This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows
There’s no doubt that Keith Whaley understands retail. Having graduated from Ohio University in the mid-90s, he stepped into a much sought-after place in a retail management programme at US grocery giant Kroger. Here, he not only quickly worked his way up to become a category manager, but also played an instrumental role in developing the Kroger Fresh Fair and the Kroger Marketplace store formats – setups which still have a big presence in the US today.
After Kroger, Whaley moved into the speciality retail sector, landing a job with clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F). “In my eight years with A&F, I led a team which created a model that allowed the company to successfully build assortments for its international, flagship and tourist stores worldwide,” he explains. “That experience was a huge highlight because it allowed me to be a part of taking a national retailer and making it into a global brand. As part of that process, we created all kinds of store models and formats in which to engage with customers and offer them compelling products that captured what we believed was our fair share of sales in the global market.
“We put tools in place to allow us to cater to stores that were now three to four times larger than the traditional mall-based formats that had been dominant in the company for many years. As it happens, we ended up implementing the JustEnough Merchandise Planning solution.” And this is where Whaley got a real taste of what would become his next career move.
It was helping to drive that transformation that struck a chord with Whaley, and which led to him joining JustEnough Software. “In my current role, I work closely with customers, prospective customers and industry thought leaders to understand what’s happening in the retail environment and ensure that our products remain the industry leading solutions retailers need to deal with today’s and tomorrow’s complex planning challenges,” Whaley explains.
In this role, Whaley can really put his experience to good use. “That’s the one thing that I think really sets us apart – we have people like myself on the team that are able to talk the talk but have also walked the walk,” he says. “We’re not just selling software; we’re actually selling processes and the technology to support them. That’s a big differentiator for us.”
Indeed, JustEnough has made great strides in setting itself apart from the competition by, for example, tackling the challenges associated with assortment and space planning head on. “Assortment and space planning processes within retail are key components of merchandise planning,” explains Whaley. “However, these two components have traditionally been viewed as separate activities within the retail industry, especially in the fashion and apparel industries. This type of siloed approach can lead to misalignment, difficulty in stocking, poor execution and an overall negative effect on sales and profit. What’s more, in today’s environment it’s quite common for retailers to create another team to manage their digital space. This further disconnects the processes, creating even more challenges.”
Whaley says that in order to achieve success, assortment and space planning should be integrated with proper organisational structure. “Retailers need to focus on building cross-functional teams that work together to build assortments and manage their space with common objectives, aligning their merchandising strategies to achieve those objectives,” he explains. “Additionally, it’s important for retailers to identify their space challenges and account for those challenges in the assortment planning process. By setting up and using key measures that combine productivity and space together, retailers can build and execute against focused assortments that have proper breadth and depth in the space they are managing. Lastly, retailers need a system that is designed to support an integrated structure. Systems that contain built-in processes and workflow addressing the two components together can provide for better execution in the overall merchandise planning process.”
There are many benefits to this type of approach, including inventory optimisation, increased sales and margin rates, reduced re-working of plans, improved organisational alignment, cost reductions in human resources and better overall execution of a retailer’s plans.
“An integrated assortment and space planning workflow will increase a retailer’s probability for success,” Whaley says. “However, retailers still have to understand that all their products will not be winners. Strategic assortment and space plans are not plans that contain ‘future actuals’, but set up a retailer to achieve their goals and objectives. Shaking and baking during the season is still required in order to get to the finish line. This approach requires that retailers make decisions related to space planning that may differ from the assortment plan that was created during the pre-season planning process. Adjusting item placements, item presentation quantities and store layouts are activities that will occur more frequently as retailers identify trends, manage inventory constraints and maintain their desired look and feel of the space they do business in.”
It’s this always-evolving environment that Whaley thrives in. “In retail, the environment is constantly changing and the strategies are constantly evolving,” he says. “Every day in retail is different from the last. I enjoy knowing that when I wake up tomorrow, I’m going to be presented with new, fresh and exciting challenges.”
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