PetSmart's Merchant Team: A 'Healthy Disrespect for the Status Quo' 10/22/2018
PetSmart SVP of Merchandising Michael Sapp and his team were recognized as ECRM’s 2018 Merchant Team of the Year in the Pet category for their excellence in sourcing, merchandising, and supplier collaboration.
ECRM discussed these three areas with Sapp, to highlight the strategies and successes that earned him and his team the award.
ECRM: What is your leadership philosophy to encourage your team to be their best?
Sapp: I let my team run their businesses within the guardrails that we as senior leaders establish for the company. I cannot hold someone accountable for their results if I am making decisions for them, so I look for people who are driven by a healthy disrespect for the status quo and have the confidence to make and defend their decisions. Certainly we make mistakes, but as long as we learn from them we create a stronger business and provide better solutions for our customers.
ECRM: What are your team’s strengths, and what characteristics do you attribute to their success in today’s turbulent retail environment?
Sapp: In addition to having a healthy disrespect for the status quo, my team is curious and not satisfied by being just good at what we do. We are competitive without being arrogant and pride ourselves on learning more about the market and our customers so we can offer the best solutions and experience for them.
ECRM: How do you keep tabs on emerging product trends to help in your sourcing efforts?
Sapp: We spend a lot of time in the market visiting our stores and our competition, talking with the vendor community, and understanding what our customers are looking for. Some of the best feedback comes from our store associates as they hear from customers on a daily basis. Our associates are not shy at telling us what they think would satisfy our customers better and drive our sales faster.
ECRM: Can you give us an example or two of some recent successful products you have brought into your category?
Sapp: We just launched a new line of small animal habitats, called Tiny Tales, that brings storytelling to the category and give kids additional ways to engage with their pets. We’re spending a lot of time and resources on our own brands. We still believe in national brands but look for white space in the market and current assortments as a way of further differentiating PetSmart from our competitors.
We’re spending a lot of time and resources on our own brands. We still believe in national brands but look for white space in the market and current assortments as a way of further differentiating PetSmart from our competitors.
ECRM: How are you leveraging digital in your merchandising efforts?
Sapp: Even with Chewy as our partners we still have an online presence with PetSmart.com. We work with our colleagues on that team to ensure we have alignment on assortments and direction and provide information for customers to make the best decisions for their pets as they research options before coming to our stores. Buy Online Pick Up In Store also provides us with the opportunity to engage with our customers in a more convenient way for them.
ECRM: What is the ideal you try to attain in your relationships with suppliers?
Sapp: I prefer business relationships that are partnerships as opposed to transactions and think that PetSmart and the pet channel is ideally suited for this kind of environment. That is not to say we don’t look for timely opportunities that may be short in nature, but we prefer to find, develop, and nurture businesses over time.
ECRM: Where do you see your category heading over the next three to five years?
Sapp: Customers are looking for experiences more than ever, so we need to provide them with products, services, and environments that engage them beyond just a vanilla ‘store’ solution. We’ll need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as we see new entrants into the market – both from a retail and a supplier perspective - challenge our leadership in the market. Customers will have more choices than ever before, so making their decisions easier and helping them to be confident in the care they provide their pets will help PetSmart to stand out.