PROFILE

Mark Heckman

Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting
Mark is a supermarket industry veteran with broad experience based in a mix of retail marketing, brand partnerships, category management practices and consumer research. Over his career, Mark has worked with noted organizations in the supermarket industry to include positions of Director of Marketing Research at Marsh Supermarkets, VP of Marketing for Randalls Foods, MARC Advertising, and Valassis Relationship Marketing Systems. In 1993, Mark led the analysis team at Marsh that composed and presented the Marsh Super Study, which was published by Progressive Grocer Magazine and later became a case study at the Harvard School of Business. In 2006 to 2011, Mark returned to Marsh Supermarkets to lead the marketing efforts at the Midwestern chain as Vice President of Marketing, following Sun Capital's purchase of the company. Upon completion of his duties at Marsh, Mark returned to his consulting practice where he currently works with retailers, marketing services and technology companies to develop sucessful programs and partnerships. Mark is a past member and chairman of the Food Marketing Institute's Consumer Research Committee as well participating in the recent Retail Shopper Marketing Commission founded by Coca Cola and the In-store Marketing Institute.  Mark is a graduate of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business with a BS in Marketing and was honor graduate of the Defense Language Institute, at the Presidio of Monterey, CA. Mark currently resides in Bradenton, FL with his wife Karyn. Visit the Mark Heckman Consulting website and blog...
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  • Posted on: 05/27/2020

    Are store brands set for a big growth spurt?

    While are personal experiences are by definition anecdotal, I have noticed that in many very popular categories, (paper, cleaning, shelf stable meals), big retailers like Walmart and Kroger's shelves are dominated by store brands -- as national brands continue to be out-of-stock. Whether this is by design or a function of stressed supply chains, some portion of the private label growth is not by choice, but rather by "having no other choice."
  • Posted on: 05/04/2020

    Coronavirus increases demand and supply chain challenges for WellPath’s DTC business

    Perhaps one of the longer term outcomes from the pandemic will be more vertical integration among retailers who are large enough to support such a plan. This means owning much (or all) of the process, from acquiring raw materials to the manufacturing, warehousing, transportation and then either to the store or directly to consumer. For example, in food retailing, many of bigger players will likely take more ownership in the growing and processing of both protein and vegetables. But it also means becoming less reliant upon non-U.S. sources of product. In hard goods, where Asia and Indonesia have such a big share of the manufacturing sourcing, this transition will take time, be painful and in all cases have an overall effect on the post-COVID global trade ecosystem. I also think that many retailers will have better supply chain contingency plans going forward. In the era of just-in-time inventory, a new mindset may be to have a safety stock of essential items held in waiting when the supply line is disrupted.
  • Posted on: 04/29/2020

    Will shoppers go to the mall because Simon says it’s okay?

    Here in Indianapolis, where SPG is headquartered, many of my retail friends were surprised by the announcement of opening the malls this weekend, when if fact, the Shelter in Place order doesn't officially end until May 7th in our state. So at one level the move would seem to be a bit contentious as it countermands state laws. On another level, it is likely a good thing in that it potentially offers both shoppers and store employees a measured, step wise way to get the economy back up and running. In my opinion, it is very likely that many stores will not immediately open, despite being permitted to. I also believe that it will take several weeks and even months before any level of normal traffic is seen. I appreciate the steps SPG is taking to insure safety but it also my hope that shoppers continue to space, wear masks and take personal responsibility necessary to keep the virus from spreading, for the their own safety and the safety of the retail associates that staff the stores.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2020

    Will the new normal look a lot like the old normal?

    Time, more knowledge about the virus, and meds will ultimately mitigate much of the fear that many currently have about interacting with crowded stores and crowds in general. However, it is fair to assume that a significant number of shoppers will be much more cognizant of close social contact and sanitation practices in the store going forward. To that end, I think it's reasonable to expect that large store formats (which must attract big throngs of shoppers to be profitable), will have to work much harder to allay the fears of their shoppers than smaller, less crowded bricks stores. In these large stores, more attention may be needed to automate the process of social distancing remainders, balancing aisle traffic, even traffic count limitations in extreme situations. Further, technologies that help the shopper more quickly locate the items they seek so that they minimize their time in store should be increasingly popular. In all bricks stores, offering a touchless payment system option is likely to be well received in addition to expanding the efforts in delivery and contactless pick-up at curbside. To the point that others have made, this pandemic looks to accelerate many of the initiatives that have already established beach heads in the industry. Now it is a matter of best understanding both short term and long, which ones resonate the most with shoppers who are in the midst of changing their behaviors and attitudes with each new CDC update.
  • Posted on: 04/23/2020

    Should grocers close their doors to customers for safety’s sake?

