Advantage Solutions’ space-planning team is a problem-solving machine

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If space truly is the final frontier, it’s one that Advantage Solutions is ready to conquer.

Retail shelf space, that is. And while it may not be rocket science, space planning and management is retail science and for manufacturers, the stakes are higher than ever with fierce competition to gain distribution and shelf positioning. For retailers, their identity to their shoppers is defined by their assortment. It is critically important to offer the right items to meet their shoppers’ needs.

“Our approach in our manufacturer and retailer engagements is to form a true partnership and to develop solutions to maximize category sales,” says Steve Rodriguez, vice president category leadership, Advantage Solutions. “One of the things we do is to partner with retailers and wholesalers to determine the optimal assortment based on market and shopper trends. It is not only important to stock the best-selling items but to avoid duplication of offerings while adding true variety to best address shopper needs.”

Rodriguez continued, “There is a perception that space planners provide a tactical support role rather than a strategic one. Part of our goal is to educate retailers and manufacturers on the impact space management best practices can have on category sales.”

To ensure item assortment and merchandising strategies are reflective of the shopper journey within the category, many retailers and CPG manufacturers turn to Advantage, a leading provider of retail sales and marketing services, and a company whose mission is to generate demand for consumer brands and retailers and turn shoppers into buyers in every way they shop.

Simplifying shelves and boosting sales

According to the Advantage Q3 Outlook Survey from October 2023, almost 40% of retailers plan to reduce SKUs (stock-keeping units) in the next 12 months. Nearly half of those are doing so to simplify shelves, which helps to enhance the customer experience and promotes sales. Ensuring product availability in store is a challenge today due to the fact many stores are utilizing the shelf as a micro-fulfillment center for online sales. Fewer items on shelf has also helped address supply chain challenges.

Additionally, one of the challenges for manufacturers who are category advisors for a retailer is the expectation to accurately update their planograms and to do it quickly. What they discover is there are many challenges requiring strong project management, knowledge about retailer nuances and software expertise to address the complexities in the category itself. This is best left to space-planning experts, such as Stephanie Benson, director of space planning and assortment at Advantage. Benson’s extensive career started at Campbell Soup and has since included many leading CPG companies and retailers, including Kroger and SuperValu.

“Quality and time are the biggest demands in planogram work,” she says. “Manufacturers are responsible for planograms for their categories, which at times means completing thousands of planograms in a very short window of time. They are challenged to staff accordingly 52 weeks a year, but the reality is they may only need that maximum staff to do space planning for 12 weeks out of the year.

“We come in as an option for manufacturers because we can offer our space expertise, our process and project management skills and our software knowledge to them on an ’as needed‘ basis for however many resources they need,” Benson said. “By paying us for only the resources needed, it reduces their overall cost and enhances profitability at a retailer. Flexibility to customize our services to fit their need is a huge benefit for them.”

One of the biggest benefits of outsourcing to Advantage is the time efficiency in ensuring deadlines and meeting quality expectations. Advantage accomplishes this by providing quality assurance and proofing along the way, eliminating the need for revisions. Collaboration throughout the entire process has been the cornerstone to their success.

Building relationships

According to Benson, the secret sauce for Advantage is the company’s ability to build relationships with clients while delivering a strong return on investment to manufacturers — and that creates return business.

“Our team is very passionate about what we do.  We’ve elevated the art and science of space planning. There’s a whole lot more that goes into it than just moving boxes around on a shelf,” Benson says.

Recently a client reached out to Benson’s team needing planogram help for a last-minute update due to unexpected shifts from a retailer. This was for a large category with 300-plus SKUs per planogram with very strict merchandising rules. They needed space planning experts to work with their team in updating over 650 planograms over a four-week period.

“We created category- and retailer-specific training to kick off the project and assigned a daily planogram quota for each analyst — proofing our work along the way. This resulted in the client meeting the retailer’s advanced timeline while needing no revision work. We have a proven track record of exceeding our client’s expectations when outsourcing their space needs to us,” Benson said.

The Advantage space planning and management team has proven its value to countless manufacturers and retailers across all classes of trade, and there’s no limit to the breadth of CPG companies and types of retailers that can benefit from their expertise.

Approaching space management as an integral strategic piece of the puzzle is where its biggest impact is realized. Advantage’s space management team achieves a client’s objectives by speaking the retailer’s language in space planning and understanding their shelf strategies to create the win for all.

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