Apr 07, 1997
New Eyes for DetailWhat's the half-life of a planogram? Does automatic replenishmentdrive out-of-stocks?
How many authorized displays have been erected for a brand'scurrent promotion? Were they done right and on time?
What are competing brands up to in-store?
Answers to questions like these elude brand marketers every day.The consequences of the missing information may be promotionswhich underperform, shelf sets which deteriorate, unreliable forecastsand analyses - even product delistings.
But some proactive manufacturers are employing merchandisingservice firms as their eyes on the aisle, to bring back shelf-statusinformation in a rigid time frame. The benefits can be dramatic, and assome are finding, pursuing category management without thisinformation can be a futile exercise.
Mentholatum Co., Buffalo, N.Y., recently dodged a bullet when amajor chain drug account detected a fall-off in sales, says BruceMcQuiston, director of sales and marketing.
"They called us and questioned whether our item was right for theirads," he says. On analysis, however, the negative sales trendseemed unique to this particular chain.
"We had our merchandising service company run through the storesand they found out that we had only 60% distribution." he says.
It turns out that the buyer was unaware of the gaps. She had sent outproper schematics authorizing the product and relied on store clerksto execute them. Once she was informed of the source of theproblem, Mentholatum's merchandisers were able to correct it andsales rebounded.
"Now the product is no longer in danger of being discontinued," saysMcQuiston. "It changed the whole scenario."
Warner Home Video, Burbank, Calif., relied on field reporting to keepclose tabs on last-month's launch of its "Space Jam" home video.With multiple marketing activities carefully timed, it was essential thatin-store displays appear on the product's "street date." The companyhired SPAR Marketing Force, Tarrytown, N.Y., both to erect displaysin thousands of mass merchandisers and report on their statusovernight.
"Getting the displays out on time is critically important," says BillBartels, Senior Vice President, Corporate at SPAR. "In the videobusiness, if you miss the date, it can cost you millions in lost sales."
With the stakes so high, the merchandisers called in descriptivereports from the field, which were compiled at SPAR's inboundtelemarketing unit. "We could report back to Warner where thedisplays were placed, what accompanying [point-of-sale] materialswere there," says Bartels.
Statistics on the display rollout were considered excellent: 95%display execution on day one; 99% on day two, he adds. For a time,SPAR's people will follow up on a weekly basis to replenish productand maintain the displays.
Bartels says the care taken on the launch underscored its importanceto SPAR employees, a factor which may have contributed to the highon-time execution rates. "There certainly was a high level ofmotivation in our organization," he says.
For other in-store promotions, too, prompt on-site reporting allows forboth reliable analyses after the fact, and midcourse correction whilethe event is in progress. ***
*** But beyond the direct sales impact is the monkey wrench suchdeviations throw into the category management works. The cycle ofevaluation, planning, execution and evaluation breaks down.
"The whole concept of Efficient Consumer Response depends onplanograms and sets being stable," said Bartels of SPAR Marketing.Failure to maintain the schematics, he insists, will undermine "all thatwork the analysts are doing."
Says McQuiston of Mentholatum, "There is so much talk in theindustry about schematics, that everybody assumes it will be therethroughout the entire chain. Our experience is that this is notnecessarily the case."
The fault could be a new item or a shelf positioning change, he says,but the it can cause a brand to miss as much as 30% to 40% ofpotential sales.
"This can be true even in Wal-Mart, even where distribution issupposed to be chainwide on a direct item," he says.