Merchandising Must Read: The changing face of Canada

Census Data is available to us all.  These statistics are a must read if you are directly responsible for censusthe retail assortment mix (or an influencer).  Census data is like a retail compass, shedding light on consumer demographic trends and the changing landscape.  Read below for some staggering statistics that will influence your purchase decision.

Yet how many Merchants/ Category Managers utilize this FREE public data to their advantage?  How can Census Data help a Merchant?

Merchants are responsible for sales and the gross profit via their assortment mix they list and planogram.  Some argue, if one does not understand future trends in the market, one can not effectively select what products consumers will want.  Studying Census data will give many clues if studied.  See below some statistics and how they could shape your assortment mix.

2011 Canadian Stats affecting Retail Assortment/Services

– The rate of Canada’s population growth between 2006 and 2011, was the highest among the G8age

– Married couples are in long-term decline

– Aging demographics: people>80 on the steady rise…

– The size of families has shrunk (in 1961 avg fam size was 3.9 people, now it is 2.9 – post baby boom)

– For the first time, Stats Canada found there are more people living alone in Canada then there are couples with Children (one-household persons make up 27.6% of all homes.  Couples with children represent only 26.5%!)

– In 2011, the most typical family was a couple with no children!  In fact 44.5%

– Empty nesters are not so empty!  The 2011 census shows some 42.3% of young adults aged 20-29 are living at home.  In 1981 it was 26.9%

Cut and paste: or Google 2011 Canada Census.


Tips/Advantages to Understanding Census Data

1. Work with your vendor community so they submit an assortment mirroring your target market’s trends

2. Add value to your organization and stand out of the crowd

3. Your assortment mix will be differentiated from the competition and mirror the consumer ‘wants/needs”


To learn more: read about Merchandising Course offered at University of Toronto.  Next Semester Sept-Dec 2013

5 products to wisely spend on

Saving is vitally important, but not at the expense of health, wellness or safety.  Is your health and well-being not worth a cold million?youtube-making-money-streaming-video

Economy does not lie in sparing money, but in spending it wisely.

Thomas Huxley

Below are 5 fundamental products/services that one should not be frugal on.  Research, and spend wisely on below while balancing on “social expenditures” i.e. booze, restaurants, or ‘want vs need’ shopping, for example.

1. Car Tires – Did you know that car tires have a shelf life of 4 years?  I’m not sure why people would do little research or not spend on something that is the interface between the car and the road.  A car is a 2+ ton vehicle moving at speeds in excess of 100km/hr (60 mi/hr).  Be safe and get good tires for your family.

2. Fresh Food – We are what we eat.  Ever put crappy gas in the car?  Food is our fuel.  Invest in learning how to cook fresh food and try to avoid processed foods (we are all too busy to read the long list of in-pronounceable ingredients in processed foods!).  I’m not saying buy Organic all the time but buy Fresh and make fresh sauces (avoid canned stuff with shelf life of 6 month-1 year, full of preservatives).  I’ve spent 10 years in the food industry and seen some nasty preservatives devised in laboratories but found in our grocery shelf.

3. Gym/Wellness – Investing in you is the best investment.   Stress is a killer –  yoga, walking, gym, etc are great ways to stay fit.  If you can’t look after yourself, you can’t look after someone else.  There’s no argument from the pundits on this one.

4. Mattress – We spend 33% of our lives or 8 hours/day on a bed.  A good night sleep is vital to health and mental acumen.  You can get good quality mattresses for $800-1000.  Don’t go cheap here…I’ve bought mattresses for a major retailer and understand the value – pocket coils are great and so are some foam types.

5. Shoes – Again, we spend hours on end on our feet.  Shoes are the interface between your lovely toes and the earth.  Invest in good shoes and your happy feet will love you.  I’m not saying develop a shoe fetish… but instead of having 20 pairs of shoes, think sensibly and get quality.

Don’t spend beyond your means, but do mean to spend wisely on core products to keep you safe and healthy.

