You have a vision for how your products will be merchandised and displayed in stores. And it’s a magnificent one.
Your SKUs are lined up neatly, shelves are fully stocked, and the packaging is gleaming with crisp edges as if it just came off the production line. You imagine yourself turning down the aisle and being blinded by the beautiful merchandise display. You marvel over how your brand will jump off shelf and are pretty sure the assortment will catch the attention of any shopper walking by.
And then reality hits. And it’s far from what you imagined.
The truth of brick and mortar retail is that your product will have made a long journey before it reaches shelf. And that journey will have jostled product in its master carton, collected dents from drops and bumps, and misshapen the contents from the crushing weight of other cartons.
FIVE LESSONS FROM STORE EXECUTION NIGHTMARES
Lesson #1: You have some (not full) control over how your product and packaging will arrive and look at shelf.
Make sure you think through this journey before finalizing packaging colors (white gets dirty) and durability (corners crush easily, plastic and dolomite shatter easily, tin dents). Do drop testing. Wrap individual items with plastic or bubble wrap. Use inner cartons.
Make sure your product is visible (clamshell, window on box, etc) to prevent shoppers from opening and damaging packaging. That incurs chargebacks and creates an uninviting appearance at shelf.
Even after having taken all of these preventative measures, there are still other store execution issues to anticipate. And one wildcard are the folks stocking the shelves.
Lesson #2: Stock clerks are busy and don’t care about your product as much as you do.
Labor is the #1 cost item on a store’s P&L. So stores are incentivized to be as efficient as possible with stocking shelves.
This may mean that shelves go empty for a little longer than is ideal, especially if you have a fast-moving product. So for this reason, if you can avoid packaging sizes that take up a lot of real estate, you should. The less items that fit on shelf, the more often your product will look out of stock.
Clerks will stock shelves as quickly as possible. And that means your product might sometimes be stocked with the front faced the wrong way. This doesn’t happen too often, especially when you have a rectangular shaped footprint (so no round packages, please!), but it can. Especially if the size of the gondola in the store is shorter than the planogram had assumed. All of a sudden there is less room for all the items on the shelf and the stock clerk has to get creative.
Lesson #3: Store layout is determined by the bones of the building and is out of anyone’s control.
Yes, store sizes and layouts differ. That’s not surprising news but vendors do forget this! The real estate determines store layout. And while retail buyers try to build planogram versions to account for all store layouts, if you have 1900+ stores in your chain, there will be some anomaly store layouts that the planogram doesn’t match or account for.
Structural posts that hold up a building may obscure your product, your assortment might get squished in a corner, or your products may have been eliminated from that store because it wouldn’t fit on shelf.
This stuff happens and it is frustrating. But remember the law of averages: this store doesn’t represent the average store in the chain. And if your overall sales performance in the chain is low, you can’t blame it on these handful of stores with poor layout. Make sure to visit 10 stores before complaining to the buyer about your merchandise’s presentation.
Lesson #4: Plans change. If you think they don’t, you should rethink entrepreneurship.
Set dates change, store counts change, quantity orders change, placement on the planogram change, or sometimes your products are dropped from the assortment. Various things happen to cause these changes and it can be stressful and frustrating when they happen without notice. Being nimble is the lifeline of an entrepreneur. Observe, assess, and pivot. Again and again.
While there is no excusing it when retail buyers do a poor job of communicating these changes, you do have a choice in how you respond. You can either let these frustrations incapacitate you or you can use it as an opportunity to show what a great business partner you are.
Lesson #5: Your attitude and response is 100% under your control
For the store execution issues you have control over, rule over those decisions with utter perfectionism. For the store execution issues you have no control over, respond with poise and provide solutions (even when it is not your fault!).
Or you may decide that in the grand scheme of things, those issues are not detrimental to the business and you just let it go.
Choose how you respond. If anything, for the sake of your sanity!
Store labor operates within a standard set of norms so anything that deviates for the norm is not going to get executed flawlessly. So don't get any creative ideas for how you can enlist store clerks to do more than they do already. Don't go into stores and start making demands of the store manager to move inventory around. Talk to your buyer instead.