SETTING THE STAGE

From formalized programs and advanced systems to war room activities, general merchandise suppliers are in various stages of the category-management process. While some are pursuing full-blown, formalized programs, others have instituted elements of the process that impact store planograms and attempt to satisfy consumer needs. The School and Office Product Division of Mead Corporation, Dayton, Ohio,

From formalized programs and advanced systems to war room activities, general merchandise suppliers are in various stages of the category-management process. While some are pursuing full-blown, formalized programs, others have instituted elements of the process that impact store planograms and attempt to satisfy consumer needs. The School and Office Product Division of Mead Corporation, Dayton, Ohio, begins rolling out its category-management program this month, according to Al Thornton, director of category management and sales development.

The program has been tested over the last year at H.E. Butt Grocery Co., American Stores, Albertson's and Supervalu. Mead also has worked with Longs Drug Stores, and CVS on category-management projects. The company offers two programs for retailers. A full category- management program, which involves a category captain and exchange of point-of-sale, demographic and consumer information to help set a strategy for the stationery category. A modified program analyzes information by channel of distributiaon or by region of the country.

By investing in category management, Mead hopes to solidify a leadership position in the stationery category at retail, said Thornton. "Through category management, we're able to build a greater relationship and partnership with our customers. It will help us maintain our leadership role. It also helps to identify what products are good for specific retailers and helps us get the right product-mix by class of trade," said Thornton.

Industry observers agree that the greeting-card category is by far the most advanced when it comes to category-managing the hundreds of stockkeeping units found in a card rack. "We've been doing category management for years before it became an industry buzz word," said Todd Holmes, marketing manager supermarket team, Ambassador Cards, Kansas City, Mo. Holmes said the decision support systems developed as part of the reordering process ensure retailers have the right product in the right place at right time. "As the product sells through the display, the product is adjusted, based on what the consumer is buying and the demographics of that area," Holmes explained.

The newest enhancement to its support systems is a system called Aspen that analyzes POS data instead of reorder data.

This process is still in its early development because "there aren't that many retailers that can supply POS data yet," said Holmes. Osram Sylvania, Danvers, Mass., has its war room that supplies marketing intelligence information consisting of high-end demographics, site-location analysis, and cluster-group studies.

This is a new approach for the light bulb supplier and the result is "demographically correct planograms at retail," said Richard Comtois, merchandising manager, consumer products.

Besides, the consumer focus being applied to the lighting category, Osram Sylvania also looks at product movement through other distribution channels. "The process is driven by mutual goals of the retailer and manufacturer in trying to produce the most productive display possible," said Comtois.