Q&A: Upping standards

Gordon Wade, managing partner and director of best practices for the Category Management Association

Drug Store News spoke with Category Management Association managing partner and director of best practices Gordon Wade.

DSN: What is the Category Management Association? What is its mission?


Gordon Wade: The Category Management Association is an industry association whose mission is to improve standards of performance in category management by sharing best practices among our members and providing certification standards for industry practitioners at the corporate and individual levels. We conduct share groups on numerous subjects on a weekly or biweekly basis. We have an annual conference in late October in Atlanta, and we publish a weekly newsletter. Our members are retailers, manufacturers large and small, industry service providers and academic organizations. We are recognized as the industry leader in establishing and certifying category management standards for various job descriptions within category management. We provide transparent standards and a common industry language.

DSN: What types of companies do you work with? 


Wade: Our members are retailers and manufacturers across all major channels. These companies range from huge multibillion-dollar global enterprises to niche companies and regional retailers. We also have third-party solution providers as members, including some of the world’s leading data and analytics companies. Lastly, we have an active group of colleges and universities who attend our conferences and serve on advisory boards.


DSN: Category management certification — how does that work? What’s involved? 


Wade: Our certification board, working with a broad industry coalition, developed a set of capability standards for three different levels of category management job performance. These standards include multiple “course requirements” in which the applicant must demonstrate proficiency. That most often is accomplished by passing accredited courses, which themselves have been certified by our board. So we do no training ourselves. We certify the course work of companies and third-party trainers, the applicants present their credentials from these courses and when they have met all the course qualifications from whatever accredited source, they then are certified at the appropriate level. Think of us as a super accreditation board similar to those who certify degrees in chemistry, business administration or English at the BA, MA and PhD levels.

DSN: Have retailers and suppliers lost touch with core category management disciplines? Why is category management certification important? 


Wade: When category management exploded upon the scene in the mid-1990s, retail buyers were one day handed business cards saying “category manager”; and at manufacturers, salesmen were given new business cards saying “director of category management.” Training was sometimes nonexistent and nearly always inconsistent across the industry. At some companies, category managers were highly trained, sophisticated marketers but at others, they barely understood the concept of the seven-step category management process originally promulgated by the ECR committee in 1993. This became a problem and, in some cases, an embarrassment for human resources directors who tried to hire category managers only to discover that no standards existed. Certification goes a long way toward solving these problems. The standards are clear, well defined and rigorous.


DSN: Why do retailers need to be working with the Category Management Association — what’s in it for them? 


Wade: Retailers are in a very demanding competitive environment. One of their biggest potential assets is their people, yet most retailers under-invest in training and development. By joining the CMA, retailers get a window on the world that can help them improve their people by participation in share groups, by accessing our comprehensive website and by attending our conference. Participation in the CMA lets retailers see best practice from manufacturers, other retailers and third-party solution providers. Every week retailers are becoming more and more active in the CMA and certification because they see how this helps them develop their greatest asset: their people.


DSN: Same question regarding suppliers.


Wade: Manufacturers must sell their products through various retailers and retail channels. Category management provides the intellectual platform and process for communicating with and convincing retailers. The CMA, in turn, provides a platform for sharing best practice, [and] for improving their capabilities in this important and rapidly changing discipline. For example, in recent share groups, manufacturers have been exposed to new developments in mobile device shopper marketing and to new HR techniques for embedding category management. In our newsletter, we have linked them to 10 recent articles about new developments in CatMan around the world. Our manufacturer members know we are laser focused on this discipline, so they count on us to keep them current.

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