To succeed in big-box retailers, CPG brands need a top-notch team, internally and externally. One of the most crucial external partners is a retail merchandising partner. These are the people who will go in, on your behalf, and make sure your products are where they should be, priced correctly, fully stocked, and all marketing materials are properly installed.
But not all retail merchandising agencies operate the same way.
Brands must identify what they need from a retail merchandising agency and choose the right partner for them accordingly.
But, if you’ve never partnered with a 3rd-party merchandiser before, the vetting process can feel daunting.
Here are seven questions you can use to filter out potential merchandising agencies and find the one that suits your needs best.
1- Who are Their Field Reps and How are They Trained?
The actual “feet on the ground” are called “field reps.” They’re the people who will be inside the retail location, performing the tasks you need done. Because of their critical role in your business’ success, you need to feel confident that the merchandising agency you’re partnering with adheres to the highest levels of professionalism and training.
One quick way to get a feel for the level of service you’ll receive is to ask whether their field reps (or merchandisers) are W-2 employees or independent contractors?
Companies have more control over actual W-2 employees when it comes to training, scheduling, and putting together a quality team. The result is more reliable and higher quality work.
For reference, RMS employees are W-2.
2- What Special Skills and Certifications Do They Have?
It may come as a surprise, but not every retail merchandising agency has the same certifications and skills inside all retailers. These “extras” aren’t that extra at all as they’re crucial in helping them be successful at what they need to complete at each retailer.
For example, RMS is Backroom Certified, which provides our field reps permission to go into Target’s backroom and locate inventory to be stocked out to the sales floor. It also allows for independent task completion for things like printing new shelf tags or locating ISM shipments. This allows us to thoroughly complete each job and give our clients peace of mind, accurate store-level inventory information, and an ability to complete more than an agency that is not certified.
We’re one of just a handful of Target Preferred Service Partners. We’re proud to hold this distinction and how it helps us serve our customers even better.
Perhaps the most important piece of the skill/cert puzzle is the ability to work independently to get the job done versus working through retailer employees. It’s more efficient and merchandisers with this skillset will be able to complete far more tasks than non-certified companies.
3- Will In-Store Issues be Fixed or Only Identified?
It’s important to get a deep understanding of what and how services will actually be provided at each retail location and if those tasks need to be completed with the needed support of store employees or independently.
Some merchandising agencies, especially those with a crowd-sourced model, only identify issues at the store level. They can’t fix anything that’s amiss. To provide any type of fix for problems found these companies need to rely on retail employee support. The ability to complete a service goes down significantly when store support is needed.
However, full-service merchandisers, like RMS, can identify and fix found problems all in one visit. Don’t end up needing to pay twice to get your problems fixed.
4- What Level of Service Can You Expect?
Will the agency’s support structure provide the access, knowledge, and reliability you are looking for in a service provider.
Will you have one point of contact who manages all aspects of your project? Or will you be waiting for the “next available representative” when you call with questions?
How involved are other levels of the company with your account? For example, here at RMS, we all know our clients and who the account leads are. So, no matter who picks up the phone, they’ll be able to assist you without you having to fill them in on everything.
5- Is Merchandising Their Specialty?
A key question to answer is, “is merchandising this company’s specialty?” Some agencies offer merchandising as just one of many services they provide. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this structure, it can impact the level of service you receive.
Agencies focused solely on merchandising hire and train people who are highly skilled at executing merchandising tasks. On the other hand, companies that do other services like store training and demos typically offer a broader skillset and are less experienced in specific disciplines.
6- What’s the Merchandiser’s Completion Rate?
Don’t forget to check the average percentage of stores a company actually completes during a service versus the number of stores you listed to service? This is called “Completion Rate.” Aim for a merchandising agency that has an average completion rate of higher than 90%
For reference, RMS’ average completion rate is 93% of the stores assigned to service during COVID and 96% prior to COVID. Check out our case studies to see other ways we perform.
7- What’s the Merchandiser’s Field Coverage?
A merchandising agency’s field coverage is one of the first questions you will want to ask. Not every company can cover every retail location, even within the same retail family.
Ask: do you provide field coverage for all the stores of the retail chain I need serviced? And how often do you perform services in those stores?
Frequency is a crucial part of the coverage equation.
For instance, RMS covers 100% of Target stores and is in every store at least 1x per week.
BONUS – What’s the Retail Experience of the Leadership Team?
And just to round out your vetting process, check on retail experience within the team, especially leadership.
- What is the experience of the executive team leading the organization?
- What is their retail experience and experience with the retailers they work with?
Industry and retailer experience can work in your favor as it will give your merchandising partner a deep understanding of how to navigate working with a retailer and what you’re experiencing as a brand.
RMS leadership has more than 150 years of collective retail experience at all levels and sides of retail. Most RMS employees worked in a retail store or headquarters in operations.
Considering RMS? Factor In…
We’re a retail merchandiser specialist, so we have a few more tricks up our sleeves than your average 3rd-party merchandising agency.
Just a few of our highlights are:
- Our proprietary technology platform allows more flexibility and customization
- Our industry-leading training program makes sure our field reps are the best in the biz
- Top-notch reporting that allows you to get the information you need accurately and timely
- Our compliance team audits 100% of the photos taken during service for quality control
- Our team is highly trained, has deep experience, and is constantly updated to stay on top of their game
Finding the right retail merchandising partner can help your in-store operations function more efficiently, free up your team’s time and energy, and help your profit margins stay healthy or even increase. To make sure you reap the benefits of this partnership, be sure to find the one that meets your needs.
Need a merchandising partner? Contact us today to see if we’re the right fit for you.