Creating a simple MINDSET, to maximize your valuable time & $$

My father is old school.  He does everything and anything around the house, to the car, or cottage, etc. to save a few bucks.  But does he really save?

No.   Just ask my mother.   mindset-for-achieving-goal

Like many of us, doing everything to save a penny can result in rework or hiring a pro to fix our ‘amateur’ work.  So not only do we not maximize our money saved, but also we’re not maximizing our most valuable asset: precious personal time!

This article is about creating a mindset that will maximize your ‘free-time’ and enjoy life and all its pleasures.  The quote below expounds on the notion above:

Know what you’re good at… and know what you’re not good at… and PAY for the difference!


Proactive people know what they are good at and YES your job is one! (i.e. things that make you money-if someone is willing to pay you, trust me you’re qualified and good at it).  But they also acknowledge the things that they are not good at.

We are all guilty of trying to fix or do things we are not good at – maybe for you it is plumbing, fixing the dock, painting, repairing a machine, ironing, landscaping, etc.  But if you are not good at it, know it, recognize it and maybe spend a little $….

Why?  Well look at it this way – you spend a minimum of 40 hours at work plus commute.  Why spend hours on end to fix the ‘plumbing’, etc if you are not qualified.  You may waste your VALUABLE time and likely will end up doing a poor job and becoming crotchety.   Love that word.

Pay the difference.  Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.

*Note the above implies that you are going to make more than you spend.   Decide which chores are ‘taxing’ to you and prioritize your ‘spend’.  It may mean you still have to wash your under garments, unfortunately.  If they are not white, hire a pro.  My $0.02.

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Price Wars – The only war when all consumers win

Hurray!  Price Wars are here to stay!  Well, at least for a while… Price-War2

You’ll be happy to know that food and general merchandise products will continue to experience retail deflation in North America (and especially in Ontario, Canada).

That’s good news if you are a consumer.  It is bad bad bad news for a retailer and even tougher for ‘mom and pop’ shops.

But overall, Price Wars are positive for everyone and are a result of increased retail competition.  Competition drives deflation (a decrease in the retail price) and in an economy where so many commodities and products are going up up up in $, it is nice to see the things we want and need are actually going down.   price-war

Major U.S. companies are heading North – the Canadian frontier – an untapped market.  For example, in Canada the implication of the USA-owned Target entering the retail stage has every retailer holding their breath.  This is the quiet, just before the storm.  With major retailers like Walmart, Loblaw, Sears,  Metro,The Bay, Sobeys, etc etc – the market is already supersaturated with supermarkets!

Most analysts believed that after Walmart’s entry, the retail industry was at capacity.   They were wrong. While profits have eroded, all major retailers still stand.  So far.  However, if and when interest rates start to rise, our consumer debt will drive a tighter money belt.

Right now our consumer asset to debt ratio is 150% (for every $100 we make, we owe $150!).  So we’ll see a crack in the mighty brick and mortars soon (interest rates can only rise from here).  Hang on tight, the ride will be a wild one.

Save your money and take advantage of the savings coming soon.

Consumer Marketing: Case example, Diamonds!

If  diamonds are a girl’s best friend, then what relationship does a man have with  this precious stone? diamond2

Consumer  marketing can be very influential and even precipitate change in consumer buying  behaviour and perceptions.  This  blog exposes the message behind the  marketing.

Consider three  effective consumer marketing examples below, and how they shaped buying patterns:

1.       Deodorant  vs Antiperspirant*.  There was a day when everyone wore  deodorant.  But a commercial many  decades back changed all that almost overnight.  The commercial ‘mocked’ a man in the  boardroom who raised his arm and embarrassedly noted sweat stains under his  armpits.  The Brand was powerful and  eventually influenced the masses to use Antiperspirant.  “Wet” underarms became synonymous  with bad hygiene.  Though now,  going the all-natural deodorant-route and letting pores breathe, is changing behaviour  again.

2.       Another,  more recent marketing campaign, targets human vanity and hygiene standards is Teeth Whitening.  For years, few cared about possessing “neon bright chicklets” and went to the dentist once/twice a year.  But now teeth whitening products are  fast becoming the best sellers in the Consumer Hygiene category….with huge  profits.

