Case Study: Offloading the ‘Grunt Work’ of Category Planning  8/7/2016

Category managers have a lot on their plates. Unfortunately, much of it consists of routine administrative tasks related to finding new products and vendors, setting up meetings with them, and making sure they are prepared for these meetings. And the more time they spend doing these tasks, the less they spend focused on more value-added activities like building the most profitable assortment possible.

Indeed, not only do these routine tasks suck up time, but they also negatively impact performance. As Daniel Levitin writes in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, “the mere situation of facing so many trivial decisions in daily life created neural fatigue, leaving no energy for the important decisions.”

Attention is a limited-capacity resource, according to Levitin, and with each trivial decision that requires it – such as deciding when to schedule a meeting, or responding to individual supplier’s routine questions – your ability to effectively focus attention on important matters is diminished.

The best way to address this, Levitin states, is to find ways of “offloading” these routine tasks by finding tools that do this work for you, freeing up your attention for what matters most. And that’s just what one category manager of a multibillion-dollar retail chain did to enhance the performance of her seasonal candy planning.

The category manager found that she was spending a significant amount of time was spent focusing on administrative duties, meeting with unprepared vendors and sourcing performance metrics due to inadequate supplier data. On top of this, the retailer had limited access to new and innovative vendors which hindered the team’s category growth. So she tapped ECRM’s Retail Group to unburden her and her team from the “grunt work” so they can focus on value-added activities.

By using a combination of ECRM’s Efficient Program Planning Sessions (EPPS) and Enhanced Reviews to coordinate all of its seasonal and everyday candy competitive line reviews, the category manager was able to eliminate all of the administrative load of sourcing new vendors and coordinating dozens of individual office visits. ECRM handled it all.

“Utilizing ECRM is extremely helpful when it comes to seasonal planning,” she said. “Having ECRM facilitate my meeting schedule, samples, vendor requests, item tagging and related tasks allowed me time to focus on my strategy and planning of the season.”

The Process: 
Here’s how the process worked: First, the retailer sat with ECRM’s Retail Team and defined its go-to-market strategy. Based on this focus, ECRM sourced new and current vendors and screened and qualified each for meeting with the retailer during ECRM’s seasonal candy EPPS.

To ensure that the retailer got the most value from each meeting, ECRM’s account management team advised vendors of the retailer’s meeting expectations and ensured each supplier complied with its requirements. They also made samples available at the retailer’s room so that all of the items could be evaluated side by side on actual gondolas brought to the EPPS for planning to evaluate the category as a whole. Following all of the supplier meetings, the retailer set the racks and finalized the planogram. ECRM’s Account Managers then shipped the samples from the EPPS to the retailer’s headquarters.

Additionally, ECRM developed a custom software solution designed to streamline distribution and analysis of sell through to allow suppliers and buying team to make better decisions.

The Results
The offloading of administrative tasks from the retailer to ECRM led to a boost in productivity levels and a dramatic reduction in the amount of time it took for the retailer to complete its competitive line reviews.

More importantly, the category manager and her team were able to make better strategic decisions because the vendors came into the meetings prepared with performance metrics and other relevant data from their prep work with the ECRM Account Managers.

Bottom line: The retailer was able to more efficiently and effectively develop a seasonal candy planogram that would better meet its customers’ needs and truly differentiate itself from competitors. 

How can ECRM's Retail Group help you offload your grunt work? To find out, contact Wayne Bennett, ECRM's SVP of Retail, at 516-841-4519 or; or  Laura Fontana, ECRM’s VP of Retail, at 440-542-3031 or 

Joseph Tarnowski

VP Content

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