    Well stated Neil. Kroger and others are leading the way to find ways to keep shoppers and associates safe as we ride out the pandemic. If you want to see panic hit the streets and a resumption of hoarding, just mentioning supermarkets MAY close. That will do the trick. With that said, if you can use curbside pick-up -- I encourage you to do so. If not, please wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and be mindful of keeping your distance when shopping. I have nothing but admiration for the great people that come to work in our retail stores everyday!
  • Posted on: 04/17/2020

    Has COVID-19 transformed Gen-Z forever?

    Much of the longer term behavioral changes will heavily depend upon how well we can extinguish this virus, either through anti-virals and ultimately a vaccine. While I understand this younger group may be "imprinted" to some extent by their recent social distancing experiences, I also believe they will be resilient, given they are already very comfortable in using technology to shop and socialize, if necessary. While I may be a contrarian on the topic, I believe shopping behavioral changes among this group and others for that matter, may be driven more by the economy and their job situation than by the effects of the virus itself. If my thesis is true, there could be some residual cost containment and frugality among this group going forward as we attempt to regain our economic footing.
  • Posted on: 04/16/2020

    What will be retail’s new normal if social distancing stays in place until 2022?

    Unfortunately, re-opening the economy or keeping it closed until there is little or no risk of further infections is not the choice our leaders must make. It is rather a balancing act between two really suboptimal choices. One is to keep most of us huddled inside for as long as it takes to mitigate the spread of the virus to keep fewer people from dying. The other is to get healthy people back to work in a reasonably safe way, knowing that if we don't, people will begin dying from a range of maladies associated with stark economic downturns, such as suicide, drug overdose, depression, and neglecting other potentially fatal diseases due to the preoccupation of our medical system on the virus. It is not hyperbole to think that fatalities and suffering from an economic depression could be much worse than from this virus. So I don't see this a clear choice between "life" and "greed," but rather a choice between two really bad scenarios, with both carrying risks and rewards. The decision as to when, where and how to open must be done in concert with federal and local medical, political and business leaders, together, as all perspectives must be considered. At the risk of stating the obvious, the new normal for retailing will fall somewhere between where it used to be, (pre-virus) and what it will look like for the next month or so. Masks, social distancing in stores, limiting the number of patrons at one time and of course more emphasis on curb-side and home delivery will be things all retailers must consider in the near term and even after restrictions are lifted. Big, normally crowded stores may suffer in the short run in favor of smaller, less crowded boutique stores and shops, where operating costs are much lower. The good news for us that I would rather be in retailing than attempting to fill theaters, stadiums, cruise ships and airplanes full of people as some industries are dependent upon doing. It is also good news that innovation and new opportunities will emerge from this and many already have.
  • Posted on: 04/14/2020

    Amazon puts new online grocery customers on hold, reconfigures Whole Foods

    Whole Foods, along with Trader Joe's, Fresh Market and a host of other specialty food stores, are not the ideal format to support the extraordinary increase in demand of paper and cleaning products, and a host of center store items that shoppers are buying to keep the pantries full. With that said, Amazon may have no choice in closing down a number of WF stores and convert them into fulfillment warehouses as a short term buffer to meet demand. Perhaps a silver lining to this pandemic for Amazon lies in the repurposing of many WF stores as more conventional stores, with broader inventory in center store staples and less emphasis on gourmet items and tonight's dinner. Going forward, all bricks stores will need to think through how they can make shoppers feel safe while in the stores. To that end, bricks stores that are now designed to lure the shopper into spending extra time perusing through aisles and encountering dozens of other shoppers along the way, may finally start thinking about re-designing their stores and product placements for a more efficient, shopper centric experience. The goal of most shoppers has always been to get in, get what I need and get out. Now, that goal has for many, become a prerequisite for their patronage.
  • Posted on: 01/16/2020

    Did Trump’s phase one deal with China deliver the goods for retailers?

    First, let's dispell the notion that the so-called "trade war" will ever be over between the U.S. and China. China has been in a trade war with the U.S for many years exemplified by significant tariffs and restrictions imposed by the Chinese on a number of critical U.S. export commodities prior to the recent retaliations by the U.S. The differences in our cultures and world views will very likely perpetuate some level of tension between our two countries for many years to come. With that said, the current phase one agreement, which isn't even being discussed publicly in China, is bound to be an improvement for American farmers, retailers and tech companies given this deal reduces the uncertainty of continued investment in China. The deal contains an array of safeguards protecting patents, trade secrets and pirated goods being injected into the pipeline. This deal, coupled with the recent bipartisan passing of the new USMCA trade deal significantly reduces barriers for the U.S to better compete for business with our three most important trading partners. Compliance is the real issue to be concerned about. Even with existing tariffs remaining in place as a lever to induce compliance, if China does not execute the agreement in good faith, the next round of punitive measures could be very nasty and the effects on doing business in China or securing product from China could prove to be prohibitively expensive. Let's hope for rational, mutually-beneficial behavior from both sides going forward.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2020

