What is a Category Captain?

By July 5, 2019 September 25th, 2019 Category Management Tips
Category Captain

What is the Role of a Category Captain?

The Category Captain is a leading manufacturer or supplier within a product category. The retailer appoints them for their knowledge and ability to manage the category and maximise its profits.

In the 1980s a concept transformed the retailer-supplier relationship. It was the introduction of Category Management. For the first time, it put the needs of the consumer at the centre of retail decisions. This process reduced direct competition and replaced it with a collaborative and mutually rewarding approach. In doing so, ‘product categories’ were created. These are groups of similar products which are managed as a strategic business unit (SBU).  To lead this, retailers often appointed a ‘Category Captain’. They are nominated supplier who recommends certain category changes. Typically, they are chosen regardless of their size or turnover. It is, however, due to a particular skill and ability in identifying, coordinating and delivering insight and opportunities.

Who Are They? What Are Their Responsibilities?

The Category Captain is integral to the success of the retailer-supplier relationship. Moreover, it is a key part of the Category Management process. The Captain or as it is sometimes called ‘Category Champion’, is typically a brand or private-label supplier.

The Category Captain is responsible for managing and maintaining communication between the retailer and the supplier. This is to optimise the retailers’ strategic development. Among his or her main responsibilities, the Captain must offer informed guidance. They help the retailer to make key decisions on the following:

  • Pricing
  • Store layout
  • Promotions
  • Marketing
  • Inventory stocking and planning
  • Product assortment

Every decision is made with the consumer experience and sales in mind. For example, the Category Captain must decide product placement layout. Which products should be on the shelf of their category, and how much space should be taken up by each.

They must continually develop their knowledge and conduct extensive research on consumer behaviour in-store. This allows them to meet consumer demand and give fast convenient product placement. In addition, they look to minimise the risk of consumers abandoning their retailer for a competitor that provides a better experience. Furthermore, they help supplier-retailer relationship by developing key employees and other figures in the supply chain. This, in turn, leads to more profitable wins for the retailer.

When Should Retailers Use a Category Champion?

Retailers should use a Category Captain when they find a need to improve performance and profit. There is no need to wait until the chips are down. Remember the consumer market is ever-evolving. Consumer behaviour research undertaken by Captains will help to support retailers. It will help them make more informed decisions to consistently improve their business model.

Further examples of when retailers should use a Category Champion:

  • When a new competitor to the market presents a greater threat to sales figures.
  • After a move to new premises brings about a revision to store and category layout.
  • When market conditions are having a negative impact on profits.
  • When limited shelf space means more specific advice on product grouping is needed.
  • To give answers to key merchandising questions. Such as, ‘What?’ ‘How much?’ And ‘Where?’.
  • When there is a need to improve upon the consumer experience, protect against competitors and increase profitability.

Benefits of Working with a Category Captain

Presentation is absolutely key to profit. A Category Manager will support this vision by creating a cohesive brand image, and fluid purchasing experience. Among the many benefits of using a Category Captain, retailers will enjoy informed ability for best category performance. Furthermore, they will gain a more streamlined Category Management process. This saves time and stress with clearly defined goals, targets, strategies and tactics for each category. The Captain is the closest that retailers will get to the shoppers/consumers. They can offer essential insights into in-store displays for the best ROI.

Category Champions conduct extensive consumer behaviour and customer insight research. They also provide data and trends analysis as part of their role. This helps them to define best product layout, availability and pricing. This represents a significant cost saving for retailers. If this were not the case they would need to pay for this research to be conducted independently.

Getting the pricing right is absolutely key. Category Captains use their detailed knowledge of pricing structures and products to decide format, sizing, layout and costs.

As the personal champion, who actively promotes the specific category, they will also have extensive knowledge of inventory, trends and forecasting. This allows them to make sure products are always available and that customer needs are met.

The Selection Process

When it comes to selecting a Category Champion, it’s important to bear in mind that they may not always be the biggest supplier. Or the one with the greatest market presence. Instead, it’s important to look for those with strong product portfolios and a good track record.

The competition to become a Category Captain is increasingly fierce. This means finding an expert who offers value-added services should be an essential part of the selection process. An example of such a service might be access to resources such as market data planogram production.

Planogram Image

Research shows that retailers still gain great benefits from the Captain experience. Interestingly, this is despite potential concerns about opportunism. Or a tendency for the supplier to favour their own brand.

Choosing an experienced and established champion, with a proven track record will also help to minimise risk. To support this process, it can help to look at some of the leading Category Captains, in different product categories. Look to those who balance out product value against risk management.

Attributes of Great Category Captains

So, what does it take to become a great Category Captain?

The best captains will have strong analytic and strategic skills. In addition to having a strong understanding of consumer habits and trends. Moreover, they must have effective leadership and people management skills. Being strong in soft skills helps them to deal with issues as and when they crop up. Additionally, they help them to act as an effective liaison between retailers, suppliers and consumers.

They should also be extremely knowledgeable when it comes to market performance and trends. In order to make sure they truly understand current consumer demands. Lastly, Category Captains should also have extensive resources, ability and consumer insight. This allows them to find their ongoing value in strategic development for their respective category.

 

Technology and the Future

The future role of Category Captains is set to change dramatically. This is because technology in retail will continue to improve. They will be able to gain even more detailed and predictive insights, in near real-time. This will allow them to instantly enhance the customer experience.

The best-in-class Captains will look to expand their skill set. They will take advantage of improved technology to cover aspects including, supply chain optimisation, in-store digital experiences and data analysis. This will allow them to support more targeted marketing strategies, such as location targeting.

With the rise and rise of traditional and alternative e-commerce, future Captains will need to innovate to stay ahead of the curve and keep their retailers competitive. This means exploiting developments in technology to respond to customer demand. The next generation of Category Captains will have even smarter technology at their fingertips. This will allow retailers to reap even further rewards.


For further tips and information, you can take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Category Management and our Category Management YouTube Channel. Also, check out our award-winning blog to see more Category Management tips and articles.

Andy Palmer

About Andy Palmer

Andy started at the coal face with eight years in food retailing. Prior to joining MBM he then spent five years in the supply base in positions of category analysis, category management and account management. He works as part of the team enabling suppliers to UK supermarkets to secure more profitable wins through people development. He specialises in Category Management Training and is a qualified HBDI practitioner.

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