Closing the Execution Gap With Better Communication - Part 2

Making Your Marketing Plans a Store-level Reality.

In this three-part series, GSP explores strategies for closing the gap between the head-office marketing plan and store-level execution—to prevent bottom line profit from slipping through that gap. Part 1 outlined how better execution starts with better store-level data.

In part two of this series, we outline how to improve execution between the marketing team and the field.

Part 2: Closing the execution gap with better store-level communication

Many retail marketers will claim that they invest as much time in their efforts to ensure marketing plans are executed correctly at the store-level as they do in determining what their marketing strategy should be.

To ensure compliance in the field, marketers will create complex documents that act as Marketing Guides for store employees. And most marketing teams spend a considerable amount of their time in stores simply identifying the types of execution challenges that arise when store employees do not understand how the marketing plan should work in their stores.

But too often these efforts fall short. Marketers struggle to tailor their plans to all of the variations that exist in a large multi-site retailer. Marketing Guides can often create confusion by highlighting programs that may not apply to selected stores. And it is difficult to understand whether the lessons learned in a few stores can be applied throughout the stores.

accustore-mobile-capture-fountainA key opportunity to making the marketing program more effective at the store-level is to make communication between marketing and the field more effective. Here are a couple of suggestions to make that happen:

1. For store rides, develop a process for documenting and sharing opportunities identified. 

Develop a standardized process for riding stores and for recording the challenges that you identify in stores. Consider creating a list of checkpoints for each area of the store to ensure that you are not simply “trolling for errors” when in store. And develop a reporting process for identifying trends across sites and sharing insights with the rest of the organization. A mobile application like AccuStore®, GSP’s proprietary store intelligence software, can assist in structuring store rides and in sharing the findings with key personnel in the organization.

2. Spread store rides across your retail network.

The stores closest to HQ are often the easiest to reach and therefore the least expensive to visit. But the execution in these stores will often reflect a diligence that results from a disproportionate amount of attention from the HQ rather than a solid appreciation for the marketing department’s efforts. To really understand how the field views the marketing program, try to spread store rides across the network. Track the days since each site was visited by marketing to ensure that attention is not disproportionately concentrated in a certain group of stores.

3. Make planners as targeted as possible. 

Make the marketing and operational information in the Marketing Guides as tailored to each specific retail site as possible with precisely the information they need—to help eliminate confusion for the store manager. Automation tools such as AccuStore® will automate this work by generating illustrated, store-specific POP placement guides and promotional summary sheets.

But marketers who do not implement such automation can still “version” planners to catch important variations in merchandising and branding from one site to the next. And, retailers will find that the time spent versioning the planner can often be offset by a reduction in time spent fielding questions from store employees.

4. Add an incentive to ensure implementation.

Incorporate an incentive to ensure the Store-specific Marketing Guides are being read by the Store Managers. They could be trackable when opened so you have a clear picture of which are not being read, and can follow up with those specific stores.

5. Ensure accessibility to monthly Store-specific Marketing Guides. 

Make sure to have the Store-specific Marketing Guides available both online and also as a printable PDF for easy access, and to ensure the Store Managers or employees have two ways to access the planners, and can print them out if they prefer.

6. Include site-specific visual illustrations for sign placement.

Include renders and visual communication wherever possible to help illustrate instructions on how to insert a graphic, assemble hardware or to indicate specific site locations for the different promotions. Automation tools such as AccuStore can automatically generate these store-specific renderings with the current period’s POP for retailers. But even without these tools, retailers should try to include the details of each store’s interior and exterior architectural features in the renders. These targeted sign placement guides will improve compliance, help ensure fast and seamless implementation of new POP and enable store managers to easily audit campaign execution.

Implementing these tips for more effective Store-specific Marketing Guides and targeted communication to the field will help you “get on the same page” with in-store personnel, expedite execution and increase the accuracy of your marketing efforts.

SEE ALSO: The Execution Challenge – Part 1: Closing the Execution Gap With Better Data

Inexpensive Tools to Improve the In-store Experience

Retailers often think major remodels are the only way to update their store and the customers’ in-store experience. For alternative ideas, Steven Cohen, GSP’s Vice President of Design Services, and Lester Morrow, Industrial Design Creative Director, recently visited various stores to look for merchandising areas with room for improvement. As a result of these store visits, they provided some simple and easy-to-implement solutions to improve the in-store experience and create impact. Here are their recommendations.


Create a system to communicate your offer. Customers only have so much time to find and purchase the item they’re looking for. Make it easy for them to navigate the store space by creating focus—and establishing visually appealing destinations for the main store categories, such as coffee, fountain and foodservice. Consider using a “graphics system” for identifying key areas (see the image on the left above) rather than creating widely varying graphics for each area. A simpler, uniform system will often make it easier for consumers to make purchasing decisions and shop.


Create visually appealing category destinations—organization is key for an improved in-store experience. Equipment is often different heights which creates a visual disturbance or “skyline effect” as shown in the image to the left. By arranging the equipment so that they line up at the top, and by also creating centralized storage for condiments and utensils, you will ensure your category destination areas look neat and organized.


