Opinion: Cat Man in the Trenches

What’s critical in successful category management? The store manager
beverage out-of-stock

Q: We are re-evaluating our store manager responsibilities. We have a large corporate sales management staff, so I wonder if the store manager should worry about category management at all, other than out-of-stocks. After all, they were hired to run a store.

A: Regardless of how much category-management responsibility you expect your store managers to accept, they play a huge role in its success. And yes, it goes beyond just making sure your stores are well stocked.

Having witnessed completely hands-off store managers, and those who micromanage every vendor and product, I’ve come to several conclusions:

  1. There is no official corporate title or category-management technology that is as connected to what’s going on at the store as the store manager.
  2. While we don’t want to overburden store managers with tasks that take away from their customer focus, eliminating their role in the product-movement process contributes negatively to the bottom line and morale. The store is “their house,” and no manager likes it when vendors walk into the store and don’t talk to them because they already dealt with corporate. It breeds apathy and an it’s-not-my-job attitude among managers. Stores with managers who take ownership of category management have fewer out-of-date products, less inventory stored in their back rooms and more efficient turnaround of product. Why? Because of mutual accountability and respect between a vendor and store manager. I have witnessed employees and managers going out of their way to ensure a well-stocked cooler door for a vendor who treats them with respect.
  3. There is a negative sales effect when the manager’s role is removed from category management. Customers get frustrated when store managers aren’t knowledgeable about the items in their store.

Managers don’t need to be responsible for the selection of new products or the removal of underperformers, but they are the gatekeepers of the store. You can improve a category’s performance and manager morale by facilitating vendor respect for store managers. Ask vendors to check in at delivery, even if it is to just introduce themselves.

Give reasons for the manager to care about the products they carry, even when they don’t control product selection, pricing or placement in the store. They are the first to see when something is out of stock, be it from sales or shrink. Give them a quick and easy venue in which to communicate that, and reward them when they’re proactive.

All of us want managers who take ownership of their sites and care about every aspect of the store. Unfortunately, our good intentions to unburden them may contribute to the opposite, and we end up with good order takers and task masters. To drive sales growth, we need more than that.


Ieva Grimm, an industry insider for more than 15 years, spends her time working side by side with retailers in the convenience industry helping drive growth and profitability.

Have a question for our category-management expert? Email alewis@winsightmedia.com (link sends e-mail).