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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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Overwhelmed? Gratitude as a business strategy.

Running your own business can be challenging and life itself can be overwhelming. I’ve said it here before.

Last week I was named in the Top 50 Small Business Leaders of Australia by Inside Small Business magazine. It was an absolute honour and a surprise. Females in Food is less than 6 months old and already being recognised for the problem it is solving – to empower women manufacturers of food & beverage products and associated services to pursue their creative pursuits and look after their financial well being. I was tired of seeing women (40% of single Australian women retire in poverty according to Australian Industry Super) choose either their creativity or their financial well being when really we can have both with some planning and the right support.

What running a business means, however, is long hours, often the remuneration not commensurate with the effort and a lot of juggling the development of tactical solutions with strategic thinking. The latter not a mean feat given the skill set and capacity to do both at the same time is incredibly difficult and not for the fainthearted.

Many people experience busyness, life challenges and the fretting of making the right decision, regardless of what the decision may be. Last week in amongst the recognition from the business and Females in Food community, I was still confronted by the amount I wanted to achieve. Achieve for my consulting and coaching clients, my Females in Food community, for the team that work with me, for my intimate relationship, my home and my family.

Not that different from anyone else.

The truth is, however, it really began to get me down. I was now feeling overwhelmed by my to do list. It seemed never ending and for someone like me who demands so much of myself I wondered where the light was going to get in. It reminded me of that incredibly powerful Leonard Cohen (RIP) song Anthem and the verse that says,

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Cohen was the master of capturing the beauty in the challenges of life. He having experienced financial betrayal by one of his advisors; he rose to meet the challenge by getting back on the road and rebuilding his music business by reconnecting with his fans as he toured the world after a long hiatus.

What I started to think about in my moments of silence was how much I actually have, how much there is to be grateful for.

I could not imagine being anywhere else right now, doing anything differently and with anyone else other than the people I am doing it all with. I had a moment of saying to myself, “Hang on a minute! Look at what you have and be grateful”. Thank goodness I got it in that moment.

Gratitude made me refocus and remember the extraordinary opportunities and work afforded me.

For many of us when we complain we say, “first world problems” and we laugh it off, but I believe it is all relative and no matter what “world” we live in, the challenges we face feel very real to us and we must give them the light they command, but all in moderation. Sweeping problems under the carpet or minimising them because we live in the “first world” doesn’t work either, however, what does work is remembering how fortunate most of us are and what opportunities we have before us.

Being grateful for what we do have, and when times are overwhelming perhaps just remembering to be grateful for the small things afforded to us each day can be helpful, even if it just may be that the sun came up today.

In some of my training I refer to a well known psychologist who works in the field of relationships, Dr. John Gottman, of The Gottman Institute. Dr. Gottman refers to relationships that work well as “masters” and those that don’t as “disasters”. The key difference that I like to refer to is the notion that the “masters” are always recognising what they have whilst the “disasters” tend to focus on what is lacking.

A practice that many find helpful is to write a gratitude list.

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or challenged, take a moment and write down a list of all the things you may be grateful for, and as I said, it may just be that the sun came up today. Here’s my list for today;

  • I am living on purpose
  • I have awesome clients
  • I am supporting an inspiring community
  • I witness the profile and confidence of women I work with grow, and I get so much more than I give
  • I have an amazing support crew
  • I have a lovely home in a great neighbourhood
  • I had a refreshing swim at one of my favourite Sydney harbourside beaches yesterday.

 

Chelsea Ford is presenting at Slade Chats in partnership with Females in Food on Thursday 19 October 2017 at 5:30pm. Click here for full event details. 

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