Manufacturers and retailers alike have long relied on traditional POS systems to provide insight into consumer behavior – what they buy, why they buy, and where they buy. Although POS systems have helped companies gather information, that information is limited in scope and therefore limited in the value it returns. TraQline’s Hybrid POS™ (HPOS™) tool changes the equation by delivering specifics not available through any other product on the market. TraQline Content Marketing Manager Corinne Clements sits down with Jack Cruse, Director of Market Development at The Stevenson Company, to learn more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Corinne: Hi. This is Corinne Clements, the content marketing manager here at TraQline™, and today I’m sitting down with our very own Director of Market Development, Jack Cruse. Jack, how are you today?
Jack: I’m doing great, Corinne. How are you?
I can’t complain. It’s a beautiful morning. Jack has graciously agreed to join me today to discuss how the company developed its innovative SKU Metrix™ product and how that, in turn, became a key component of TraQline’s Hybrid POS product. So let’s go ahead and jump in here.
Jack, can you tell me a little bit about your background in the industry?
Sure, Corinne. I started my career with GE and had a 40-year career with the company in various sales and marketing leadership roles. I did a little bit of everything at GE relative to selling and marketing appliances. After about 15 months in retirement, I came to work for The Stevenson Company (TSC) about 12 years ago as Director of Market Development for TraQline.
Would you explain a little bit more about the role that you’ve taken on here at TraQline?
I initially started working with TraQline accounts primarily with Walmart when we had just signed up Walmart. But I’ve worked with a lot of the major accounts here at Stevenson– Walmart, Ace Hardware, Best Buy, and national buying groups, which I ran at GE for the last 17 years of my career there. It’s been a bit of a blending of my two careers, and I’ve been able to continue building on relationships with key contacts and leaders at both manufacturers and retailers. A lot of what I’ve been able to do at TSC is help lead the development and sales of two products — Like, Grade & Quality (LG&Q™), which is now called the SKU Metrix, in 2014 and Hybrid POS™ (HPOS™) in 2020.
Can you tell us more about SKU Metrix? What was the inspiration for developing the tool?
It largely stemmed from my experience as the leader of GEA’s Commercial team for tracking competitive information across the Major Appliance (MA) industry and presenting the findings to senior leadership. Because this was occurring in the 1980s, before the emergence of the internet, it was a laborious task taken on by over-qualified staff that required an all-hands-on-deck approach as the process was not easily automated. The motivation to develop it at TSC was to launch it in sync with a traditional POS system. The idea was to have a web-based model comparison tool with SKU photos, features, and prices.
The resulting product, LG&Q™ — which we now call SKU Metrix, enabled us to provide clients with the industry’s most comprehensive go-to website for timely and accurate competitive information. The tool now includes over 17,000 SKUs for features and retail internet pricing information and SKU comparisons for both our clients’ SKUs and their competitions’ SKUs. We took a lot of the “grunt work“ out of the data-gathering process for a big productivity hit for our clients. It has given clients and their teams and associates more quality time to spend on analyzing the data and developing their action plans.
My understanding is that SKU Metrix is a key component of the new Hybrid POS for Major Appliances – how does it fit in?
SKU Metrix really complements our Hybrid POS™ tool. The elements of it are used in the HPOS™ modeling process to validate the SKUs and the features on the SKUs. When clients use SKU Metrix jointly with Hybrid POS data, they gain more insights, especially for feature/price value comparisons and for preparing product gap analyses. Clients can see where gaps exist between what SKUs the competition has versus the offerings they have in the market. The data helps product teams as they work to fill out their lineups across price points.
Can you tell me a little bit about Hybrid POS and what is the inspiration behind creating that product?
TSC was initially not successful in getting the Big Three retailers to participate in its POS system. Only Best Buy was on board. But in the Fall of 2020, Dave Stevenson led his team of data scientists in the development of a proprietary modeling process for estimating SKU and brand shares within the Big Three retailers to see what the top brands were and what the top SKUs were. From there, our entire organization participated in developing and driving the commercialization process from a six-month Beta trial through launch.
Sounds pretty powerful…who is the tool for, that is who should be using it?
The primary users are the manufacturers’ product teams because they’re getting access to information that they don’t have. Prior to using Hybrid POS, they’ve had to just estimate the data or source from their own internal data. The brand teams like to see this data for comparison of brands within their brands as well as competitive brands that they target. On the retailer side, merchants and buyers also find the tool a valuable resource for comparing their offerings with those of their competitors.
But one of the biggest users that we see for HPOS is the national account sales teams because they now are getting information that is not just on their sales, which they already know from in-house, but they also get to see comparative SKUs from their competition. That’s one big advantage they now have that they didn’t have with traditional POS systems.
What makes TraQline HPOS unique?
Two things. First, it’s the only POS system of any kind available in the MA industry. Second, and foremost, HPOS™ provides valuable monthly insights into the Big Three retailers and brands — far beyond a traditional POS system, which really just shows how a client’s SKUs are performing against the total industry, not specifically by any given retailer or given brand. The data provided by an HPOS includes estimated SKU shares and brand shares within and in aggregate for the Big Three retailers.
How should HPOS be used?
Clients can use HPOS to track SKUs and brand market shares and retail pricing. In doing our modeling, we look at a bunch of different factors…even using details such as the page positioning of SKUs on the manufacturer’s websites, and we track and note the positioning of SKUs on the retailer’s floor. We put a rating on those positions on the floor so that we can show a higher value for SKUs that are in a better position. For example, if the SKU is on an end cap, that gets a higher position than if the product is in line. We also put a high value if the SKU is in a designated floor or kitchen setting, such as a vignette.
Manufacturers can use the tool to develop a Balance of Sale leverage with retailers. They can tell from the tool how much sales percent to total sales a brand is delivering for the retailer. Using planograms, we can determine what percent of floor that brand is enjoying, that is the number of SKUs on the floor. While retailers and the brands can put all the SKUs they have on a website, they can place only so many on a floor. This tool can be especially beneficial to the merchants because it allows them to determine with clients which SKUs would be most important to have on the floor for consumers to see in real-time when they’re shopping.
Last, Hybrid POS is a tremendous resource for vendors and clients to use when preparing for those monthly and quarterly meetings.
How does HPOS mesh with other tools our organization has? (i.e. How does it gel with TraQline? Sell-through data?)
The quarterly TraQline Survey provides complementary info to clients on consumer behavior, such as on-line versus brick-and-mortar shopping and purchases. Clients also gain geo/demographics that clarify why consumers bought particular brands and where they bought them. In addition, market data on the Rest of Market (ROM) beyond the Big Three and product categories and configurations not in HPOS™ is available.
Have you ever had a client tell you about an “OMG” moment when they used HPOS or SKU Metrix?
Yes, just recently, a client’s Marketing Director used HPOS™ data for the first time in his presentation to the President and other business leaders. He followed up later to say, “They loved HPOS™!”
In another instance, a manufacturer’s sales leader asked if we could tell if one of their key SKUs was being displayed on the retailer’s sales floors. Planogram easily let him know that only 1 of 9 stores had the SKU on the floor. This information enables the salesperson to go back to the retailer to determine a better plan for getting his product on more floors.
It sounds like this tool is really becoming a game-changer for our clients. Thank you so much Jack for taking time today to talk with me about the value Hybrid POS is providing our clients.