A Candy Category
Rick Wilshe is a merchandise manager in the Convenience Foods and Café Division of Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, Basking Ridge, N.J., and a regular contributor to Confectioner.
Because he spent 20 years in sales with Keebler before joining the Barnes & Noble team, Wilshe has a broad perspective on the business of merchandising snacks and candy.
This month, we asked him to share some of his day-to-day experiences about the ins and outs, ups and downs of life as a candy category manager. Here’s what he had to say on matters ranging from in-store merchandising to packaging product samples.
Monday, April 4
The day started off on a bad note, as I woke up at 3: 30 a.m. and could not fall back to sleep. So I’m working on about four hours worth of sleep, and it’s going to be a long day.
My first meeting was with a new potential vendor who sells organic energy bars. After asking him the same question for the third time, I apologized and said that I had only gotten a few hours of sleep. He said, ‘Yes, you look it.’ I stared at the guy, who was grinning broadly, and I started to laugh. Even though the remark was smart-alecky, his friendly demeanor and smile when he said it totally disarmed me. He then said that as the father of two very young children, he frequently experienced sleepless nights and so he could relate to my condition.
I then decided I liked the guy and would probably buy his product or at least give it a test. Sometimes you just click with people, sometimes you don’t. Yes, it’s still a people business, no matter the bottom line.
Monday, April 11
Today I had my annual appraisal meeting with my boss. This is my seventh appraisal since coming to B & N, all with the same boss, so I wasn’t expecting any surprises, and I didn’t get any. It went well. I had a pretty good year overall and I’m pleased with the review.
In the afternoon my assistant, Betsy, and I met with our director of I.S. and one of her managers. We discussed inputting convenience items into our POS system, a project that has been in the works for ages but has always gotten moved to the back burner.
We do have a small amount of items already in the PLU, like Godiva and most of our newer healthy snack items. But the vast majority of items are not currently scanned centrally, just locally at each store, which is very frustrating to me. I have no way of knowing what we are actually selling through the register, just have to rely on vendor sales data. Soon, though, we will be able to track our sales in about 300 stores, which will be great. We decided to start inputting bottled beverages first and test it in one region. If this works OK, then we will expand to all stores. Next we will start inputting the candy category, then snacks, and so on until all categories are entered, in priority sequence.
We expect the project to take up to a year to implement, but it will no doubt be well worth it. At this time virtually every other non-food category (clothing, school supplies, etc.) scans. We are the last ones to go.
Thursday, April 14
Today I visited one of our stores. Part of my job responsibilities include getting out and seeing the stores on a regular basis. This is, of course, the only way to really find out firsthand what is going on. Reports, after all, only tell a small part of the picture. To really see if your programs are being executed properly, you need to go into the stores.
Today I visited one of our stores on a campus in upstate New York, not too far from my office. I hadn’t been there in over a year, and they put a new manager in since that time.
Since this is one of my larger stores, and since their sales have been tanking lately, I decided to take the day and head up there and see for myself. I was not happy about what I found, as overall the staff was not doing a good job in many areas.
I addressed all of these issues with the store manager, who took over in January. She admitted that she was not as on top of things as she should be and promised to make the necessary changes immediately. I left and wrote up my rather scathing store visit recap and copied her regional manager and VP. If this were still January or February, I would cut her some slack, but it’s now April, and she’s had enough time to get with the program, at least in my opinion.
After getting home I had to boot up my laptop and download my e-mails. There were the usual 100 or so messages. I normally average about that many a day, sometimes more. Most e-mails are from stores and vendors, while others are from internal associates and more than couple are from my boss. I have to say though that, in all honesty, he usually does not inundate me with e-mails, especially when he knows I’m traveling. I do appreciate that a lot.
I spent about two hours going through the mail, prioritizing them as I always do: boss, first; assistant, second; other senior executives, next; then the stores; then the vendors. Sorry, but I’m being honest. If it takes a day or two (or three) to hear back from your buyer, it’s because others demand their attention first. I try to return e-mails quickly, and I think I do most of the time.
As I reviewed my messages, I wondered what did we ever do before e-mail?
Wednesday, April 27
The day started off well enough. I had a real good meeting with my boss, reviewing some projects and also found out what my annual merit increase was going to be (which was better than expected).
But from there, things just sort of went downhill. One of our regional VPs called, asking where his coffee equipment was for one of his stores, which had been ordered over a month ago. I reminded him that the equipment was on back order from the manufacturer, but should be arriving any day now. He understands, but he’s not happy. While I can appreciate his frustration, there isn’t much I can do about it.
From that point on, it was nothing but stores calling and e-mailing with problems of some kind, mostly vendor-related. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming, with over 500 stores and growing, and dozens of active vendors servicing the stores.
Seems like most of the issues come from the DSD side, the soda and chip companies. While we are a national chain and do a tremendous amount of volume overall, there are always some small stores out there in the middle of nowhere that get neglected by the local reps. I usually end up calling my contact, and they call their local management and raise hell and rattle some cages, and things get better…for a while. Then the same drill comes up in a few months. Gets old. But it is what it is, and we deal with it.
I remembered too late that I was supposed to call a regional manager in Texas to discuss my upcoming store visits. I ran out of time, so I’ll call him tomorrow. It was well after 6 p.m. by the time I finally shut down the computer and headed out the door. At least I had a bit of a break until I got home and got on line again to finish my e-mails.
Thursday, April 28
Why do vendors insist on packing samples with those horrible Styrofoam peanuts? If there is one pet peeve I have, it’s Styrofoam peanuts. Forget that they are so bad for the environment. What drives me nuts is that they make it impossible to take anything out of the carton without spilling half of them on the floor. No matter how careful you are, you will have peanuts all over the place. It makes me feel negative about whatever is in the box before I even look at it.
Instead, dear vendor, please use shredded paper or even bubble wrap. I promise I will feel much more favorable toward your products if you do this, and if I don’t end up picking up that crap for 10 minutes. It’s the little things that matter. Sweat the details, and you’ll write a lot more business. And that is a promise I feel comfortable making!