Create your own “Wall of Value.” Make sure that bulk displays do not detract from the overall presentation of the store. For example, in the image on the left, the multiple stacks of packaged drinks result in visual clutter. A moveable platform solution with packaged drinks grouped together with branded background signage can help market and bring focus to your products.

Closing the Execution Gap With Better Data - Part 1

Making Your Marketing Plans a Store-level Reality.

The profit gap.

Most retailers recognize that there is a gap between the marketing strategies they craft in their head office and the marketing program that is executed in each store. And a lot of bottom line profit can slip through that gap. For retailers with $1M in annual merchandise sales, a 5% drop in execution can result in a net loss of $2,250 per store. For a 200-store chain, this amounts to $450,000 annually.

In this three-part series, GSP explores strategies for closing the gap between the head-office marketing plan and store-level execution. Part 1 details how better execution starts with better data. Part 2 focuses on fostering improved execution through targeted communication to the field. And Part 3 will focus on how retail leaders can better leverage the insights gathered in stores to create a culture of top-level execution in the field.

Part 1: Closing the execution gap with better data

One of the greatest challenges store employees face in executing the marketing plan is determining which parts of the plan actually apply to their store. Marketers in the head-office often lack accurate data about the needs of each store, so they must make “educated guesses” about what merchandise the store can promote and which types of POP they can display. In a recent survey of Retail marketing professionals, GSP found that 65% of marketers felt that this lack of information about store profiles had a negative impact on store financials. The link between poor profiles and poor results is the execution challenge.

So the first step in any plan to close the “execution gap” should be a plan to build—and, more importantly, maintain—a detailed profile of each store in the chain which marketers can use to tailor their plans to the needs of each store. Most retailers start by cataloging merchandise characteristics and the POP needs of each store. Below is a list of other attributes to consider as part of the profile.

  1. Store format. Record the architectural details for each store, including square footage, building features, store layout and décor package.
  2. Merchandise profile. Capture the quantities and size variations of merchandise areas, category destinations, fixtures, displays and all signage locations.
  3. Fixtures and equipment. Fixturing and equipment play a major role in the implementation of marketing programs. It’s important to record quantities and measurements for all fixtures and displays in the store as well as equipment and other physical assets.
  4. Competitor details. Marketers will often want to target their marketing and– in some cases- their capital spending to stores in especially competitive markets. So store profiles should include lists of competitors within the store’s trade circle.
  5. Points of interest: Retail executives may want to adjust merchandising plans, promotional activity and even labor scheduling for stores that are near points of interest that impact consumer traffic. For example, restaurants near university campuses may want to feature their coffee offering more heavily or conduct university-themed marketing activity.
  6. Photos. Each site profile should also include a complete set of digital photos of the location (interior and exterior) to capture the appearance of the store, improve understanding and speed of decision-making.

Having this data and real time intelligence at your fingertips increases the site-specific visibility needed to effectively drive execution of your retail strategy, improve operational compliance and in-store results.

Even harder than building store profiles is the task of keeping the profiles up to date. Routine maintenance and field-level decisions about how to equip stores will result in changes at the store-level that are often not communicated to the “keeper of the data.” But retailers can implement the following key practices to ensure that data remains accurate:

  1. Leverage store rides to update store profiles.
    The best retailers make sure that marketers and their head-office staff are routinely in stores speaking with store personnel and reviewing how their growth initiatives are impacting the in-store experience. Yet too often the lessons learned during these visits are not memorialized in a structured format. Managers will often email themselves and others about issues they see in the field, without documenting the issues in a format that facilitates trend reporting. Retailers should implement a practice of using store rides to verify store profiles. Some leading retailers will even print store profile data for each store before visiting sites, not only to check the data but to understand how store environments may impact the store’s financial performance.

SEE ALSO: The AccuStore mobile app allows your field team to track their store visits

  1. Field surveys, when managed with the field in mind, can work.
    A number of survey tools enable retailers to build field surveys and distribute them to field employees through email links. Such surveys can be very helpful in gathering quick, simple updates from the field. For example, a retailer could send a survey to simply ask store managers whether they are adjacent to a particular competitor. However, to avoid distracting store employees from their customers, retailers should develop guidelines on how and when to use field surveys. Such guidelines should clarify the number of surveys to be sent, the type of questions the field can reasonably answer and the length of each survey.

SEE ALSO: Field surveys are a cost-effective alternative to collecting store data

  1. Define who owns the data.
    While many will want access to the store profiles, it is essential to clearly define who has responsibility for updating the various data points tracked. Often, no individual wants to take on the responsibility for managing the entire database. But retailers can share responsibility: for example, if data is stored in a spreadsheet, retailers can create worksheets for each department and assign a representative from that department as owner of that particular worksheet.

SEE ALSO: AccuStore gives you control of your store profiles

thumbnail-site-profile-management How GSP can help improve execution with better store data

AccuStore™ helps multi-unit, consumer-facing businesses reduce spend and accelerate their growth through customized site profiling capabilities and enhanced store profile technology that allows retailers to build and maintain a central repository of site-level details accessible throughout the organization. Click here to learn more