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.

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  • Posted on: 02/15/2018

    Can Circuit City come back from the dead?

    The recent sudden death of HHGregg, an electronic appliance retailer that actually acquired many of the old Circuit City stores just before its demise, does not bode well for forecasting success for this new version of Circuit City. However if this new version is better balanced between online and brick-and-mortar and does a better job of product mix, pricing and service, there is always an opportunity for a new player. Invariably the key to success will be a mix of all of these issues, but also being able to showcase enough inventory in-store to promote variety and selection, while being prudent with inventory expense. Linking in-store to online in terms of kiosks and picking up and a whole host of omnichannel offerings will also be critical for bringing Circuit City back among the living.
  • Posted on: 01/29/2018

    Robots are not the answer to store challenges

    As the technology of robotics becomes more sophisticated and affordable, their increasing presence in the retail marketplace is inevitable. While I agree with others that there are many interpersonal transactions at retail that are just too complex and reactive to lend themselves to conversing with a machine, if and when those machines begin to be more pleasant and abiding than the retailer's human resources then we will see an impact on front-line jobs in retail. Personally, as a retail veteran, I have suspected that many of the accountants and finance people I have worked with in the past were robots -- or at least their responses to budget issues seemed robotic. I would think their jobs would be the first to go!
  • Posted on: 01/26/2018

    Grocers confront the fragmentation of loyalty

    Agree with all that maintain that contemporary shopper choice is no longer about loyalty, but rather about being in better position than a competitor to solve a shopper's problems or serve their needs on a particular trip. To address the question as to how retailers can leverage this behavior, I believe it begins with understanding what a particular retailer is positioned to do best. Some are conveniently located or more efficiently organized to serve the time poor, less price sensitive shopper, while others on the other end of the spectrum do a better job of providing better prices, albeit less conveniently offered. From there it is a matter of commitment on the retailer's part to be the best at whatever viable niche they have determined to be theirs. As with all things in retail, owning a niche is easier said than done, but expecting shoppers to be loyal for any significant length of time is yesterday's thinking.
  • Posted on: 11/03/2017

    Was Amazon scamming or searching for its HQ2 location?

    Location shopping has always been a smart strategy, especially if you have the clout and scale of Amazon. Competition is almost always the catalyst for a good deal. It remains to be seen how Amazon will disperse its leadership and functions among two headquarters but I have to believe that the second headquarters will be in a metropolitan area that is attractive to recruit upscale, young talent (sorry Duluth), has a much lower tax burden than Seattle and is logistically accessible to suppliers (a convenient to a hub airport and inter-state travel). It will also be important that Amazon have the ability to grow the size of their campus over time. Once the second headquarters is up a running, who is to say that they won't consolidate both offices there, leaving behind the high rent district of Seattle as they begin to deal with minimizing administration expenses to remain cost competitive with Walmart and others? With that said, I would think areas like Atlanta and Charlotte would be good candidates, but certainly other growth-centric towns are as well.
  • Posted on: 10/11/2017

    What marketing lessons can we learn from Amazon?

    Early adopters to Amazon enjoyed the concept of buying almost anything they could think of through their website. The flywheel concept of having affiliated retailers offer their products in addition to Amazon's own massive warehouse selection was and continues to be a major catalyst for adaption and growth. Individual retailers that now compete with Amazon for online market share are still largely disadvantaged with their relatively limited offerings.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2017

    Has Amazon really saved Whole Foods from its ‘Whole Paycheck’ trap?

    While Amazon has experimented with brick-and-mortar stores with limited inventory and offerings, the Whole Foods operation (450 stores) represents Amazon's first real encounter with the vagaries of operating labor and inventory intensive stores. With that said, as long as Amazon is willing to subsidize lower margins at Whole Foods, prices will indeed be more attractive to a broader range of shoppers and sales should benefit. However at some point, the balancing act of operating a "fresh" format with a full delivery operation will likely push against keeping margins artificially low, unless volumes are so robust that the economies of scale will generate sufficient profit dollars on low margins. To date, Amazon's amazing growth has been predicated not upon its ability to generate profit, but rather its unprecedented market share grab. If that formula changes, so will its pricing strategies.
  • Posted on: 10/02/2017

    Is the time right for Kroger to go hyper-local?

    Kroger's long history of de-centralization, that is, giving their leaders of the KMAs (Kroger Marketing Areas) the authority to make important decisions, should lend itself to the potential success of leading on local assortments. However (and speaking from experience) finding the right local suppliers that have the scale and consistency necessary to occupy space at Kroger is no easy task. It will require another layer of merchandising and logistics that will be challenging, even for Kroger. On the consumer side, regional brands have varying importance to shoppers. It will be key to do the upfront research to better understand which commodities and categories will have the strongest impact as well as understanding which areas of the country offering "local" products provide the best opportunity for differentiation.
  • Posted on: 09/29/2017

    How can grocers improve their digital experiences?

