Merchandising: Astonish Your Customers With New Product Categories
Like it or loathe it, Federated Department Stores continues to rename its acquired department store chains with the Macy’s moniker across the country. And Margaret Getchell would be proud. Believed to be the first female retail executive, Getchell changed Macy’s from a fancy dry goods store into a department store with sales in 1870 totaling $1 million. She was quoted as saying back in 1866, “Never forget to astonish the customer.” And today, her statement is an integral part of Macy’s new marketing campaign and is prominent in all new store displays.
Back then, Getchell achievement astonishment by addition. According to Macy’s brand history, she added the following product categories to the original “fancy dry goods store”: menswear, dresses, costume jewelry, china and glassware, sporting goods and toys, among others. She was quite the risk-taker in new category development
Sometimes that kind of attitude is just what it takes to launch into a new category. L.L. Bean had that sort of spunk many years ago when it tested its first piece of indoor future (an artisan canoe table) in its outdoor recreation catalog. Starbucks added music and entertainment products to its infamous coffee offerings. Ann Taylor recently entered the celebrations business by adding formal dresses to its traditional careerwear offering. Pottery Barn dipped its toe in the teen market with creative bedroom/dorm room containers and organizers. Many of these ideas might have originally been out of their brand’s comfort zone. But looking back, they made perfect sense.
Where does that spunk come from? I’m a big believer in cultivating an “informed gut.” Often sales reports can provide glimmers of new category potentiality. An experienced and intuitive merchant can look at existing profitable items as well as entire categories and see the makings of a whole new category just waiting to be tested. Look at those same reports and devise ideas about how to gain more share of wallet from your best customers. Sales information plus a calculated risk-taking spirit can help uncover new product categories for testing. Get your merchants and marketers together and look below your brand’s surface and see what potential new product categories emerge.