Name: Kasha McKinster
Title: Associate Category Manager
Company: Walgreens
Certification Obtained: CPCA

Where did your journey in the Category Management industry begin?

My parents have been in the Category Management industry all my life. As a child, I remember my parents talking about Category Management at the dinner table. It was always so interesting hearing them talk about working with suppliers, building planograms, and getting to see the coolest innovative items that had not come out yet.

My personal career in retail began working in stores as a young adult, stocking shelves and running the cash register. I graduated from Nort Dakota University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Marketing. With continued interest in merchandising and customer focus, I started my journey at Walgreens as a Merchandising Assistant in 2018 and I am currently an Associate Category Manager in the Senior Care category.

What skills do you think are critical to succeed in the Category Management field?

To succeed in Category Management, you need to communicate effectively and efficiently. We work with many cross-functional partners that need to be informed and able to execute critical strategies and tasks at hand. Also, you need to embrace your curious and creative side to succeed in this industry. In Category Management, we are tasked with quickly pivoting the business and strategies to deliver to the customer. It is crucial to take the time to ask questions to understand the minute details and utilize that information to create meaningful solutions.

How has the industry changed from when you started?

The industry has changed quite a bit with the focus being on improving the shopping experience for customers. In the past, a customer would go into a brick-and-mortar store, find what they needed, potentially pick up a few interesting items, and leave. Today, we can communicate with customers in many ways, provide endless product solutions digitally, and bring value to their lives in modern and convenient ways.

How long have you or your company been involved with the CMA?

I have been involved with the CMA for over a year now.

Do you have any mentors in the industry that have helped you in your career?

I have been fortunate to have many mentors in my career that have helped me grow professionally and personally. One of my first mentors taught me the importance of building your network at work and within the industry in general. Another one of my mentors taught me that to build a successful team, you need to cultivate an environment of support and encouragement. This has been a guiding principle of mine as I have taught and mentored others.

What do you do to stay most up to date on the latest trends in Category Management?

The Walgreens organization is big on training and growth. The sentiment is to be curious in learning. I learn about modern technology, product innovation, and customer-centric ideas through the many platforms available, including social media.

As far as becoming more knowledgeable in my categories, I have stayed in tune with different articles and data in the market to understand who our customer is and what is currently important to them.

What was the most interesting thing you learned as you completed the training and certification?

There were many interesting takeaways from the training and CPCA certification process. It was a good balance of information. I liked how retail math (equations like calculating gross margin %, equalized volume, % ACV distribution) was covered using real world scenarios. The continued reference to the 4Ps was a great reminder of how critical they are in our planning and strategy as Category Managers.

How do you feel you will use this certification in your current role?

I absolutely use my learnings from my certification courses. From the retail math to the negotiation tactics, there are many components to the training and certification program that I could quickly implement in my work.

What advice would you give others in the industry about staying on top of their certification and training? Why is it important?

For others that are looking to continue growing within the field, it is important to take the time to learn as much as you can. The training opportunities and certifications offered by the CMA | SIMA are linked to real on-the-job scenarios. You are given the tools to quickly bring back and implement within your company. I would recommend setting up a weekly cadence to focus on the growth and learning opportunities available. I enjoyed the CPCA certification courses because they helped bring things full circle. Understanding the category roles, retail math and the reinforcement of the 4Ps is critical in our roles within the industry.