Understanding Retail Marketing | Randy Golenberg, Spark Your Brand
The Brand Licensing Podcast
July 23, 2020
On the latest episode of The Brand Licensing Podcast, President of Spark Your Brand, Randy Golenberg, sat down to discuss the nitty-gritty of retail marketing.
Randy Golenberg has over 25 years’ experience in retail marketing. He cut his teeth working for the family business, where they manufactured adhesives and coatings and sold their products into Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Target, Sherwin-Williams, and ICI. He left his family business 14 years ago and began helping other manufacturers and service focused companies that needed guidance with marketing, merchandising, point-of-purchase displays, and packaging.
Randy started Spark Your Brand agency in 2002, and as of today, they have developed, designed, and produced over 2000 projects. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Spark Your Brand Inc takes a fresh approach to marketing. They are a community of people who believe that everyone can live better through the stuff they design, develop, and how their customers invest in there marketing. Their mission is deeply rooted in quality, transparency, and community-driven values.
Emily Randles: Hi, Randy. How are you?
Randy Golenberg: I’m great. How are you today, Emily?
ER: Good. We’re excited to have you as one of our guests on the Brand Licensing Podcast. Randy is here today to talk to us about the importance of retail merchandising and marketing.
RG: Yes. Thanks for having me!
ER: Great to have you. We have found that many manufacturers tend to make the mistake of, they’ll take them licensed product, and they think that having the brand will help them get retail placement and increase their sales, and you know, that they don’t really need to support it through marketing because they have this great brand. But what licensees don’t realize is that while the brand can help them, they still really need to support it through marketing efforts. And typically that’s why brands are successful. And why people want to license them is because there are brand teams behind them working really hard to market them. Not only at retail, but with consumers. So I thought it would be great to have you on today to really talk about the importance of this initiative, especially how it can apply to licensees. But before we get into that, can you give us a little run down on your resume and your background?
RG: Sure. So I went to Drake University my freshman year of college. If anybody knows where Drake University is, peace be with them. Anyways, I transferred from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa after my freshman year to Ohio State, or the Ohio State University, and focused on marketing and advertising. So marketing was in the Fisher School of Business and advertising was in the journalism school. So I kind of had a well-rounded education from there. I went to work for a very small agency for a year, and then after that, I went into the family business for fourteen years, three days, and four hours. And what we manufactured was adhesives and coatings. We had a million square feet of manufacturing space in the US; eight plants selling Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and Target on the retail side.And then on the distribution wholesale side, we had products selling Sherwin-Williams and ICI and all that other stuff. And then we also had a part of our business that was on the OEM side, and to make a long story short, I was the VP of sales and marketing. We sold the business to an investment banking firm. They ran the business out of business within a year and a half. And it was the greatest learning experience in my life, because at that time I was getting calls from people after I left the business: “Randy, I need help with a line review.” “Randy, I help need help with merchandising.” “Randy, I need help with packaging.” “Randy, can you help me with some digital or product video?” And ever since 2002, here we are. I’ve been doing that.And really, what we do, and what we’re working on now, is a lot of non-sexy things. I call them merchandising, pop package, product, and brand video for our customers. So they can see the value in what they’re getting in return, so they could increase their top line in sales and see their value. And those things are really important to me and to the company, those values and that our customers see and get the value of what we’re doing. And really, it all goes back to the core values of who we are at Spark Your Brand. We want people that think like the customer, we want to say yes before no. We want people that are interested in not the most interesting things, that ask lots of questions. And then, just be friendly. And if we can do those things, I think we can do a great job for our customers, which I think we have.
ER: Awesome. Yeah, it sounds like you have a lot of passion and experience behind this initiative and you guys have done great work. If a company is launching a new product, what piece of advice would you give them in regards to sales and marketing?
RG: Many different answers for that. But if we just distilled everything back, where are the channels and where are we going and who are we selling to? Are we going into the retail channel, where it’s going into Home Depot or The Container Store or Target or Lowe’s? If it’s housewares or home-center related, that’s a specific channel and that’s a little bit different than a distribution wholesale channel, or than if it’s going to Fastenal or Granger or Ferguson, or even Sherwin-Williams or a roofing wholesaler, because there’s different things and different layers of who’s important. So retail merchandising is really important to increase sales and get inventory turns, but we also know that the end user’s important, but the retailer is very important. And the things that the retailer are looking for might be a little bit different than what the end user is looking for with your product on the shelf. And it’s the same thing with distribution wholesale, you know, when there’s a pro contractor and things that happen at the contractor desk, the contractor folks and the distribution wholesale folks might have a different focus than the pro. And then you can wrap all of this stuff into digital now. How do you take your planogram at retail and make it a success online? And it’s the same thing now with people that have showroom business or the wholesale side—How can you bring the counter online? We’re helping our customers do those things.
