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February 26, 2024

Travelling for work?  Going away on a family vacation? Use this opportunity to visit a few stores and share your learnings with your customers.


The photos or videos you take of new merchandising ideas are new reasons to interact with your customer and keep building the relationship. What you see when you travel is one more chance to move the relationship forward.


When you are looking for ideas, you should also consider where you think your customer should be moving. You might be trying to convince them to move to a bigger pack size or a new form of packaging. There is nothing wrong with sharing insights from other markets that reinforce the position you are trying to advance.


Keep the ideas realistic


Remember the segment of the market your customers are serving. When you are in a different market – city, region, country -- focus on store formats that occupy a similar position in the market. For example, if you supply discount formats, it is not much help to share ideas from a Sprouts or Eataly store. These stores are trying to do something very different. The labour they have is much more abundant and fixtures are probably very different from a discount store.


Before you travel, ask your category manager or other contacts within the retailer if they can recommend some stores to visit. Some retailers work with stores in non-competing markets. Or do your research in advance and tell your client that you’re going to visit four stores. Ask them how they would prioritize the list and if there are any others in the market they are familiar with.


Start with the overall store positioning


I always take a few pictures of the outside of the store. There could be some consumer messages that are interesting but more importantly, it helps me identify which store the interior photos are from. After a few store visits, it can be difficult to remember which store you were in.


Your inclination might be to run to your category, but take the time to understand the total store positioning and look at different departments. You should know the overall issues your customers are working on. These could be pricing messages, value statements, private label or perhaps sustainability.


Investigate these initiatives in the total store. You might find some signage or shelf programs that would be interesting to your customer. If possible, take some photos and pick up any point-of-sale materials. Grab a flyer if printed copies are available.


Retailers do not always merchandise products in the same departments as your customers do at home. Make sure you look in different spots for your products and for cross-merchandising ideas. An example of cross merchandising is putting mushrooms and onions in the meat department beside the steaks. Some of these can be great ideas for you to share back home. Trader Joe’s in the U.S. do this a lot.


Your department might deliver some gems


Once you have checked out the overall store positioning, spend time in your department and your category. Think about what your customers are working on and how this store is implementing that vision. 


Your customers might be bolstering their image of how they support local growers. So find ideas and examples of how this is playing out in far-from-home stores. This could be a signage program that identifies a grower on the sign or pictures of the farm beside the display. There are many different “buy local” initiatives.


Merchandising -- how products are displayed -- is a combination of art and science. Look for new ideas or fixtures that might be interesting to your customers. These could be multi-shelf berry displays that do a better job keeping product refrigerated or a simple shelf such as a basket for tomatoes beside refrigerated lettuce. These ideas should lead to incremental sales.


Packaging is a huge issue in our industry. If you are travelling in markets that are more advanced in the shift to compostable materials, you can learn a lot. Consider buying some product to bring the packaging home. We know in Canada there is a lot of discussion around selling more product in bulk or compostable packaging. Learn as much as you can to share with your customers.


If possible, talk to the staff in the stores about the ideas you see. It is one thing to see an interesting idea, but it is so much better if they tell you it resulted in a 20 per cent increase in sales. Your customer will be much more interested if you can quantify some of the benefits for them. They are probably not the final decision maker, so the more facts you can supply the better chance they have to convince their bosses.


Organize the ideas and spread them out


Too much information can be a bad thing. It is great if you have 20 photos you want to share with a customer but don’t do it all at once. Group the photos into themes. Start with the obvious opportunities or photos from stores they suggested you visit. They will not spend the time to look through huge numbers of photos.


Follow up with other ideas after you have had a chance to do some homework. If you saw some great compostable packaging, do your due diligence to see if you can use it with your equipment or what investments would be required. It really does not do you or your customer much good to share an idea that is never a reality for you. Sometimes it can even hurt the relationship because they want you to execute it and you can’t.


Share the ideas over time. Some ideas might be better for certain customers and not others. Time is valuable. Especially when you’re sharing your best insights from your working vacation!





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Submitted by Peter Chapman on 26 February 2024