    NRF puts on another ‘big show’ for a hopeful industry

    While many of us in the retail industry are seemingly preoccupied with global and domestic politics, the American consumer is not. Now that middle class wages are finally growing at a significant pace, unemployment levels are steady around 3.5 percent and taxes remain at the same or even lower levels for both retailers and their shoppers, the environment is right for retailers to smartly invest in both technology and their associates. More than the economy, the more vexing challenge for retailers centers on the "paradox of choice" they encounter at shows like NRF with so many dynamic technologies. Picking the right, sustainable solution, one which is designed to both better serve their shoppers and be accompanied by cogent business models, is a daunting task. Many retailers I talk to are simply hesitant to commit to a specific solution or direction, believing it could be antiquated in just a few years with something faster, cheaper and more comprehensive. What is clear is that these difficult decisions must be made if the retailer hopes to stay in the chase for a reasonable share of their customer's business...given that shoppers are quickly adapting to the new, more convenient engagements presented by those retailers who have made the right investments, both technological and strategic -- at least for the near term.
  • Posted on: 01/08/2020

    Pier 1 to close up to 450 stores as it faces uncertain future

    Closing stores can be a solid long term strategy, if there is a strong core group of stores that can carry the sales and profit load and provide a base from which to re-build. However, there appears to be a inherent problem with the business model, the product mix and even perhaps the inability of Pier 1 to compete in an omnichannel environment. CEO, Bob Riesbeck knows from his experience at Marsh Supermarkets and more recently at HH Gregg that cost reduction measures in and of themselves will likely not suffice. Unless there are plans to make consumer-driven changes effecting the way in which Pier 1 does business, there could be more bad news to come.
  • Posted on: 12/10/2019

    Did Aviation Gin just make lemonade from Peloton’s lemons?

    If I were a shareholder of Peleton stock I would be seriously considering selling, not because of the so-called socially controversial TV commercial, but rather because of the apparent illogical and unstable nature of Peleton's shareholder base, given their recent mass exodus over something totally unrelated to business performance. On the other hand, it might be a great buying opportunity, now that the stock is down and the emotion-drive shareholders have defected. With that said, Ryan Reynolds and team were absolutely brilliant in leveraging the controversy and further appealing to the "woke" crowd with their Aviation Gin spot. The fact this is a RetailWire topic is proof positive that their timely parody was spot on. The irony is that after losing $1.6 billion of market value, the leadership at Peleton could probably use a couple shots of gin.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2019

    Amazon confirms it will open a grocery store not named Whole Foods

    In my view, the brick-and-mortar version of Amazon should contain the same essential elements of the Amazon online presence. This includes shopper-centric features such as convenience, easy access to frequently purchased items and an overall store design with shopper efficiency in mind. The store should refrain from having a selling area larger than 35,000 square feet. In terms of selection, it should offer a very thoughtful inclusion of categories and items that are aimed at creating sufficient variety that attracts the shopper who wants some additional options beyond their shopping list, but does not want to engage in an arduous, time intensive "treasure hunt" in order to find fulfill their mission. Extended variety should be readily accessible via kiosk where items not stocked on the shelves can be ordered for same-day delivery or in some cases brought to the front of the store from an attached or nearby warehouse at a prescribed time for shopper pick up. Unlike Whole Foods, the in-store variety and pricing should be more amenable to a mainstream, middle income shopper. Finally, this store should offer an array of payment options, including a regular checkout line staffed with humans, self-checkout, and scan and pay as you go. Overtime, these options can be adjusted commensurate with shopper adaptation.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2019

    Retailers must turn stores into ‘anything engines’

    I have been an advocate of transitioning from same-store sales metrics to more consumer focused metrics, but without much success. I do understand that retailers who operate in stores must still retain some level of performance at the store level, so they can evaluate individual stores' performances vis-a-vis other stores or the chain as a whole. However, I totally agree that these stores must migrate from one-dimensional transactions in favor of offering a multitude of in-store options including in-store pickup, delivery, immediate consumption (ready-made meals), customized shopping experiences, concierge services -- to name a few.
  • Posted on: 09/12/2019

    In power move, Walmart expands Delivery Unlimited

    I concur with the other panelist who applaud this move. While Walmart has been very aggressive with its BOPIS operations, they have been lagging behind in home delivery. This news changes that and is a significant step forward, as it also provides an additional advantage to Walmart over Amazon in the grocery delivery business given that Walmart is much more mainstream with its grocery offerings and pricing than the combination of Amazon and Whole Foods. I remain convinced, however, that Amazon will continue to dominate Walmart in most other online categories beyond grocery. Perhaps this dichotomy of each having a dominant niche will be the basis for a strong retailing duopoly for years to come.

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