One essential part of a category manager’s job is to be flexible, always be on top of everything and to keep an eye on the competition. He/she knows the merchandise intimately and is acutely aware of who offers products where and at what cost. The category manager immediately responds to these developments with price or assortment adjustments.
Category management becomes increasingly important for the grocery sector since more and more products are brought to the market – in a response to the growing demands of customers, it also presents the biggest challenge for retailers not to overwhelm customers with a multitude of products but to support selected items instead.
Due to this development, the demand for new talent in this occupational field has grown significantly in companies over the past few years. One of many reasons why businesses are looking for potential top talent right where it is being trained. At the University of Duisburg-Essen for example. At the end of April, retail companies met with business science and information management students of Professor Hendrik Schröder during the one-day event “Retail Business Meets University Students” (German: Handel trifft Hochschule).
This year, Obi, IRi, Rewe, Christ and Lekkerland presented the very different ways category management is used in their respective companies.
The presentation by wholesaler Lekkerland, for example, showed how comprehensive knowledge about the market and the regional and even local conditions about a location should affect the product placement in specific stores to optimally address customer demands. This is one of the key goals of any retailer.
REWE/Penny gave a detailed account of the weekly planning processes in the produce department from a category manager’s perspective. Each product group needs to be accurately planned and placed. Sales promotions are jointly planned with the marketing department and implemented in collaboration with the entire team. A category manager needs to be flexible.
The market research company IRi explained how market basket analysis solutions allow conclusions on the purchase behavior of customers to improve product planning. A tool retailers are vaguely familiar with – but one that is rarely utilized to the fullest extent of its possibilities.
The lecture by jewelry retailer Christ focused on linking distribution channels, store pickup, and cross-channel marketing campaigns to increase sales and support customers in their increasing affinity for mobile devices anywhere with the right service.
Obi showcased future projects in category management. With a “special unit” armed with a startup mentality, the home improvement store wants to tap into new customer groups for the DIY market and compete with supermarket giants like Lidl and Aldi who always appeal to do-it-yourselfers: primarily by bundling services and products and offering them as complete packages. Pilot projects are already underway.
Between the retail lectures that were geared towards very practical experiences, the students took the chance to ask the responsible company representatives questions about possible internship programs or their requirements.
The latter were excited about the numerous requests and the highly suitable target audience for their new talent search in category management. Piles of job applications received extra notes and were carefully put away – some of them already sure prospects of receiving an internship.
The event was promising not just from the perspective of the retailers, but also from the students’ point of view. ”It is good to know that companies highly emphasize previous practical experience in a company. I already wondered whether it makes sense to possibly extend my studies and complete a half year internship. Until now, I was worried that more time spent studying might later have a negative impact on my job applications. Now I think differently about it,“ explains student Rieke Zimmermann, after having her first conversations with the retailers at the event.
Professor Schröder also confirmed in his introductory speech that retail companies value personality and practical experiences over good final grades.
The practical examples showed students the many different facets of a job in category management. Teamwork with other departments is just as much a part of this career field as is the right pricing at the store. In this case, dealing with current methods and technical solutions available on the market means staying one step ahead of your competition.