December 25, 2022

Merchants

Every company is run by an Executive Team ... the "C-Suite" as trade journalists like to say.

These folks, unfortunately, do not really run your company.

Your merchants, your product team, whatever you call 'em, these are the people who run your company.

It is rare to be on a Zoom call and see employees defer to somebody not responsible for the product the company sells. The marketing professional might run the call, but the merchant is the one everybody is trying to please.

The merchant is the one trade journalists have contempt for ... "The Era of the Merchant Prince is Over". It's hard for a trade journal or a research brand to make money telling you "what" to sell. It's easy for these folks to make money telling you "how" to sell stuff.

Your merchant team represents an ecosystem ... a bunch of planets or comets orbiting the sun known as your brand. Some are like Jupiter ... huge, gas-filled stormy characters that are hard to work with but deliver outsized profit levels. Some are like Venus ... get too close and you'll get burned. Others are like Mars, you want to explore them, help them, you find their work style and personality similar to you and you'll help these people any way you can. Some are like comets, you never see them until there is an "all-hands-on-deck" meeting and they fly by before heading out on an elliptical orbit into oblivion.

These folks don't always get along with "support departments", and for good reason. They don't need the Creative Team lecturing them about the "brand importance" of a product ... the merchants "are" the brand ... what they choose to sell determines what the "brand" is. I recall being in a meeting at Eddie Bauer in the late 90s when the brand marketing team changed up the creative presentation of our "winners" ... it was more "brand appropriate" as we were all told. Well, it was brand appropriate until sales cratered by about 10%. That's the point where the merchandising team stepped in and reminded everybody that something is brand appropriate when it sells at or above planned levels. The Executive Team didn't do that, the Merchandising Team did that.

These folks can be hard to work with, but you can't really blame them for being hard to work with when you realize they are the first to be fired when things go bad. I visited a client about eight years ago and presented findings ... showing everybody that the Merchandising Team made changes that hurt the company. A month later the Chief Merchandising Officer called me. He told me that because of my analysis he had been fired, and because of my analysis it was now my job to help him find a new job. I didn't get him fired, his inability to sell merchandise at levels planned for got him fired. That being said, I could certainly understand his pain. I wouldn't want to be fired because an outside consultant pointed out productivity issues.

In the UK the 26th of December is Boxing Day. Regardless where you are located, put yourself in the shoes of your merchandising team today and think about the challenges they have and how you might be able to help them.

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