“My planogrammers can’t merchandise. Can you teach them about visual merchandising? They make planograms that don’t meet shoppers’ needs.” I hear it from nearly every retailer.

    Problem #1: You hire planogrammers instead of growing them

    Planogrammers are to Merchandisers what Architects are to Builders. The best architects have spent countless hours on job-sites. They know the difference between fasteners, fire-code and framing nails. They have swung a hammer and they know how to build. There is no difference in retail. 

    So if you think what makes a great planogram candidate is experience with a system (usually BlueYonder ) that is 100% not the way to find a good merchandiser.

    Good planogrammers have spent time in the stores clearing shelves, peeling off price labels, putting peghooks into slat wall and merchandising new products on the sales floor. And no amount of time learning planogram automations will replace that. So first of all, know this:

    You can teach a merchandiser how to be a great planogrammer more easily than you can teach a planogrammer to be a great merchandiser.

    Hire planogrammers who are already good merchandisers. You can teach them the system. Hire for POTENTIAL, not skill. You can teach how to use the system in half a year. Easy. You will be several years into your new hire before you realize you cannot teach them to be a good listener, good communicator and good business partner.

    Problem #2: Your planogrammers are stuck planogramming

    First, look at your company’s buyers and category managers. What are their past experiences? Likely they are folks who used to b :

    • inventory analysts (they understand the supply chain and vendors)
    • merchandise planners (they understand the numbers)
    • store managers (they understand the operations)
    • merchandise analysts (they understand the processes)
    • marketing analysts (they understand the customer)

    In summary, your buying staff is made of people who will move in and out of the team. Your company benefits from their experiences throughout the organization. Their experience finds many paths to success. They are future company leaders.

    Now look at your planogramming staff. How many bring a diverse set of skills and then move on throughout the organization?

    The planogrammer is usually an entry-level HQ job. They arrive with a deficit of past cross-functional experience. And they are probably going to stay in plannogramming a long time without a lot of cross-functional career moves. Because learning the technology is such an investment. That’s one root cause why planogrammers can’t merchandise. (see issue #3)

    Now look at your senior leadership. The C-suite. How many of them came up through Space Planning? If you can name one – please tell me. (Seriously. Is there any C-level retail executive in America that came up through Space Planning? ) There is too little career movement out of Space Planning to pollinate the rest of the company. Space planning folks build a skill set that is so technical that it is difficult to move across the organization with ease. The skills just don’t seem to “translate.” Why? Because we focus on the technology and NOT outstanding merchandising for our shoppers.

    Problem #3: Planogramming systems stifle merchandising

    Space planning systems are too complicated. It takes too long to learn. All that time spent learning THE SYSTEM is time your staff does not spend learning how to be better business people. Better partners. And better merchandisers.

    Planogrammers live in a vise. Incomplete assortments arrive late and stores schedule labor for specific reset weeks. So, the only way to make up the difference is to ratchet down the time for planogramming. That’s why planogrammers stay heads down. They do not have the time to review the way a planogram “looks” or “shops.” All they can do is make sure the adds were added, the deletes were removed, and the most critical items have enough facings. Literally. To clarify, that is all the time they have.

    Is it a surprise to anyone that planogrammers can’t merchandise?

    What you can do about it

    1. When you want a dog, don’t get a cat.

    Stop trying to hire planogrammers and start growing them. When you want a merchandiser, do not hire a technologist. Do not hire people who have only worked in CAD or BlueYonder for years. Hire people who have been merchandisers. Hire people for potential and teach them what they need to know. Then keep them focused on what matters: the shopping experience.

    2. Stop overlooking Space Planning for leadership. And get good people out of it.

    You’ll reduce the incidence of “planogrammers can’t merchandise” when you move more people in and out of your space planning team. It is not a good idea to allow people to progress in their career within one single silo. Bring in inventory planners, shopper insight analysts, district managers and replenishment buyers so that your team is filled with diverse retail disciplines. Then fight hard to promote your best people across the company. When you place your best people into other functions, Space Planning builds a reputation for developing people who understand how to solve retail problems.

    3. Demand the easy button

    We start when we demand easier systems. Raise your expectations and demand technology partners step up. At your next Space Planning conference (whenever that may be held again) make a point of asking your solution provider for easier systems. Easier to learn, operate, and administer. The menu bar is ridiculous. The onboarding takes weeks – if not months. The system your team works on was probably written during the 1990’s. Their “cloud solution” only means that the server is on their farm and not yours.

    Ask questions:

    • Why can’t we take a picture of a section and have image recognition build an accurate POG?
    • Shouldn’t swaping out items across all planograms at once be base functionality?
    • Why can’t a planogram understand physics the same way that an elementary school gaming system understands physics?
    • When will this planogramming systsems be as intuitive to learn as a phone app?

    Your company has spent millions of dollars on the total cost of ownership for the system your planogrammers use. It is not meeting your company’s needs. Too many retailers have let technology lead the space planning function instead of cultivating solutions to meet the needs of merchandisers. You don’t want a department filled with system operators who make planograms. You want merchandisers who are assisted by their system to create shopper experiences.

    Retailers who make the changes and commitment to their shoppers and their people will be well poised to crush it in the future. They will win at the shelf because they have merchandisers. They won’t accept that planogrammers can’t merchandise. Who’s ready to join the #SpacePlanningRevolution ?