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Reiser's Pieces: Captaincy in Commerce- Steering the Ship of Category Management through the Choppy Waters of Retail

Navigating category management

Ahoy there! As we sail through the ever-changing seas of the omnicommerce landscape, it’s time to take a fresh look at the old ship of category management, especially the role of category captaincy. Since the Category Management Association introduced Catman 2.0 in 2020, it’s been clear: we need to chart new courses to understand and predict shopper behaviors better. Staying that critical half-step ahead of consumers is not just clever; it's necessary.


Navigating shifting media consumption, endless aisles, digital storefronts, and tech upheavals and understanding the depths of our retail categories to drive sales have never been more vital.


The captain's role? More crucial than ever.


The concept of category captains isn't new, but their role has significantly evolved. Gone are the days when they merely supplied basic data and layout plans. Today’s captains are the navigators and strategists, expected to find new islands of growth opportunities and charm new consumer tribes. They're equipped with deep market insights, comprehensive consumer behavior data, and trend analyses that are the treasure maps to product assortment, pricing strategies, shelf placement, and promotions.



Recently, we've spotted a new breed on the horizon – the Retailer-Paid Captaincy, or Fair Share Advisory model. This innovative approach is gaining wind in its sails, as retailers now partner directly with an unbiased, third-party category advisor. The retailer foots the bill for this captaincy upfront, but they get reimbursed by category suppliers later. Brand agnostic, a Retailer-Paid Captaincy aims to lift the entire category, raising all ships with the tide – a win-win for brands, retailers, and most importantly, the consumers.


In my experience working with both captaincy models, I’ve found there are a few key things to look for in choosing the right third-party category advisor:

  • Make sure they have deep, firsthand experience across your specific category and retailer.

  • Look for masters in space management and assortment optimization who offer a full deck of support – from integrated data analysis to market audits for space optimization.

  • Opt for a partner that can handle the whole journey through the Category Review/Modular Process and Full Relay Process, leveraging tools from retailer POS data to macro consumer trends to shape a top-tier strategy.


Whether it's a traditional Category Captain or a Supplier-Paid Captain, the ultimate goal remains the same: to boost category growth and reel in revenues in a way that resonates with consumers. By choosing the right advisory model and support framework, retailers can ensure a prosperous path for all involved.


As we adjust our category approaches for today’s new retail landscape,  let’s ask ourselves: How are we evolving to maximize the value from our categories?

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