    The first major step for a grocer to improve their digital presence is to get over themselves and participate in apps and websites that host a community of retailers, not just themselves. Shoppers that engage retailers digitally (prior to the shop or during) will appreciate not having to engage each retailer they frequent with a different app and a different shopper profile. While this makes so much sense for the shopper, I am not holding my breath for retailers to agree. Secondly, if retailers want shoppers to use their mobile device in-store, they might want to actually offer Wi-Fi to augment the shopper's mobile network as most of the brick-and-mortar stores are built like Fort Knox and have very poor online reception. Lastly, retailers should be more bold in advertising the existence and benefits of using the mobile device apps in-store. Most do not do a good job of reinforcing their mobile offers in the in-store environment.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2017

    Will Target’s wage hikes be a differentiator?

    As an advocate of free markets and competition, it is encouraging to see Target take this step in the context of the P&L impact this move will undoubtedly have. Strong economies produce tight labor markets and those retailers that recognize the value of human assets in such markets are smart to be first movers in wage increases. Done correctly, this move can provide Target a much needed point of difference with more knowledgeable and motivated associates on the floor to provide better customer service and more efficient operations.
  • Posted on: 09/19/2017

    Five skills every retail manager needs to succeed

    As a former retail store manager, I learned very quickly that setting a good example for your associates was one of the best ways to effectively manage a group of people with varying degrees of commitment and experience. If I, as a manager, demonstrated how important customer service was to me personally, it was much easier to communicate that message to the troops and expect good results. The other managerial dilemma that many are faced with is how to balance being involved without being so hands-on that they end up "doing" more than managing. Knowing when and how to effectively delegate is sometimes very difficult, but also a skill every good manager must ultimately acquire.
  • Posted on: 09/18/2017

    Retailers: Beware the Equifax breach

    The full effect of a breach of this magnitude won't be know for quite some time, but clearly retailers must be mindful that bad people have access to your good customers' data and could use it at any moment at your store or website. To that end, no matter where the culpability may lie, good retailers will proactively have safeguards in place to mitigate fraud. I am not a security expert, so those measures are beyond my pay grade, but we all know the damage that was done when Target's data was breached a few years back and they were arguably slow to respond. There are also steps consumers can take. One is to make sure you turn on the alerts from your credit card bank when your accounts show activity. As this situation unfolds, the learning from this breach will hopefully spur some innovative thinking on behalf of retailers to protect their customers' interests.
  • Posted on: 09/07/2017

    Is Kohl’s giving away the store to Amazon?

    It is difficult for me to see this alliance having a positive long-term outcome for Kohl's unless Kohl's management is setting themselves up to become the next "Whole Foods" type acquisition of Amazon. Kohl's may be thinking that they're entering the gates of the empire and joining the action instead of camping outside and watching marketshare and brand value dwindle over time.
  • Posted on: 08/25/2017

    What are some common missteps when launching loyalty programs?

    Starting a loyalty program with so many others already in the market is very challenging. I agree with all that advocate first creating a "strawman" program that contains the key elements of:
    • easy shopper access through web and app
    • compelling rewards that comprise a mix of immediate and longer term rewards
    • strong training and involvement of associates and
    • significant launch and communications program
    Once those elements are devised and deemed competitive or superior to existing competitor programs, creating a pro forma of projected impact to margin, expense and sales so that the necessary thresholds of success can be identified. Then there is the all-important link between marketing, analytics and merchandising that must work in concert to produce positive results for the enterprise and speak with one voice to the brand and sponsor community. This step is often very difficult and often a source of problems for true loyalty marketing to occur. If the program ultimately becomes isolated away from the mainstream of merchandising, the rewards are likely to become weak and ineffective. Finally, starting a program with the primary aim of building a customer data is, (in and of itself), bad rationale for entry the loyalty market place. But done correctly with the aforementioned in mind, the information and access to shoppers that in turn benefits the customer, is the difference between a good program and a great one.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2017

    Will more customer rewards lift J.C. Penney’s sales?

    From personal experience and observation, Kohl's shoppers seem to be gaga over the myriad of special discounts, coupons, private label credit cards, and promotions that shoppers can stack up to drive the bill lower. This could be especially annoying to a pure cash customer like me, as I waiting impatiently in-line as the seeming endless transaction ahead of me at the checkout processes all of these savings tools. As annoying and numerous as they maybe, I get the sense that Kohl's success and shopper loyalty is almost entirely predicated upon the use of these promotions. Given JCP is directly competing for the Kohl's customer, I would surmise that they are going to have to be not just generous, but rather innovative to lure the Koh's devotees away from their coupon party. What seems to be missing with these programs is any real effort to use the residual shopper data to better target their shoppers via specific items, categories, and even the depth of promotions. I can only assume that Kohl's is giving away a good bit of margin that need not be, by offer the same healthy discounts to almost everyone who walks in. My sense is that JCP is on the right track, but their ability to "win" with a sustainably program will rest with their ability to use the shopper data to be more efficient and relevant with their program.
  • Posted on: 06/27/2017

    Will its newest small store format make Meijer a downtown destination?

    Assuming Meijer did their homework on the location and it provides the necessary elements to attract shoppers, the success of their smaller formats will be focused on carrying the right items, having the right departmental mix and providing an inviting presentation to give shoppers a viable but efficient full basket alternative to larger traditional supermarkets. There are a number of pitfalls that come with downsizing, most relating to SKU selection, which also impacts the store's variety image. I would also suggest doing some basic consumer research in about 6 weeks after opening to better understand who is patronizing and to what extent. Doing fine tuning early on with a new format is critical.

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