In the Store - Brand Marketing

Sep 01, 1997
In the Store - Brand Marketing

In the Store - Brand Marketing

SPAR Gets Force Wired for Speed

TARRYTOWN, NY - To any brand marketers who still regard third-partymerchandising as merely a way to find lower-cost arms and legs forin-store tasks: The folks at SPAR Marketing Force advocate another,wired perspective.


"No. 1 today is speed of information: What's going on in the store?Knowing that quickly," says Bill Bartels, Senior Vice President ofCorporate at SPAR Group here, the merchandising and marketingresearch firm.

Its SPAR Marketing Force unit, one of the nation's largestmerchandising services firms, has embraced information technologyas a means of competing in an increasingly crowded field.

On a daily basis it uses interactive voice response, databasetechnology, hand-held scanners and inbound and outboundteleservicing, cellular communications - and increasingly...the Internetto coordinate 3,000 merchandising specialists who may be deployedamong 30,000 stores.

Bartels maintains today's fast-evolving retail merchandising servicesbusiness is about more than cost-effective performance of in-storetasks. It is about efficiently planning those activities, tracking andensuring their execution, evaluating their results qualitatively,measuring their financial outcomes and reporting it all to clientsquickly enough to take advantage of in-market opportunities.

"There has been an evolution of needs in this business," he says."Today there has to be a payout. More manufacturers and retailersare looking for ways to see the results of the investment they aremaking.

"In retail merchandising, the object is not the task in and of itself. Theobject is to increase business for the customer that you are serving.Even today, some companies are only task-oriented. But the tasksonly get you to the ends - which are sales, profits, and market shareincreases," he said.

The company's investments in communications technology have allbeen geared toward enabling SPAR Marketing Force to deliver qualitymerchandising execution and then to document its benefits tocustomers. But where the technology really shines is in meetingbrand marketers' demands for speedy delivery of information.

Bartels offers an example: "New video releases seem to be amongthe most time-sensitive, since they want to meet street dates. Theyask us to pull point-of-sale data that very day."

Like most major retail merchandising firms. SPAR uses interactivevoice response to gather reports from its field people after every storevisit.

"Some people can collect data and display it. We collect it, makecalculations with it and give something back. We turn the data intoinformation." says Patricia Franco, SPAR Group Vice President, whocoordinates the company's technology efforts.

The way SPAR approaches the business, on-line communicationstechnology has become an integral tool for deploying a far-flungworkforce, gathering data from the field and rapidly distributing reportsto client brand marketers, says Franco. Franco offers a vision of thein-store merchandising warrior of the (not-too-distant) future: He orshe will be armed with a belt-mounted, wearable personal computer,cellular modem, hand-held scanner and a headset with earpiece,microphone, and heads-up display eye-piece.

So equipped, merchandisers can view instruction manuals orplanograms on the display and communicate shelf status or otherinformation to SPAR's headquarters computer. The technology, whichwas originally developed for military use, is now available off-the-shelfand the price is dropping fast.

"We are testing this now with a few of our people," she says, addingthat SPAR's in-house name for the test is a tribute to the half-flesh,half-silicon characters from the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TVseries: "The Borg Project."