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Degrees for unicorns… where are all the category management experts?

I’ve been told I’m a “unicorn”. At first I didn’t get it (I actually had to google what it could have meant?). Then as years passed by, I’ve become acutely aware that I’m not a mythical creature, and that people with my unique combination of skills, qualifications and experience do actually exist. If that sounds arrogant, it’s not my intention. It can be lonely being a rarity in the market at times. But rest assured there is a small unicorn population out there, just like me… we’re called category management experts.

What is category management?

Category management is a collaborative process adopted by retailers and suppliers in FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) to help drive business performance, by better understanding how to deliver value to customers [1].

In a nutshell, this means selling products by category rather than by brand. There is a functional and logistical element to the process, and there also is a relational and human side to the process. The PhD I’m currently undertaking is exploring these dynamics from both a qualitative and quantitative research perspective, with the aim of trying to understand competitive retail environments. Ideally category management can be a win/win for suppliers, retailers and customers, but if that turns out to be unachievable, at least I’ll discover through my research why it’s not possible.

Learning about category management

Considering the Australian retail sector makes the highest employment contribution to the Australian economy, with 1.3 million people and 11% of the workforce[2], you may expect there would be a focus on category management as part of many popular courses studied. While I completed three degrees through one of Australia’s leading universities (in business and psychology), I didn’t learn a single thing about category management or market insights through any of them! Everything I’ve learned has been either on the job (working inside a retailer, supplier, agency and now a private consultancy), or through presentations by industry partners.

My PhD results

Four years into a six year part-time PhD journey whilst juggling two companies and a family, it’s safe to assume that achieving work/life balance is not my area of expertise (try me again in two years). However I can vouch for this: if you’re passionate about finding out the why behind something, a PhD is a pretty good vehicle to help you achieve that.

Wearing my supplier hat, I want to know why the retailers aren’t accepting our new products in development (NPD)? The generic answers provided just aren’t constructive enough. As a retailer, I question why suppliers aren’t sharing holistic category insights, instead of a tunnel-vision brand-driven sales pitch. The conversation can’t be strategic or collaborative, and simply shows they aren’t on the same page. As a research consultant I want to know why both retailers and suppliers trust me more than they trust each other? The undercurrent of past politics can block all hope for future joint business planning and innovation.

The results thus far have been fascinating, if not a little concerning for the future of our retail economy. I’m still in the midst of analysing the data, but if you’re interested in learning more when I’m able to share, send me a message on LinkedIn. Until all is revealed, here are my thoughts on what we need to do in the category management and the insights space.

A unicorn’s guide to the future of category management and customer insights

  1. Bridge the current gap between academia and industry
  2. Even better, educate our young graduates before they go into industry
  3. Better still, train and support the rare skillset of CM managers and analysts on the job
  4. Rebuild the bridge between retailers and suppliers to encourage collaboration
  5. Upskill the entire industry on category management and insights
  6. Teach the value (and difference) between big data and actionable insights
  7. Identify who to hire – are they a unicorn or just a horse with a carrot?
  8. Work together on solving this industry problem.

Soon I’ll be able to tell you the why… my next job is to figure out how.

 

Rebecca Rees presented at Slade Chats in partnership with Females in Food on Thursday 19 October 2017. Contact Stuart Carruthers, Practice Leader Consumer, Retail & Sport at Slade Executive for further information about our events, if you need assistance when hiring in these sectors or are seeking career advice.


References

  1. Gooner, Morgan & Perreault, 2011; Blattberg, Fox & Purk, 1995.
  2. ABS 2015-16, cat. no. 8155.0

 

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And just like that, I’m off to a new team!

In November I’m taking on a new role with the Carlton Football Club as a full time coach in an elite sporting environment. I’ll be going from working as a corporate recruiter to working with elite sportsmen and women.

It may sound weird, but after what I’ve learnt through 2017, I feel so much more prepared for what’s to come.

Here are some key learnings from my time here with the Slade Group, let’s call it the 5 P‘s.

1/ Pace

Boy was I slow! When you start a new role you want to double check things, make sure you’re not stepping on toes and listen and learn as much as you can. Note to self: Jason, don’t over think things or double guess – you’ll learn as you go and be much more valuable learning by doing.

2/ Punctuality

Sounds simple in the professional world, but I am still amazed by the lasting negative impact of people who think it’s ok to be late, or not show up at all to interviews. This has left me with an underlying anxiety never to be late to anything myself. Or, if it’s unavoidable I’ll always call ahead and tell the truth.

3/ People

Recruiting is all about people. Every step of the way, and on every recruitment assignment I’ve dealt with people as candidates, as clients, and as colleagues. There are no widgets in the work we produce. In life we all make mistakes, can inadvertently let others down, and over time learn about our strengths and weaknesses. How we react to and handle difficult situations, is the important bit. That goes for me as well. Make the tough calls, and be honest and fair. People appreciate and respect this much more than smoke and mirrors.

4/ Preparation

Talk about added stress by not being prepared. Yes things move quickly, but systems are in place to help you cope and keep track. Use them! You’re a part of a team or better yet, a brand, and if you are unprepared that’s a bad look for all of you.

5/ Pride

One thing I quickly learnt heading into, and during, my consulting role is that there is still some stigma around recruitment. It didn’t make a lot of sense as I had never had any personal experiences with recruiters prior to becoming one. But once I started meeting with clients and candidates I learnt they were happy to share their issues. I listened. Maybe I just got lucky, but my time here at Slade Group was nothing but professional and personable. I couldn’t count how many people I’ve come across both internally and externally in the last year or so who have taught me more than any book or university ever could. As I now say when discussing who I work for, “you don’t survive as a brand in this space for 50 years if you’re not doing a lot right.”

Now looking forward

At the start of the year I set out on a new journey. I made the switch from not-for-profit to the corporate world in order to test my skills and pace in the recruitment space. I joined Team Slade and when I look back now, it’s fair to say I had little idea about what lay ahead, and it’s also fair to add that I still have a long way to go if I return one day to become a top flight senior  consultant.

Can you remember some of the Aha moments in your first year in a new role in your world @work?

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