The category manager is the pilot when it comes to new products, a.k.a. new passengers.
Jim Low, Rip Van Inc.
You are the captain of your category, and you have new passengers in the form of new brands. As the category manager, it is your job to make sure that every new product is given the chance to take off and soar.
It’s critical to remember that because new brands don’t have the same breadth of distribution as existing players, a “launch ‘em and leave ‘em” approach probably won’t be successful. Your new brand passengers have to invest to win, but they’ll need your help to get off the runway.
The good news: You’re the expert on why people are coming into your store and why they buy the products they do. You already know the needs they have, what products fulfill those needs and, finally, what kinds of marketing they best respond to. You just need to put those insights to work on behalf of whatever new brand you’re launching.
Here are a few ideas for your pre-flight checklist to help make the launch a success:
Checklist Item #1: Get the Basics Right
Like any good checklist, this one starts with the fundamentals — in this case, pricing and placement. It’s likely your store has options for where to place a new product: the beverage case is large, snacks have multiple locations, and candy is available both at center-store and at checkout. Make sure the placement supports the brand’s value proposition, consumption occasion, and respects your consumers’ shopping mindset. Once you select the right place, it’s fair to reconsider pricing. A price point that doesn’t make sense in one set may be on point in another.
Checklist Item #2: Drive Awareness
Driving awareness is an obvious must. That makes it the next priority. An awareness campaign can be as basic as putting a cling on the front door at eye level to ensure that every shopper entering knows you have the hot new item. If that’s not possible, put signage around the product in the store with verbiage like “try me,” “act now” or “NEW at <your store name>.” The aim here is to break shoppers out of their routine and encourage them to try something new.
This awareness-driving technique also comes with a bonus: You’ll habituate people to the idea that, if they see a tag of that specific color and size, it’s something new they may want to try.
If your convenience store has an app, highlight new products on the front page of the app or on the discount or rewards pages — anything that puts the pilot products front and center in a very visual way.
Checklist Item #3: Make Buying Easy
Creating in-store bundles is a great way to encourage adoption of a new product. Pairing a new snack with a complementary item (sweet and salty, or a beverage, for example), or offering in-app incentives for trying a new product, are simple ways to make it easy for someone to give a new product a try.
You can also think about making it easier for shoppers by bringing a new product directly into their path. Shippers, countertop units, special displays in high-traffic areas — all of these highlight the new product without requiring shoppers to take a different or new route through your store.
Checklist Item #4: Leveraging Impulses
Impulse is jet fuel for convenience stores. Consider using the power of suggestion to light it up! There’s the tried-and-true method, of course: Training your cashiers to invite everyone to purchase the new product while they’re checking out. Or if you use a touchscreen for checkout, try adding prompts for the cashier to offer the new item whenever a specific, complementary product is purchased. This is essentially the high-tech version of McDonald’s iconic question, “Would you like fries with that?”
Post-Takeoff: Drive Repeat
While a successful trial may be your immediate goal, you don’t want customers to engage with new products just this one time. They should want to come back again and again. Creating rituals like recognizable shelf tags that signal new products, or dual placements of new products with common ones, are excellent ways to get consumers onboard with new products on a consistent basis.
Piloting new products requires a balance of customer incentives and strategic pricing and placement, and that balance will largely depend on your store’s unique consumer base and their needs. By identifying those and leveraging the right checklist items, you can sit back and enjoy the flight to a successful product launch. Bon voyage!
Jim Low is the president of Rip Van Inc., a better-for-you brand that is seeking to reinvent snacking by creating healthier convenient foods people can feel good about.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.