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. Visit the Mark Heckman Consulting website and blog...
  • Posted on: 02/18/2021

    Keep on growing is Target’s mantra as chain announces leadership moves

    In my opinion, of the many things that Target does very well, food and beverage is not among them. I believe that moving Rick Gomez, an accomplished leader with CPG experience, to run that portion of Target's business is both telling and smart. I have high regard for Brian Cornell and his ability to place the right folks in the right seats.
  • Posted on: 12/10/2020

    What will it take to get shoppers back into stores in 2021?

    Beyond vaccines and lower case counts, stores should be proactive in the way they merchandise and lay out their stores. First, they need to better understand why shoppers prefer to shop in-store. Chief among those reasons are sensory and experiential elements, which you cannot replicate online. In-store theater is going to become more important than ever along with clear messaging that helps the shopper make quicker purchase decisions. Secondly, shoppers will need space to navigate. Packing too much inventory and displays in stores that restrict the shopper's ability to keep their distance will serve as yet another reason to stay away. Lastly, retailers should work to connect the in-store experience to the online experience, by extending access to additional inventories not carried in-store through placement of ordering kiosks and other technologies. Shoppers are not going to stop buying online and if they view the retailer as a true omnichannel resource, that retailer will have a better chance to gain their loyalty.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2020

    Why does it take a crisis for retailers to get innovative?

    For decades, shoppers (at least in the supermarket channel) provided very high marks on surveys for their favorite stores, which may indeed have fueled the notion that "nothing needs to change ... our shoppers love us!" However, shoppers are typically not very good about projecting "what else" they would like to see from their favorite retailers until someone else does it better. Then the fast-following begins. With COVID-19, along with all the supply line issues that accompanied the pandemic, shoppers immediately sent clear signals to the retail community that their priorities have changed. They included digital first, limited time and social contact in stores, and a renewed focus on top-selling, essential items. The retailer's dilemma now becomes how to affordably re-position to embrace these new priorities, knowing that some of them will have lasting "shelf life" and others will likely fade over time.
  • Posted on: 06/16/2020

    Will grocers maintain COVID share gains as restaurants reopen?

    The exaggerated sales and customer counts will fade away over time, depending upon the speed and perceived safety of restaurant re-openings. In terms of keeping "more than a fair share" of the resulting business, retailers should develop both an in-store and an online strategy, with each anticipating changing customer behaviors. In the in-store realm, elements such as managing shopper traffic flow, efficiency of finding popular items, SKU reductions, and new layouts that provide more spacing for shoppers and associates, ought to be leading priorities. On the e-commerce side, keeping existing customers and attracting new ones will largely depend upon the ease and convenience of ordering and pick-up, mitigating wait times at the curb, and out of stocks within the orders. Also, adapting technology that provides the retailer an automated opportunity to communicate to online customers through standing orders, relevant suggestions and meal planning ideas will provide competitive advantage with this group, knowing that for this part of the business to get anywhere close to break-even, the volume must grow.
  • Posted on: 06/15/2020

    COVID-19 exposes retail’s supply chain shortcomings

    In my mind, the pandemic has underscored the costs and risks of allocating valuable warehouse and retail store space to items that do not find their way into shoppers' baskets on a regular basis. Many of these infrequently purchased items are a product of projecting an image of "variety" to the consumer, which has some inherent value. But many others are the result of brand line extensions and trading deals that have nothing to do with consumer demand. For many retailers, it might be smart to re-think their approach to profitability -- focusing on the "sell" rather than the "buy"; focusing on having more inventory of what shoppers buy on hand and a bit less of what they don't.
  • Posted on: 06/12/2020

    Is business too busy saving itself to save the environment?

    I hope one thing we can all agree upon is the importance of retail commitment to operating in an increasingly eco-friendly manner. This priority also harmonizes well with personal safety that all brick-and-mortar retailers must promote as we move forward. I do believe that one of the few silver linings of these lockdowns was to see dolphins swimming in Venice, Italy, wildlife flourishing in closed national parks and clear skies in cities that are typically fogged with exhaust. I also get the sense that we are at a new inflection point for consumer awareness and appreciation of the world around us and agree with others that shoppers will reward retailers who make concerted efforts in sustainability.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2020

    How much pent up shopping demand is there?

