Where would retailers be without their category captain? depending on who you speak to, the answers would be “couldn’t cope without them“ to “don’t need them, waste of time.”
- ‘The category captain will be expected to have the closest and most regular contact with the retailer and will also be expected to invest time, effort, and often financial assets into the strategic development of the category within the retailer. In return, the supplier will gain a more influential voice with the retailer.’ (wikipedia definition)
So what’s the purpose of a Category Captain?
- The retailer can’t hope to be the expert on all the various categories (as many as 50 different categories in your typical grocery store).
- Category Captains, are usually experts in a particular category and have much to contribute, as long as the process is kept honest, and factual.
- The captain will be tasked with providing objective unbiased insight, they will know the dynamics of the category, the consumer, the competition, the market, etc.
- Most will have feet on the street to see what all the competitors are doing and report back with any innovations or retailer trends
- Many will have the ability to produce a full suite of planogram changes, thus saving the retailer time and money in the review process.
- They often manage the time lines of the PGR process (Planogram review) to ensure the NPD stream and review process is kept moving etc.
What makes a good Category Captain?
- The ability to deliver consumer insights backed by unbiased analysis even if that means reducing the space for its own products or even delisting them.
- They must continually be looking for new ways to add value to the category
- Have the ability to ‘really’ understand the retailers business and customers.
- Have the resources i.e. Consumer research, market data, planogram production etc.
- Always looking for new ways to add value to the category not just thier own brands.
- Is creative in their approach and is seen to be a thought leader in the category.
What does the retailer need to do in the process to make it work?
- Select the right captain, they may not always be the biggest in their field but must demonstrate that they fully understand the retailers strategy and customers
- The retailer must own the NPD and delisting decision aspect of the task to ensure its kept fair and unbiased (as well as keep up-to-date with the latest trends).
- The retailer’s own data should be provided to the Captains, Metrics should be clear and unfiltered.
- Category Management Process: the retailer has the responsibility to understand, review, approve or adjust the process as needed from time to time.
- The retailer should communicate their strategy or category objective so full alignment can be achieved.
What makes a bad category captain?
- Is biased and has their own interests at heart i.e. pushing their own products over their competitors.
- Doesn’t come forward with new insights on the category, ways to add incremental growth or ways to add profit.
- Untrusty partner i.e. goes over the head of a buyer who decides to delist one of their products or when the data shows that it should be de-listed but they fail to show it.
- Doesn’t understand the retailers objectives, e.g. the PL role or planogram metrics (provided they are shared in the first place).
- Hasn’t the ability to deliver on time due to lack of resources etc.
- Over promises and under delivers on their own ability.
What benefit (or perceived benefit) is there to being a category captain?
- The ability to influence the retailers own category strategy. (i.e. list more of their products or gain a greater amount of space on plans.)
- Think they may get a ‘seat at the table’ influence the retailer in other ways.
- Gain real insights into the retailers customers and in turn gain more insight into the market.
- Have access to ‘unfiltered’ valuable shopper Epos data that would be otherwise delivered (at some cost) in the form of market data from syndicated sources.
- May have a heads up on new PL or new category opportunities.
- May have a joint marketing support budget which may lead to additional promotional slots or joint branding opportunities.
- Enhanced credibility, the captain is seen as a key player and adviser which may help gain new partnerships in the trade.
Does having a category captain add value for the retailer?
The short answer is “Yes” they do!
- The retailer has a partner who fully understands the category and its consumer.
- The process encourages competition between the captain and non-captains which encourages the incumbent captain to perform.
- The process is based on bringing the best insights into the category review process which in turn benefits the consumer.
- In its nature the process is competitive i.e. between suppliers/manufacturers which in most cases the retailer will benefit financially and gain more insight into the consumer.
- Extra resource is usually provided in the form of planogram work, feet on the street or merchandising.
Is there a future for category captains?
Yes there will always be retailers that require extra resource/help but many may opt out of allowing full control to a category captain (which should be a good thing)
The more progressive retailers have now moved away from the concept and are taking the process in-house and utilising all their suppliers expertise to add value in a more balanced way ensuring no one supplier/manufacture has greater influence than another.
In some cases they are out-sourcing the process to an independent category management partner (not a supplier or manufacturer) to manage the process in a fair way to ensure maximum insights are gained from all concerned.
In saying that there may still be a lead manufacturer/supplier in the process which is seen to add more value than its competitors.
Moving forward, the retailer will start to automate the planogram process, this will then challenge the manufacturer to become more strategic and collaboration will start to bloom.
The views in this article are based on my own cumulative knowledge, having worked for various retailers I’ve managed many different categories and seen various levels of success working with category captains, the most successful ones were indeed the ones that understood our business and what we were trying to achieve in our strategy, for example if our captain highlighted the fact that we were not attracting enough young families as compared to the market benchmark they would propose what initiatives (based on their insights) we could implement to achieve this, in that way they proved they could in fact add real value to our business.