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: 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.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    How should retailers use social listening tools?

    Having a basic understanding of the importance and position of social media to your customers is essential in deriving the appropriate value of feedback you receive on social media. Like any consumer research instrument, knowing the profile and the magnitude of customers that use social media will help place their comments in the proper context, to avoid overreaction to isolated comments that do not reflect critical mass. Done correctly, retail customer researchers have a great new venue to gain shopper insights in the proper context of the customer base as a whole.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2017

    What will retailers gain from HHGregg’s loss?

    To answer the question as to how best competitors could attract former HHG shoppers, it is important to understand why HHG collapsed, seemingly overnight. One major factor was recent leadership were all experts at the wrong thing, namely 'traditional' bricks and mortar store retailing. While HHG attempted to build a point of difference around having large selections, they apparently paid precious little attention as to how to make appliance and home office needs shopping more convenient and valuable to a changing shopper base.Consequently, to win the lion's share of HHG shoppers, Best Buy and other smaller alternatives need to examine the entire appliance shopping process from the consumer's perspective and improve the customer's experience along the that path. Of course that means spending much more effort in synergizing the use of multiple shopper touch points between online and in-store offerings. It also implies that instead of offering the shopper the most choices, they offer the shopper the best choices, given the shopper's needs and budget and then provide a means to close the deal as painlessly for the customer as possible.
  • Posted on: 02/03/2017

    Will a new staffing model improve Lowe’s customer service?

    Cutting staff remains the quickest method to increase profitability, provided the cuts are done wisely and do not diminish customer service. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. More often than not, pencil sharpening at headquarters also affects the level of service and negatively impacts sales. At Lowe's (or any other DIY chain) having a knowledgeable person to help you make decisions and find the right solution is not just a luxury, but rather often the predicate for the sale.I also get a bit skeptical when I hear things like "eliminating department managers." My retail experience tells me that "ownership" by a single, competent individual is key to keeping stock on the shelves and sales heading upwards. The adage "if everyone is in charge, no one is in charge" remains a stark reality for corporate folks who believe they have created a new, less expensive, less people-intensive way to do business in the stores.It's interesting to watch retailers re-invent the same mistakes of the past and learn the hard way that savings on paper often turn out to be lost sales at the store.
  • Posted on: 12/19/2016

    Did retailers doom their holidays with deep discounts?

    It's just not the depth of these holiday promotions, but the length of time they are available to the shopper that ultimately dilutes their impact. Shoppers love the thrill of the hunt and when there is an element of urgency attached, the excitement of driving sales and traffic begin. However, when Black Friday becomes Black Friday Week or even the entire month is labeled such, the retailer is assuring themselves margin destruction and shopper interest will dwindle.While there are brands and retailers that lend themselves to an array of other value elements beyond price reduction, if you are selling commodity items such as electronics, packaged goods, and toys, there is likely very little chance that these non-price elements will supplant "price reduction" as the number one driver of purchase.My counsel is to pick and chose the depth of promotions and the length or frequency of promotions based upon the uniqueness of your product offerings. Further, if the majority of your products and services are easily found elsewhere, you will likely have no choice to discount, but do so, as others panelists have mentioned, in tandem with touting other free services or value-adds that could bring shoppers back another day to make a full margin purchase.
  • Posted on: 12/06/2016

    How can retailers prompt customers to write product reviews?

    I was recently "bribed" with free product by an online manufacturer to write a positive review, but it was only after I made a repeat purchase. I doubt that I would have taken the time to do so if I did not believe that product warranted a positive review and chances are the manufacturer was reasonably sure I was going to be positive about the product given my repeat purchase. As opposed to having a standing policy of rewarding all reviewers, I believe reaching out randomly to repeat buyers with such rewards can make sense, and can avoid "insincere" reviews motivated by a standing policy of pay-for-review.
  • Posted on: 12/01/2016

    Could digital advertising be replaced by a subscription model?

