Palmer & Harvey (P&H) launched its Partnership Plus programme last year to provide a ’total category management’ service for convenience stores and forecourts.

P&H trade sector manager, Ian Daniels, reckons the company’s position as the number one food and drink wholesaler in the UK means it can offer "truly independent advice on retail best practice". The company has used information from its suppliers and leading data providers, which it has fed into its total category management system. This comprises space planning, ranging, promotions, visual merchandising, pricing and implementation.

"Our primary focus is on tailoring an offer that meets our multiple retailers’ customers’ needs," explains Daniels.

One of the first stages of the category management process is category planning, which uses the latest industry data to determine how much each category should be worth and how much space should be devoted to them. Then there is range management, which considers how frequently a range should be refreshed and the optimal level of new product development.

Space management delves deeper by setting out planograms for individual categories, showing the most profitable mix and spacing of products, as well as the best way to merchandise the range.

"The management of promotions can be one of the most difficult areas of a forecourt retailer’s business," says Daniels. "They must consider what type of promotion to run, how many should be on at one time and how often. Getting it right can have a huge impact on sales.

"We have different best practice guides to suit different retailers. Some prefer to run promotions within each bay, others run fewer, but bigger promotions at the front of the store."

Flexibility is one of the keys to the success of P&H’s category management approach, says Daniels. He cites the company’s partnership with Esso as a good example.

Five years ago, Esso needed to develop the convenience category within its forecourts. Although the category only accounts for around 10% of turnover, convenience has the greatest number of SKUs, making it more challenging to manage than the traditional impulse categories.

A P&H category manager was placed within the Esso operation on a full-time basis to manage convenience. That placement was such a success that five years on, the category manager is still in place. This summer, P&H assisted Esso further by supplying a project manager responsible for the display, promotion and execution of regional ranges.

"Esso’s focus is primarily on food-to-go and impulse, with convenience playing a supporting role," says Daniels. "Through our flexible approach, we have been able to add value to take the forecourt business onto the next level."

Although P&H incorporates all the individual elements of its total category management service in tailored programmes for multiple retailers, there is also best practice advice for independent retailers, available as downloads from the P&H website.