    Never bet against the American consumer. While the current pandemic is likely to remain with us in some form or fashion through the fall, most consumers are anxious to get back to work and also get shopping. Those of us in the big cities will likely see a different pace of the recovery than those states and areas that have been less impacted by the virus. I am not as resigned as others appear to be to the idea that we are destined for another "major" spike in COVID-19 cases, at least one that requires sending healthy people back home to huddle with the sick. We are doing more and more tests will logically lead to cases, but the real litmus test is the severity of the cases, i.e. hospitalizations and mortality rates. From the numbers I am reviewing, those metrics are still trending favorably. Accordingly, I would plan for success, but smartly prepare for stores in big cities to walk, not run back to some level of normality.
  • Posted on: 05/27/2020

    Are store brands set for a big growth spurt?

    While are personal experiences are by definition anecdotal, I have noticed that in many very popular categories, (paper, cleaning, shelf stable meals), big retailers like Walmart and Kroger's shelves are dominated by store brands -- as national brands continue to be out-of-stock. Whether this is by design or a function of stressed supply chains, some portion of the private label growth is not by choice, but rather by "having no other choice."
  • Posted on: 05/04/2020

    Coronavirus increases demand and supply chain challenges for WellPath’s DTC business

    Perhaps one of the longer term outcomes from the pandemic will be more vertical integration among retailers who are large enough to support such a plan. This means owning much (or all) of the process, from acquiring raw materials to the manufacturing, warehousing, transportation and then either to the store or directly to consumer. For example, in food retailing, many of bigger players will likely take more ownership in the growing and processing of both protein and vegetables. But it also means becoming less reliant upon non-U.S. sources of product. In hard goods, where Asia and Indonesia have such a big share of the manufacturing sourcing, this transition will take time, be painful and in all cases have an overall effect on the post-COVID global trade ecosystem. I also think that many retailers will have better supply chain contingency plans going forward. In the era of just-in-time inventory, a new mindset may be to have a safety stock of essential items held in waiting when the supply line is disrupted.
  • Posted on: 04/29/2020

    Will shoppers go to the mall because Simon says it’s okay?

    Here in Indianapolis, where SPG is headquartered, many of my retail friends were surprised by the announcement of opening the malls this weekend, when if fact, the Shelter in Place order doesn't officially end until May 7th in our state. So at one level the move would seem to be a bit contentious as it countermands state laws. On another level, it is likely a good thing in that it potentially offers both shoppers and store employees a measured, step wise way to get the economy back up and running. In my opinion, it is very likely that many stores will not immediately open, despite being permitted to. I also believe that it will take several weeks and even months before any level of normal traffic is seen. I appreciate the steps SPG is taking to insure safety but it also my hope that shoppers continue to space, wear masks and take personal responsibility necessary to keep the virus from spreading, for the their own safety and the safety of the retail associates that staff the stores.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2020

    Will the new normal look a lot like the old normal?

    Time, more knowledge about the virus, and meds will ultimately mitigate much of the fear that many currently have about interacting with crowded stores and crowds in general. However, it is fair to assume that a significant number of shoppers will be much more cognizant of close social contact and sanitation practices in the store going forward. To that end, I think it's reasonable to expect that large store formats (which must attract big throngs of shoppers to be profitable), will have to work much harder to allay the fears of their shoppers than smaller, less crowded bricks stores. In these large stores, more attention may be needed to automate the process of social distancing remainders, balancing aisle traffic, even traffic count limitations in extreme situations. Further, technologies that help the shopper more quickly locate the items they seek so that they minimize their time in store should be increasingly popular. In all bricks stores, offering a touchless payment system option is likely to be well received in addition to expanding the efforts in delivery and contactless pick-up at curbside. To the point that others have made, this pandemic looks to accelerate many of the initiatives that have already established beach heads in the industry. Now it is a matter of best understanding both short term and long, which ones resonate the most with shoppers who are in the midst of changing their behaviors and attitudes with each new CDC update.
  • Posted on: 04/23/2020

    Should grocers close their doors to customers for safety’s sake?

