Play it Again, Sam

March 1, 2005
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Play it Again, Sam
by TOM STEPHENS
Retailers need to take a close look at their private labelprograms and make them music to consumers’ ears.
I was going through Toronto’s Pearson Airport a couple of weeks ago and was amazed to see, parked in the middle of the walkway, a grand piano —  a full grand, not a baby, or an upright, but the whole deal. It grabbed my attention and spurred me to think about our industry — first tier, second tier, premium, the whole deal. And like the piano that was just sitting with no player, there are so many private label programs with all the elements and no one playing them.
Quality, growing consumer awareness and more importantly, increased acceptance and satisfaction of the idea of making store brand purchase decisions are all there. So why the lack of marketing? Why the dogged determination to perpetuate earning dollars the “easy way”?
There are a few light glimmers at the end of the tunnels we walk down every day. Like the new Kroger MasterCard program that rewards store brand purchases at a greater rate than other brands or other non-Kroger affiliate locations. A recent survey of all retailers internationally stated that 25 percent of retailers are targeting private label penetration of 50 percent. That would be a staggering statement if applied to the supermarket and drug channels we know so well. But think about it. Some retailers have a penetration target and have solid growth attached to it. But many do not.
I was talking with two retailers at PLMA in November who were “extremely anxious” to kick-start a brand new approach to their private label programs. It’s now March, other issues have gotten in the way and business is still very much “as usual.” And that’s a crying shame because every one of the hundreds of thousands of customers walking through the doors of their many stores this week, last week and next week, are being denied the enhanced, extra-value opportunity. They could be switching their purchase patterns and creating more loyalty, more profit-earning products and more life-sustaining products for the chains involved.
So back to the piano. The crazy thing about it was that there was no one playing it. Maybe it was one of those computer-programmed pianos that play themselves? But there was no sound and no visible electric cord. And when I went up to it to see if it was a Steinway, a Yamaha or a Baldwin: Lo and behold! It had no name. Yes, it was a generic piano. No music, no brand and no reason at all to be there. So why was it there? Does a silent grand piano a happy airport experience make?
So folks, please take a look at your program. Whether it’s an upright, a baby or a grand, please let it make the beautiful sounds it was designed to produce. Don’t let it just sit there in full view of hundreds of thousands of eager participants gathering dust.
Tom Stephens is the founder of Brand Strategy Consultants, North York, Ontario. He can be reached at 416-391-1635 or at tomstephens@brandstrategyconsultants.ca. Stephens says thinking “inside the box” is often appropriate, since answers to 90 percent of retail problems can be found inside the four walls of the store.

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