ER: Yeah. So it sounds like really thinking about retail first and starting there for a strategy. I mean, obviously the consumer is important, so you build the product around the consumer. But when you’re thinking of your marketing initiatives, you’re starting with the retailer and their needs, it sounds like.
RG: Yeah, absolutely. What does the retailer need? And there’s lots of things that we can bring to the party in addition to what our customers don’t have, because we know a lot of times when we’re engaged with our customers, they don’t have the head count or they’re maxed out internally, or maybe the agency they hired doesn’t understand what happens on the retail side. Maybe they don’t understand that 150 million people could be shopping every week at Walmart. And how do you get white space within Walmart at the different planogram And how do you get people to navigate to the category? Put some message in that empty white space so you can make your product top of mind so you can get more sales.
ER: Yeah, really interesting. And I think, just thinking back to my experience, when we’re helping licensees launch products, they think once they get to the product finalization, they’re ready to ship. And then it’s kind of like this whole piece of the sales into retail and the turn. So it’s really relevant. Kind of on that same note, what kind of mistakes have you seen brands make when thinking about retail and launching a product?
RG: So just from experience, some of the things that we’ve seen is that people like to launch products too fast into the marketplace, and that sometimes could be just dictated by the ask from the retailer when they’re doing business. They might have an opportunity for an extension of their product line because of their competitors and be able to ship, or they can’t fulfill and get product on the shelf. So they just come out with a product that they really don’t understand or don’t understand what the key features and benefits are. So sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and really say, “How does this product work on the shelf, and how do we get the inventory turns, and how do we get people to keep on coming back?”
ER: Interesting. And so that’s something, you know, Walmart saying, “Hey, can you fulfill this order?” That’s really hard to turn down, but that’s something you guys can help think through: how to meet that need and continue sales, or would you have them pause a little bit?
RG: We could be part of the process and part of their marketing team or brand, or our product team, because we understand. We’ve been there and understand what happens in different categories. And, you know, you might have a brand opportunity or a licensing opportunity for your product and another category that the merchant that you’re dealing with isn’t even responsible for. So you have to really understand how to communicate those things, because sometimes the merchant or the retailer’s very territorial on their product category, which I do understand because it’s all based on inventory turns. You just have to have a better idea of how everybody can win and how everybody can work together to get great success.
ER: That makes a lot of sense. What about when thinking of doing retail merchandising between… Let’s say you have a client that wants to sell at Walmart, Target, and Lowe’s. Is there a strategy there that you help them through when thinking about having products at multiple retailers and providing differentiation?
RG: Yeah. So the differentiation between many retailers. Now, that’s a good question. And really, sometimes it depends on the product categories and hardware, and a lot of them have specific brand names. You might see a product at Home Depot and Lowe’s, but the question is, will you see it on the shelf at Target and Walmart? So you have to be really careful on how you’re going to market, how you’re selling, who you’re selling, why you’re selling… And while you’re selling, how can you help each retailer sell more products? You know, creating inventory turns and more sales at Lowe’s and Home Depot and Menards is a little bit different than selling the same product in ACE Hardware, as it would be selling product at Target or Walmart or other places like that. So you have to be really careful, and you have to understand the channel and the people that you’re selling. And we can really help step in because we’ve know what that process is.
ER: What trends are used at retail right now?
RG: So what we’re seeing right now at retail is, how can you bring your planogram on the shelf online, and it’s going both ways as well. A lot of times, since I’m Home Depot and Lowe’s, our customer’s customer, that’s what I was talking about. It’s our customer’s customer. How can you help them navigate not only in store, but online? A lot of times it’s buy online, pick up one store and worldly. What we found is that the app that the retailer has is very useful because you can help navigate yourself and you can find the product that you’re looking for. And by the way, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can go beyond the brand as they call it, and you can go online and find what you’re looking for. Some interesting things that we have found though is three out of ten people, when they place an order online and they go into store to pick it up, go back into the store. How can you attach more sales by going online, ordering, picking up, and going back in the store?And that could be with grocery, that could be with hardware and home center, housewares… How can you help your merchant? How can you help the retailer increase? Those attachments increased the sales by merchandising throughout the store, whether it’s in a planogram or something on the app, or something on the site could be on lowes.com or target.com or walmart.com. What can you do to bring people not only in store, but if they’re out of store, it goes both ways as well. You know, a lot of times people are in store and navigating the planogram and they really can’t find what they’re looking for, so they’ll go back online. What can you do to attach sales for those folks that go back home?
ER: And what part of marketing and like, are you seeing coupons or discounts or anything playing a role in that online piece or driving that business?
