SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Private-label brands need evangelists now more than ever to meet shoppers' changing needs and keep pace with the evolving retail market, said Larry Zettle, retired executive vice president and chief operating officer of Price Chopper.
Private brands need visionary leaders at the helm who are proactive. They must look several years ahead at opportunities such as providing food solutions - not just products - and challenges like growing customer loyalty, he said.
"A single-minded approach will not maximize our private-brand opportunities [or] provide the customer with the best shopping experience," Zettle said here at the Private Label Manufacturers Association's annual meeting and leadership conference recently.
Zettle, who retired earlier this year, told PLMA audience members that he assumed the mantle of private-label champion for the company and continues to be a passionate advocate today. A few months into retirement, he was rankled when he spotted Price Chopper advertisements without a single item from its Central Market Classics line.
Zettle said one of the toughest challenges facing retailers today is finding skilled and passionate people to lead the private-brands business on the retail and manufacturing sides. He questioned how they would acquire the necessary skills and whether a career path exists for such leaders in the retail structure.
Beyond that, he listed several challenges retailers must address to grow the private-label business. Among them:
Collaboration between retailers and manufacturers, something Zettle said is lacking today.
Branding and packaging/label designs that hook the customer. Shoppers decide to select items within four or five seconds, so appearance is critical.
Marketing and merchandising strategies that maximize sales and margins. At Price Chopper, Zettle said, the second best-selling ice cream comes from the Central Market line.
Offering multiple tiers, with a good, better, best program.
Getting products to customers faster. Today's slow pace from concept to shelf is maddening, Zettle said.
Regular analysis with senior management of the private-brand business.
If done right, store brands and products can be the best loyalty program a retailer can have.
"I'd put a great shopping experience against a loyalty card program anytime," Zettle said.
Zettle also warned about the larger "retail reformation" that is putting many new branded items on the shelf, putting pressure on private-label space. While store sizes are getting larger, the Center Store is not.
"The amount of offers we're trying to put into stores today has not been kind to Center Stores," he said.