Let’s tackle one of our most frequently asked questions

By: Tom McDonald

We get many questions from members on how to write a great line review. Or, in many cases, they ask us to “review” their current line review. In our experience, the line review process is a unique opportunity to drive your business forward and to develop strategies and tactics at a retailer. We recommend a simple outline with key analysis that highlights opportunity areas.

The first step is a Category Assessment and review of last year’s scorecards. The review of the scorecard needs to focus on the 3 to 4 key metrics and how you delivered against them. You should also review the strategies and tactics used during the year.

The key is to assign a grade to each by being honest about the result. Capture the key learning’s – both positive and negative – as they can provide a foundation for next year’s choices. The category assessment allows you to scope up the conversation to the entire category and demonstrate your marketplace expertise. This should look at macro tends at both a shopper and consumer level, the winners and losers in the marketplace, and what strategies and tactics they deployed. Your ability to dissect which of the sales fundamentals – assortment, pricing, promotion, shelving and marketing – were used to drive sales by the winner is a must.

Innovation is an important part of any line review. You need to define the shopper need, prove it exists and show how your product delivers against the need. Have a size-of-prize for the innovation, and the account’s fair share of that prize. You’ll need an integrated in-store and digital marketing campaign that is focused on the retailer’s marketing strengths. Develop a detailed plan by sales, fundamentally built on what must occur in order to deliver the size-of-prize.

You should close this innovation section of the review with that plan and ensure alignment. Too many times we are afraid to hear “No”, so we don’t ask. The manufacturer needs to leave this part of the call with a clear understanding of what the retailer will do – so they can work to change their mind and clearly communicate back internally.

We have noticed that many line reviews end here or lack focus after the innovation review. The important part of the line review process comes next – the understanding of next year’s key metrics, strategies and tactics. 

What does the retailer want to accomplish next year? Which metrics – profit, sales, market share – are most important? What strategies and tactics are they keeping or changing?

Your ability to be a marketplace expert will give you influence in the strategy and tactic setting. Your analysis should highlight the strategies and tactics that winning retailers are implementing. How can your retailer tailor the winning strategies to them? What subcategories or brands can deliver against that strategy? You need to fit your brands into the strategies that will deliver against the retailer’s metrics.

Once there is alignment on tactics, you need to move on to implementation. Most innovation and strategies die in this step. The implementation needs to be simple, work in the retailer’s current systems and be turnkey in the store or online. Too many plans are complicated and ask time-starved people to do additional work outside normal processes. That is a recipe for failure. Make implementation easy for the store, and make it easy for the shopper to say “Yes” and purchase. Exercise your online options here. The new digital marketing platforms allow brands of any size the ability to reach and convert shoppers.

The last step is evaluation. Many manufacturers do this once a year at the line review. The problem is, that allows no time for course corrections. The evaluation of key metrics should be done on a monthly basis; and be reviewed in-person or on the phone each quarter.

Successful evaluations include an executive summary of results to date and potential tactical changes to implement in order to drive growth. Setting a timeline to review the key metrics is a must if you desire to have a successful year.

I hope you find this helpful and if you have any questions or need additional help please reach out to us at the CMA.