3.     Diamonds!  Diamonds are a fabulous consumer  marketing strategy.  Marketers have  struck gold here! (ok, well diamonds I guess…).  The primary marketing message around  buying Diamonds is to symbolize ‘everlasting love’.  But the secondary message preys on our  social consumerism and what Consumer Behaviourists describe as our perceived social statusThe bigger the diamond, the more ‘status’ some say…. 

I  never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you  get in a diamond. Mae West

Diamonds  have become so entrenched in our social fiber that men will spend upwards of  3-4 months’ salary to impress his beloved gal.  But the increased divorce rate is  playing havoc with the diamond market.  Men or women wishing to sell back their diamond on the market are  startled to find out it is only worth 25-30% of the original retail value (even  after only a year later)…

Many  practical (but perhaps single!) men  are now saying: ‘I love you.  I want  to marry you.  I want to give you an  early retirement or give great education to our children…than spend $10,000  now on a diamond.”

A  diamond is a symbol (albeit a very expensive one) and many couples are becoming  more practical.  With fluctuating  economic markets and increased divorce rates, many couples are asking: Is $10,000 today a good investment for  us?  Or… Is saving that $10K mean  $70,000-100,000 in just over a decade, if invested  properly…

Consider  the secondary marketing messages before spending on a huge purchase.  For most, a diamond is the second or  third biggest purchase behind a car or house.

This  blog was found in the rough, just like most diamonds.   Happy New  Year!

*Antiperspirants contain fragrance, but  they also contain chemical compounds that block the pores to stop the discharge  of perspiration. No sweat, no odor. Deodorant  allows the release of perspiration, but prevents odor by combating it with  antiseptic agents, which kill odor-causing bacteria.

Winter Course from University of Toronto

New Winter 2013 location!  This unique and comprehensive “FUNDAMENTALS OF RETAIL MERCHANDISING”  course is now offered at BOTH St. George Toronto campus and Mississauga UTM.

No exams.  Team based assignments

 Toronto Campus Registration:

Mississauga Campus Registration –

WHAT will I learn?

This is not a typical “university” course.  You will be engaged entirely during the 2hr classes (6-8pm).  It is practical, recent and very comprehensive.  Course includes: Brand/Category/Operational topics over and above Merchandising and Marketing.

ALSO: Discussions on planograms/ACN Data analysis/Retail Ad Flyers/Executive Guest Speakers & much more. Retail Focus on: Food Industry (grocery and fresh), Pharmacy/Drug, General Merchandise (Seasonal/Non seasonal), Apparel, etc.

WHO is this course for? If you are in retail, this course is designed for you.  Focused for Brand/Category/Merchandising or Operational backgrounds/interests but also ideal for people as a “general interest course” in retail (marketers, HR, executive assistants, etc).   Whether your company is a large Tier (>500 people-10,000) or a smaller Entrepreneur (5-100 people), this course is designed for you.

Course available since 2008.

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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Effective Negotiation Tips: Leveling the Playing Field

Interested in saving money?  Who isn’t!  Last week we discussed the proper negotiation mindset (see Blog dated Dec 6th) and this week we delve into practical strategies to apply.

So how do you get the best cost or price?  It’s simple.  It’s done by applying strategies that level the playing field.negotiation

Recall, retailers/salespeople are doing their ‘selling’ every day and you are NOT their first customer!  Consumers enter the market less frequently for big purchases i.e. a car, house, mattress (once every decade maybe?!).  So, read the below strategies to level the field.