RG: We’re not. I haven’t seen—at least in some of the channels that we’re working in. I don’t like using the word coupon or discount, but what we’re doing is we’re helping our customers sell up, or sell more product, or sell a product that’s more expensive, or give the end user an opportunity to buy something for more. So what some of the retailers might be doing is using some of the reduced costs or couponing, trying to bring people into the brick and mortar they can navigate. And then what they’ll do is, they could buy something more expensive. So you might walk into Walmart and see, you know, a pallet of microwaves for $49. You’ll navigate yourself back to the housewares department and buy a microwave for $149. So, you know, sometimes doing those type of things where they’re trying to get you to go into the store or get you to go online, and you can attach something more expensive, depending on the category.
ER: So, obviously we’re in a transition period with COVID-19. How people are shopping is a little bit different, and it’s kind of somewhat getting back to normal right now. But how do you see these changes having a lasting effect on how retailers are thinking about business and stocking products and working with manufacturers?
RG: I think a couple of things. That’s a really good question. And I don’t think there’s really a good answer yet. We’re still learning, but I think the retailers are finding that it’s really important to have a great online presence. Like I said, how can you bring your products online, give them life, as they would be if they were in store and vice versa? If you were in store and couldn’t find what you needed, how could you use that app to go online to find what you need? And people want things now—immediate, you know, “I want them now.” So you know, less is more: I want two day shipping or I want free shipping or I want something. So I think in retail, the smart retailers are finding that they can get people to buy just not on price, but they could also buy on something that they are really like, “Wow,” that inspired them. Or maybe somebody that’s hunting a little bit more that didn’t realize they could buy something premium instead of value.
ER: People are spending more time doing that online and at-home research because they’re there. Right? Absolutely. Any other insights that you think would be helpful, or tips that you would give to people thinking in this space or needing support in terms of getting products at retail or increasing sales?
RG: I think that the relationship with licensing partners is extremely important. I think that we are seeing how since becoming even more and more popular, retail and retailers are now having house brands come to life as much as possible, putting them on the shelf with brands and getting the end user to make that decision. So I really think that it’s a great opportunity to license. We bring brands together so they can be in that competition on shelf, or maybe they’ll be able to take that attach sale instead of having a house brand. So I think that brands are really important. I think investing in your brand and your product is really key. I think the merchandising and how you can get product sold off the shelf is important. And I also think that letting the retailer or the merchant understand why your product is a value, and why we can help you sell more, and how you could be part of the process, and why the brand can help do those things.
ER: Yeah. I think that’s a really important piece when pitching and presenting new brands, especially for licensees that maybe don’t typically have a brand on their product. So really honing in on the brand or the retailer and helping them understand the importance and the value that it’s bringing.
RG: Yeah. And just from experience, I think that sometimes companies will look at the brand relationship or the licensing relationship and they’ll look at the licensing fee instead of the overall, when, you know, if we can get our product place because of this licensing or brand opportunity, what else could we get? What other categories could we get, or what other kinds of merchandising vehicles can we get during the fourth? Or what other opportunities could we get at checkout or during Mother’s Day or those types of things…Father’s Day. So it’s not a short thought process, but it should be more of a longer process. So you can get more product, more sales, and build something that way.
ER: Just wrapping it up here today. One thing I’m asking a lot of people is: Are there any like strange license products or favorite licensing programs that you’ve seen in market that have done really well, or just something that surprised you?
RG: You know, I’m really impressed with—and it’s a category that isn’t increasing—but the card category. If you wanted to buy a greeting card, I think some of the greeting card manufacturers locally here—like American Greetings— is doing a wonderful job licensing and getting together with different agencies to get different demographics and to bring to life why cards are important. And by the way, we have cards, and people are still buying cards. And those types of things, I think, on the hardware home center side, I think some of the retailers are trying to get their hands on a Craftsman brand just to get people to come into the store and to attach another brand to them, or maybe just keep that Craftsman brand. And I’m just using Craftsman as an example, but I really think that licensing and brand togetherness is going to be something not only now, but of the future. And it’s going to resonate itself in store as well as online. And it’s going to become bigger and bigger. We know that when the companies are merchandising themselves and investing in merchandising and marketing, they’re going to see a great return on stuff like that.
ER: If people want to find you and connect online, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
RG: The best way to connect with us is to go to SparkYourBrand.net online, and just fill out the contact form and they can connect back with us. Or they can call us and can get ahold of me, Randy, or some of my other team members, and we’d gladly listen and we’d love to be able to help.
ER: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and learning more about the importance of retail and the marketing space, and I just really enjoyed the conversation.
RG: Thank you very much, Emily. And thank you everybody.