How Brand Storytelling Is Enabled by Modern Merchandising | RETHINK
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Industry Insiders: How Brand Storytelling Is Enabled by Modern Merchandising

We caught up with One Door CEO Tom Erskine and Retail Expert Andrew Smith to discuss how retail merchandising has evolved since the 1970s.

Learn more about how planograms are being reinvented for the first time in 50 years through digitization, and check out the full podcast interview here.




Julia Raymond Hare:
Hi everyone. We’re here today with Tom Erskine, the CEO of One Door and Andrew Smith, a retail consultant, innovative thinker and author. We’re going to take you back a little bit to the 1970s talking about retail. That’s right, zoom back. Tom, I want you to kick it off. Tell me a little bit about what it was like many years ago as a retail merchandiser in the ’70s.

Tom Erskine:
Yeah. So we’re definitely honoring the ’70s. The retail in the ’70s, you were what? You were a high school student. You were working at Kmart for your summer job.

It was the first time, 1971, Kmart invented the technology of the paper planogram. They were the first ones to figure out that if you optimally placed products in a particular place, in a store, you could sell more. And it was far out, man. It was so different from what everybody else was doing. Yeah. And then you drove home, in your Buick Skylark and I guess went to the Dairy Queen on your way home and got something, but that was your job. That was your summer job.

Julia Raymond Hare:
That was the summer job. And you know the phrase, they say, “Oh, this person peaked in high school or peaked in college.” I think Kmart as an entity, it went from innovating this paper planogram, being the top of the retail food chain, and I think we can all pretty much agree that it peaked back then and no longer continued to blow us away. I think the big connection here that we’re making with One Door is that it’s still happening. People are still back in the ’70s almost, using paper planograms today, which is totally ancient. Can I hear your take on that, Andrew? Are you still seeing this or have you seen this with the retailers you’ve worked with?

Andrew Smith:
Absolutely. Tom was painting the picture and I think the Buick Skylark, that was probably the only thing in that story that doesn’t exist anymore. The Dairy Queen is still here and the paper planogram is certainly still out in circulation.

Now as we see that the current trend of retail and what the importance of stores is, and the increased importance of stores, especially when it comes to merchandising, retailing is merchandising at the end of the day. Yet we’re still holding these teams back with these ancient tools.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Tom, how great of an impact would you say that things like BOPIS and curbside and all of these new delivery models have made on merchandising?

Tom Erskine:
Yeah. Sure, merchandising’s changed a lot. The store has all of a sudden gone from this showroom to… now the store is a showroom, but it’s also a fulfillment center, and it’s also a place where we might be aggregating items for delivery. It’s remarkable the impact that that has on store teams and their merchandising strategies. Because all of a sudden you imagine you’re designing stores, you’re no longer just designing them for the customer.

Now you’re designing a store for this new professional shopper, which is this Instacart gig worker that’s trying to figure out the fastest way to fulfill a grocery order. So it totally changes your merchandising strategy.

Andrew Smith:
Brand storytelling is becoming just so incredibly important. And the reason for that is consumers calculation of value is changing. So consumers used to be basically convenience, price, product, proximity, all of those things that we found in our retail textbooks when we all started out in Kmart in the ’70s. But now that has evolved. The Internet’s predominantly solved for convenience and mission shopping in ways that it’s allowing stores the opportunity to stand for something different.

Julia Raymond Hare:
You guys work with some of the world’s biggest brands, like Best Buy, who just blew everyone away over the past year with the things they were able to roll out for consumers. What about visual merchandising? How do you balance the art part of it and the science part? Because it seems like you have to blend the two and it’s really difficult.

Tom Erskine:
Yeah. It is. And so we talked about the ’70s thing, but I guess we never really hit the punchline of our ’70s joke, which is that until our platform came along, until Merchandising Cloud from One Door came along, there really hasn’t been any innovation in how merchandise plans get communicated in literally 50 years. So we’re sort of saying, “Hey, it’s time to retire this old paper planogram and take a more digital approach.” Because as you mentioned, art and science, the art of visual merchandising is phenomenal, but when you’ve got 1,000 stores, actually making that happen across 1,000 stores in a really consistent way where the experience is consistent from store to store and you can localize and you can do all these things, that takes technology.

So what we’re seeing and what Best Buy’s as usual leading the charge on is digitizing this part of the process that has just been hopelessly analog for the last 50 years and sort of seeing the fruits of the ability to move more quickly, experiment in ways you couldn’t experiment before, localized in ways you can localize before, because all of a sudden, you have a digital platform where everybody can be on the same page and all the data’s in the cloud, and it’s all accessible, as opposed to the old days where it was just all done in Excel spreadsheets and PDFs.

They’re a great example of this digitization, of this last mile of the merchandising process that is really going to, I think, transform the ability to become better brand storytellers.


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