    One of the magical ingredients of Facebook and other social media mainstays is the cost of entry for participation:ZERO.If gradations of pay-for-view FB appear, I have serious doubt if the masses will continue to bite.I certainly agree that other media outlets have been successful with subscription models, but they also have compelling entertainment or content to warrant a subscriber's investment. Most social media, I would argue, does not have that punch for the average participant.In my view, the future of digital advertising rests in its inherent ability to be targeted and relevant. General "pop up" ads will always be considered an annoyance and will struggle to survive in digital media, but gleaning the right data from an online experience can lead to smartly understanding the consumer and their interests. Certainly there is much evidence that consumer profiling and targeting is already occurring with apparent success for advertisers.
  • Posted on: 11/11/2016

    Will Donald Trump’s presidency be good for retailers?

    It is true that many of the manufacturing jobs that have been lost are not coming back for a variety or reasons, however, anyone who thinks the trade agreements we are currently operating under are working to the benefit of the U.S. are sadly mistaken. With that said, workforce education and preparedness for the changing requirements of employers is extremely important and must be part of any labor recovery plan.Negotiating better deals is only one component of an economic approach that is geared to drive 3%-4% GDP growth. Something that the current administration cannot even fathom.Much more is begging to happen:
    • A plethora of Executive Order regulations that will be erased on the first day of the Trump administration will serve to be an initial positive shot to the business environment.
    • Repealing the ACA and replacing it with something that actually rewards competition and cost reduction will also be boon to small business growth and accordingly to retail.
    • Lowering the corporate tax rate and the repatriation of more than a trillion dollars in off shore corporate investment, will lead to more companies investing on shore in expansion and job opportunities, yielding more disposable income to be spent at retail.
    • With GDP growth comes the likelihood of higher interest rates and a bit of inflation. Inflation, controlled smartly by fiscal policy is a good thing for retail (especially food, energy, and durable goods).
    • Higher interest rates also means investment growth for the middle class who are not positioned to invest in equities and stocks. Personal savings growth should prove to be a positive for consumer confidence and retail.
    On the other side of the Trump Plan, spending on infrastructure and military concerns me if it is not properly staged to coincide with corresponding growth in GDP. Twenty trillion in national debt and its burgeoning debt service will be a constant drag on the economy.Let's face facts, when Trump and Republicans win Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio (by 8 points) it's a pretty good indication that what we are currently doing is NOT WORKING for the working class. While it is too early to predict how much of Trump's agenda will get accomplished and when, I for one am looking forward to steady retail growth in the coming years.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2016

    Will a national loyalty program yield rewards for Whole Foods?

    It is very late in the game for any retailer to be getting into the loyalty program business unless they are prepared to invest heavily into technology, content, and intellectual property to drive its success. The "loyalty" playing field is jammed with competition and I would suspect that many of Whole Foods's shoppers are already members of multiple loyalty programs at traditional supermarkets and beyond.To that point, there is a danger in thinking that such a program can in and of itself be the tool that turns Whole Foods's fortunes around. If mitigating a "high price" image is one of the key tasks for such a program, it has been my experience that "points," two-tiered pricing, members-only promotions and other margin investments are more often perceived as gimmicks rather than money saving vehicles for the shopper.If a loyalty program is in the future of Whole Foods, it should be worthy of the brand by focusing more on the types of attributes that Whole Foods is noted for such as cooking tips, heads-up tips on seasonal products, nutritional scoring, and even helping shoppers find related products in the store using a new shopping app.There is indeed value of having a dynamic shopper database that is the result of a loyalty program, but building such and keeping shoppers engaged is increasingly more difficult in a marketplace where loyalty programs have generally become more bother than benefit.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2016

    Will Millennials abandon traditional grocers?

    Millennials may be leading the exodus from traditional supermarkets, but they are certainly not the only cohort group that is curtailing their use of this retail format. Sure there are plenty of steps retailers of all stripes can take to attract Millennials and, as with all key shopper segments, it begins with understanding their priorities and in-store shopping patterns.The good news is that traditional grocers remain in position to offer the broadest and most relevant selection of their favorites and also arrange their assortment in such a way that saves them time and angst vis-a-vis the supercenters and other larger formats. That will not happen, however unless "traditionals" become less traditional.The larger question remains as to what is the destiny of traditional grocers in general. Given technology, changing consumer preferences and a plethora of new shopper options, obsolescence is right around the corner unless dramatic steps are taken to adapt.

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