I hear the Marketing Director's words like the energetic beginnings of a Muddy Waters' song. The promising chords belying the despair in the lyrics to come.
These are the Company Store Blues.
The marketing department spear-heads an initiative to streamline the purchasing of marketing materials, promotional items and apparel. Excited by the prospect of controlling brand and logo treatment, they meticulously choose products that will convey the brand message appropriately. They work with the vendor to make sure that the brand guidelines, painstakingly developed but loosely followed by employees, are understood and well-implemented.
For a time, the program works beautifully. The sales team and the human resources department gush over the ease of use and the cool items. The bean counters are happy with the comprehensive reporting and budget control. The marketing department is happy that the burden of product ordering has been removed from their daily activities.
But as with any good blues song, there are problems and complications. When the sales manager returns to the site after several rewarding visits, he finds the same product mix from months earlier. When the HR Manager logs in to find a new incentive gift, she finds nothing but the items that had been used previously. No one wants to pester marketing again so they go rogue by purchasing from sources that put little thought into brand or logo guidelines. Marketing has invested in the online program and is frustrated at the diminishing level of use.
These blues can be avoided if the company store program is handled by an experienced and engaged partner.
Problem - Excess Inventory
Companies generally over-estimate the need for inventory. The idea of having products on the shelf, ready to ship at a moment's notice seems like a good one and may be for a few staple items - think golf balls , pens and post-it notes. The inventory dollars on the shelf inevitably reduce the ability to keep the product mix fresh. The point of promotional items is to generate excitement for the brand. These should be well thought out and planned. Having basic items on the shelf bails out the non-planners but less inventory allows for more unique and exciting promotions.Solution
There are many products available that can be produced quickly and with low minimums. The store needs to be utilized as a regular vehicle for showing new offerings. The site should be updated quarterly with new items and special offers. The online platform should have robust reporting capabilities. Much insight can be gained from the frequent and modest users to keep the offering relevant.
Finally - listen. Give the users a way to openly communicate their needs and ideas. After all, these are the end-users and they know what works on the street.
Online Company Stores are a wonderful tool for sales, marketing and brand development if they are actively planned and faithfully maintained.