By: John Matthews, founder of Gray Cat Enterprises.
With the New Year upon us, planning for your annual merchandising and promotional schedule should be in place. For the multi-store operator, identifying the key initiatives for each of the merchandising categories is critical to remaining on plan (and on budget) throughout the year. Each category should have targeted initiatives, all represented with sales and margin goals—including rebates—all with assigned owners and key deadlines identified.
All too often, multi-unit operators leave too much to chance with their merchandising or simply promote items from month-to-month without a cohesive annualized plan. A well thought out category management plan enables the operator to know in advance where incremental sales and margin will come from.
Failure to create these initiatives with benchmark financial metrics will leave the retailer wallowing for answers and missed opportunities throughout the year. Dovetailing these category targets with a monthly Key Performance Initiatives (KPI) review will assist in keeping the plan on time and on budget.
Productivity Initiatives: Each of these initiatives should be productivity tasks – in other words, non-capital investments. Identify a series of initiatives for each category and forecast the amount of sales, margin and rebates you are expecting to attain. Each category should identify initiatives that will impact the baseline and added to the previous year baseline. Initiatives should include both growth initiatives as well as offsets (price increases, etc.)
Core Store Plans: Initiatives developed by category roll-up to new yearly sales, margin, rebate projections. This exercise holds the category manager accountable to the financial expectations as well as the deliverable on time. The key is to not only be able to identify all of the growth tasks for the category, but in addition, be able to execute their implementation in a timely fashion.
Growth/Acquisition Store Plans: If you prefer, the operator can bifurcate the initiatives between baseline stores (core) from new stores (growth or acquisitions). This enables the owner to effectively understand that growth in their business at the core or base store level is legitimately due to the productivity initiatives and not simply by adding more stores.
Key Owner: Initiatives are assigned an owner and deadline for implementation. Ongoing operations meetings should include discussion of past implementation and next quarter initiatives including post analyses. This keeps the category team from missing deadlines, projections and implementation steps. The post analysis process puts a discipline in place that can be used to vet future ideas with concrete, tangible benchmarks.
Time Table: Lastly, all of the initiatives should be given specific launch and completion dates. Remember, the financial targets and expectations of each task are predicated on a specific launch date. In other words, missing key implementation dates where financial expectations are due to begin, means that the likelihood of achieving those metrics are in peril.
At the end of the day, each category should have a number of key initiatives identified and project planned for implementation throughout the year. The monthly KPI review process generates financial updates on the status of each and adjustments are made going forward to ensure that the aggregate financial goals are met. By establishing these plans in advance, the multi-unit operator can prosper throughout the year with a cohesive category strategy.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.