1-on-1 With GMDC’s Patrick Spear

CEO urges retailers to 'lean in' on nonfood opportunities
Patrick Spear
Photograph courtesy of GMDC

Patrick Spear is the president and CEO of GMDC Retail Tomorrow, a GMDC initiative with retailers, wholesalers, brands, service providers and innovators who uncover opportunities and develop solutions to meet the changing consumer’s needs.

As GMDC Retail Tomorrow marks its 50th anniversary in 2020, what do you consider to be the organization’s greatest achievement?
From our founding, GMDC Retail Tomorrow has always had one focal point that we prioritize above all others: connecting our members to opportunities for growth in the general merchandise (GM) and health, beauty and wellness (HBW) categories. Across the past 50 years, through our proprietary insights, marketing conferences and creation of the “speed-dating” meeting concept (now embraced by many other conference organizers), we have established an environment that enables our retailer and wholesaler members to meet with the suppliers and innovators who are driving GM and HBW innovation. These learning and networking opportunities help our members to discover the “next big thing” that powers category growth and consumer satisfaction.

How are the latest trends and sales drivers at retail informing GMDC Retail Tomorrow’s agenda?
As consumer shopping behavior continues to evolve and retailers place increasing emphasis on driving loyalty and trip conversion through the in-store experience, our supplier members are uniquely positioned to benefit from the marketplace evolution.

We typically describe GM and HBW products as “consumable, nonperishable and high-margin,” which makes them uniquely suited for omnichannel retail. Said differently, our product categories can create consumer satisfaction in-store or online, and we enable both planned and impulse purchases across many categories. It’s our belief that the GM and HBW categories are especially poised to win at retail, particularly as consumers embrace a “self-care” mindset. Whether consumers are planning a healthy meal requiring new kitchen gadgets, shopping for a holiday occasion or thinking about a new skin care regimen, our categories enable discovery and cross-merchandising across the entire store.

How educated do you believe the typical consumer is about the GM category?
Given that we all carry high-powered computers in our pockets and purses, it’s safe to conclude that consumers have never had as much access to real-time information as they do today. Not surprisingly, our data show that consumers well understand the GM categories, are engaged around products and brands, and actively seek everyday and innovative products that make their lives easier and better. From batteries to ballpoint pens, greeting cards to gardening gloves, we enable the everyday and the unexpected.

What can retailers do to prompt more trial and repeat sales within the category?
First and foremost, we encourage the industry to “lean in” to the opportunities that our categories enable. While some retailers may be tempted to slash the space devoted to GM and HBW in favor of fresh or experiential offerings, or encourage a shift to online for GM and HBW purchases, we urge caution—“punting” is not the answer. Instead, our data clearly shows that logical category adjacencies combined with creative cross-merchandising deliver a shopping experience that enables discovery, trial and repeat purchases—all while delighting consumers with the unexpected and delivering incremental margins for the retailer. Have fun with your product assortment, get creative with the in-store presentation and inspire loyalty with your customers—win, win, win.

What is your 10-year outlook for GMDC Retail Tomorrow members and partners?
While I wish I had a crystal ball at the ready, like most, I try to interpret data and trends to better enable our industry to thrive. As such, What everyone needs to prepare for is additional disruption and change, and arguably at a pace exceeding what we’ve experienced thus far. As cliche as that sounds, it’s fact. To ensure continued relevance and loyalty, executives across the industry—retailers, wholesalers and suppliers—will need to listen carefully to what consumers are saying with their voices and their wallets.

In this environment, GMDC Retail Tomorrow will continue to build out the Retail Tomorrow platform focused on connecting our members and the industry to what’s next through city immersions, headquarter events, our podcast and other programs. As the only member-owned, nongovernmental, nonfoods association serving the industry, we stand out in our ability to empower innovation and discovery across the entire ecosystem.

What departments in the category make for easy entry for retailers into general merchandise sales, or have proven most successful for grocery retailers?
We continue to see opportunities for GM and HBW categories adjacent to the primary trip-driving categories. For example, in the grocery channel, products that align with food preparation and consumption are logical focal points, as are seasonal and impulse categories that support specific calendar occasions. Similarly, in the drug channel, we see numerous opportunities for GM and HBW categories that support a self-care focus, or that align with a trip driver focused on feeling better or enabling convenience.

While we’re clearly moving away from a one-size-fits-all mindset and environment, there are numerous categories and occasions that continue to inspire shoppers.



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