    Well stated Neil. Kroger and others are leading the way to find ways to keep shoppers and associates safe as we ride out the pandemic. If you want to see panic hit the streets and a resumption of hoarding, just mentioning supermarkets MAY close. That will do the trick. With that said, if you can use curbside pick-up -- I encourage you to do so. If not, please wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and be mindful of keeping your distance when shopping. I have nothing but admiration for the great people that come to work in our retail stores everyday!
  • Posted on: 04/17/2020

    Has COVID-19 transformed Gen-Z forever?

    Much of the longer term behavioral changes will heavily depend upon how well we can extinguish this virus, either through anti-virals and ultimately a vaccine. While I understand this younger group may be "imprinted" to some extent by their recent social distancing experiences, I also believe they will be resilient, given they are already very comfortable in using technology to shop and socialize, if necessary. While I may be a contrarian on the topic, I believe shopping behavioral changes among this group and others for that matter, may be driven more by the economy and their job situation than by the effects of the virus itself. If my thesis is true, there could be some residual cost containment and frugality among this group going forward as we attempt to regain our economic footing.
  • Posted on: 04/16/2020

    What will be retail’s new normal if social distancing stays in place until 2022?

    Unfortunately, re-opening the economy or keeping it closed until there is little or no risk of further infections is not the choice our leaders must make. It is rather a balancing act between two really suboptimal choices. One is to keep most of us huddled inside for as long as it takes to mitigate the spread of the virus to keep fewer people from dying. The other is to get healthy people back to work in a reasonably safe way, knowing that if we don't, people will begin dying from a range of maladies associated with stark economic downturns, such as suicide, drug overdose, depression, and neglecting other potentially fatal diseases due to the preoccupation of our medical system on the virus. It is not hyperbole to think that fatalities and suffering from an economic depression could be much worse than from this virus. So I don't see this a clear choice between "life" and "greed," but rather a choice between two really bad scenarios, with both carrying risks and rewards. The decision as to when, where and how to open must be done in concert with federal and local medical, political and business leaders, together, as all perspectives must be considered. At the risk of stating the obvious, the new normal for retailing will fall somewhere between where it used to be, (pre-virus) and what it will look like for the next month or so. Masks, social distancing in stores, limiting the number of patrons at one time and of course more emphasis on curb-side and home delivery will be things all retailers must consider in the near term and even after restrictions are lifted. Big, normally crowded stores may suffer in the short run in favor of smaller, less crowded boutique stores and shops, where operating costs are much lower. The good news for us that I would rather be in retailing than attempting to fill theaters, stadiums, cruise ships and airplanes full of people as some industries are dependent upon doing. It is also good news that innovation and new opportunities will emerge from this and many already have.
  • Posted on: 04/14/2020

    Amazon puts new online grocery customers on hold, reconfigures Whole Foods

    Whole Foods, along with Trader Joe's, Fresh Market and a host of other specialty food stores, are not the ideal format to support the extraordinary increase in demand of paper and cleaning products, and a host of center store items that shoppers are buying to keep the pantries full. With that said, Amazon may have no choice in closing down a number of WF stores and convert them into fulfillment warehouses as a short term buffer to meet demand. Perhaps a silver lining to this pandemic for Amazon lies in the repurposing of many WF stores as more conventional stores, with broader inventory in center store staples and less emphasis on gourmet items and tonight's dinner. Going forward, all bricks stores will need to think through how they can make shoppers feel safe while in the stores. To that end, bricks stores that are now designed to lure the shopper into spending extra time perusing through aisles and encountering dozens of other shoppers along the way, may finally start thinking about re-designing their stores and product placements for a more efficient, shopper centric experience. The goal of most shoppers has always been to get in, get what I need and get out. Now, that goal has for many, become a prerequisite for their patronage.

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