  1. Be confident and knowledgeable.  Be prepared and armed with an understanding of  ‘The Market’ – it is the easiest low hanging fruit.  Research is available online, magazines, etc.  Consumer testimonials are essential.  Know what you want and do your homework before purchasing.  Isolate your options so you spend time efficiently.
  2. Concepts around timing –
    1. Investment in time – The more the salesperson has invested time in you, the less time they have spent on other customers.  You are affecting their commission.  When the right amount of time is invested, a few hundred bucks off (a big deal for you), means little to them to ‘get the sale.’
    2. End of month – depending on what product is being negotiated, ie cars – sales people must make monthly quotas.  Use this to your advantage and go at end of month.
    3. Time of day!  Let’s continue with the car example –go on a Saturday – Do you go in the morning or at end of day to close the deal?  The answer: At the end of the day of course!  They want to go home and want to conclude the sales and you can negotiate effectively.
    4. Seasonality – never buy your winter jacket, snowmobile or skis in the winter.  Purchase in summer.  Buy your boat or convertible! etc in the winter – there are always better deals as they flush through inventory.
  3. Threaten to leave!  Call up your telephone or Internet provider and threaten to go and they will send you to their loyalty group.  If you have done ‘a’ above, they will reduce your bill by 25% or more!

But like anything, it takes an effort to save $.    Level the playing field as best you can.


Category Management: Effective Negotiating

Perhaps you are a novice to negotiating.  Perhaps you don’t like confrontation or asking for ‘things’.  fear2But many hurdles to effective negotiating are only mental barriers, such as fear and fear is just a mindset. 

I’ll repeat that – FEAR is just a mental barrier to effective negotiating and can be overcome. 

I have blogged on topics like negotiation before and received several responses and questions regarding different tactics and proper mindset.  This is a two-part blog; this week we delve deeper into effectively overcoming simple mental barriers while the second blog will discuss some sensible strategies to employ and get the best value.

Step 1.  Adjusting your mindset (overcoming the fear).

Some people fear negotiating as much as giving speeches.  People fear rejection and /or the confrontation.images

Perhaps you are a novice to negotiating.  Or perhaps you don’t like confrontation.  But fear is just a mindset.  Visualize that you just engaging yourself in a harmless conversation with a complete stranger (that’s right – a stranger!).  You don’t know him/her, and they don’t know you from Adam.

Step 2.  The worst case scenario: prepare yourself for it!

Here it is!  The answer: no! 

Let’s put negotiating into context here folks.  The worst that can happen is they say ‘No’. 

No!  There I said it again.  Ok, I jest, but was that so bad?   A complete stranger says “no” to us and we can walk away.  That’s the only risk and the worst case scenario.  Don’t be afraid of rejection.  Your pride might be pinched, but that is ego.  And ego has no place at the negotiating table.

Step 3.  Practice. Practice. Practice.

The classic cliché, but still an effective one.  During the process of adjusting your mindset, start to haggle over some small stuff regularly.  Goods that are not urgent or pressing to you

You don’t go straight into important negotiation with something you really really want.  The less you want it, the better you will negotiate.  Trust me.  Why?  Because your mindset is relaxed and prepared to walk away.   Its No Deal. 

And having a relaxed mind and knowing you can walk away,  is one of the keys to effective negotiating.

2013 Emerging Skillset: Collaboration

The term ‘collaboration’ has arguably been dormant for years.  Yes of course it has always been there!   colloboartionBut arguably given lip-service and a banal expression synonymous with company-speak terms like synergize, teamwork, etc.  

However, recently, it was reinforced to me that this essential skill set is gaining momentum in the workforce and its resurgence means prospective employees must demonstrate this prerequisite skill.

What is the impetus for its resurgence?

Competition is becoming fiercer with barriers into new markets easing and thus, a new business paradigm is taking over.  In order to maintain profits, companies are becoming leaner (less senior layers specifically) and therefore looking for talent to demonstrate collaborative thinking to fill the gap.  

In this new paradigm, companies not only save payroll expenses, but also gain access to a lucrative pool of employees who demonstrate ‘group cohesiveness’ .  To this end, companies are now rewarding (ie bonus employees) on total company profits as well as qualitative metrics like ‘team spirit’, ‘coaching others’, ‘solution centred’.

Human Resource managers are actually filtering prospective employees against this skill set!  So, are you prepared to answer the question “Explain a situation where you worked collaboratively on a project to see it through to fruition”?

I hope so!

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