A Lean, Mean and Keen Approach to a Sustainable Merchandising

by | Aug 29, 2011

If you do your best to buy “green” products when you visit the local grocery store, you’re not alone. Products that are more environmentally-friendly, made from natural ingredients, and sourced via free-trade are readily available. The process by which they end up on your store shelves, however, is not always as sustainable.

But that is changing. Consumers now look far beyond the label of the products they purchase and into the practices of the companies that are making those products. And because corrugated cardboard and shrink wrapping do not always conjure up images of environmental friendliness, retail merchandising is responding to demands that the packaging, delivery and presentation of products on store shelves become more sustainable.

In the past year alone, I’ve heard from a lot of CPG companies that are proactively addressing this issue within their merchandising supply chain. My advice to them is simple: be mean, be lean, and be keen.

Be Mean

That’s right. Think about your merchandising supply chain critically and do not be afraid to give up the status quo for more sustainable practices. Many companies have made commitments to using more—if not all—recycled materials in their packaging and displays. Others have invested more heavily in creative designs, which allow some displays to be used for more than one season—a move that is good for both the environment and the bottom line.  Most CPGs do promotions tied to Memorial Day and Independence Day, for example, and our team worked with one client to totally transform their long held approach to these promotions. The output was a display with two-sided materials that could be flipped over in a matter of minutes—from flags for the first holiday, to fireworks for the second—which enabled displays to have a longer shelf life than ever before, reduce the materials necessary to do it and stay fresh in the eyes of shoppers.

Be Lean

CPG products typically spend a lot of time moving around before they end up on store shelves. They move from one warehouse to another as they make their way from manufacturing to packaging to fulfillment to retailers, and perhaps some additional stops in between. In the process, a lot of fuel, packaging materials, time and money is wasted. Now, integrated merchandising supply chain (IMSC) companies can manage all of these steps from one location. By working with a single vendor, in a single location, the entire operation becomes leaner. In turn, CPGs are able to reduce or eliminate unnecessary materials and fuel, as well as better control inventory, increase speed-to-market and better understand total cost of ownership.

Be Keen

Sustainability in the merchandising space is not just about using recycled products or cutting back on fuel. It requires a dedicated effort that comes from the top of the organization and a comprehensive strategy that takes into account all aspects of the retail supply chain, from vendors to consumer. Smart CPGs are already treating sustainability as a strategic issue; really smart ones are tracking the performance and value-add of those programs with acute attention. Without this wholehearted effort toward sustainable solutions during a product’s entire lifecycle, consumers will see “green” projects as disingenuous attempts to take advantage of green buzz, rather than make a truly notable difference.

Although this advice is particularly useful for sustainability, being mean, lean and keen can positively impact many strategic initiatives. Use it to meet consumers’ green demand now, but benefit from it across the board, regardless of how the market changes.

Jeff Sharfstein is president and CEO of The Strive Group. The Strive Group is comprised of four operating entities that design, manufacture and pack-out point of purchase displays for major consumer products companies. A fifth entity, Strive Logistics, LLC, provides transportation solutions to display customers and others. Jeff Sharfstein began his business career with Pride Container Corporation, a company founded by the Sharfstein family, in 1968. He left in 1990 to start World Distribution Group (now Strive Logistics) and returned to Pride Container Corporation as its president in 1997.

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