzgerald/Interpublic Group, "The long-term objective is to grow the brand; short-term it's to move product." With that in mind, he notes that it all comes down to three essential actions:

1. Motivate retailers to authorize incremental support for your brand.

2. Insure that the support you get builds the brand.

3. Make sure that the promised support is actually implemented at the store level (it only happens 40% of the time).

Botsford advises that there are five rules that must be followed in order to generate success:

1. Collaborate - Work with the retailer to help build his business. If not, he won't support you. Don't suggest ideas that will convince customers to switch brands. Instead, bring ideas that will expand the category, generate increased profitability and drop more sales dollars into the retailer's till. In order to achieve that, become familiar with the retailer's needs, idiosyncrasies and rules, not to mention brand personality and merchandising style. Don't forget that store employees are the gatekeepers…they can make or break your program. If your field force or agency doesn't know the lay of the land at the store level, get them educated as quickly as possible by talking to a representative sampling of the store's key employees…the people who know how things are done on the inside. Most appreciate being asked.

2. Differentiate - Don't give the retailer the same program that you've offered his competitor down the street. Retailers need promotions that will set them apart from their rivals. One way to do this is to customize the creative product that will appear in the store, e.g. P-O-P materials. It's relatively inexpensive, and delivers a mile of return on the investment.

3. Motivate - Find ways to tie store-level incentives to in-store implementation. For example, for retailers who don't allow direct employee rewards, stage special events for top performers with appropriate incentives for performance.

4. Communicate - Approximately a week before the in-store program kicks-off, make sure to check with the folks who are physically responsible for getting merchandising out of the backroom into the store and erecting displays. Planning and timing is everything in the retail merchandising game.

5. Participate - Invite retailers to become part of your planning effort, without giving up control of brand positioning, marketing strategies or creative development. They'll be flattered at the offer and will begin to view you as a partner, rather than just another vendor.

How to Crack the Retail Category

In the hard-fought and brutally competitive world of retail promotion and merchandising, sound strategy and good intentions are not enough. There are certain imperatives without which failure is guaranteed.

1. Listening - Do a lot of it. Ask the retailer for opinion and input and you'll get it, together with biases, prejudices, and all of the other in-store quirks that are unique and specific to each retailer.

2. Satisfy the Need - Retailers always need something. Your job is to determine the need and make it compatible with yours as the marketer. Kill two birds with the same promotional stone. And, don't forget, retailers can often behave like children--they always want more candy (in their case, the sweet satisfaction of a slotting allowance or other emolument).

3. Do the Research - Talk to the category…distributors, brokers, wholesalers and customers. If you can afford it, consider a third party retail research firm that will research the trade channel, providing both contact information and how-to advice.

4. More Please! - Retailers always want more...additional arms and legs, help in motivating and activating the internal staff and more creative promotions and ideas.

5. Hire Experts - Be willing to consider hiring a promotional marketing firm to help you develop the programs, sell the retailers and manage the execution. The retail world, particularly the in-store environment, is not a place for neophytes.

6. Retailers are People Too - Poke a retailer and the instinctive response is "Give me a deal." But, the truth is, retailers are just as human as their customers. Their needs, wants and desires will quite often run deeper than the basic need for revenue and profitability. That's where good listening comes in. Try to unearth the hidden requirement, then package it with the dollar deal. That's how you gain their respect and their buy-in.

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