shutterstock_76366789Consumer brand builders’ angst is over the top every year at this time. As the New Year begins to unfold, so do the corporate retail decisions about what products will remain in their stores and what the new shelf schematic (also known as the “official set”) will look like for the new year ahead.

Will your product make the cut?

Will your product’s authorized shelf position improve or hurt your brand’s recognition, accessibility, and sales? Consumer brand builders are painfully aware of the critical nature of these January and February decisions. They can make or break your brand in any chain or box store. Consumer brands especially are only as good as their products. If your product is no longer there, neither is your brand!

Category buyers are under tremendous pressure to maximize sales and profits from their precious shelf space. Their decisions are critical to their survival as well. So what are the criteria buyers use to make these choices? And what can brand builders do to get on the shelf, stay on the shelf, and get better position?

It comes to last year’s sales numbers

By the time the decisions are made, it all comes down to last year’s sales numbers. Simply put: how were your sales last year in that store? How was the rate of growth and what was the store’s profitability for those sales? How do they compare with other branded products of the same type, and how are those products trending nationally?

Buyers can’t afford to wait for your perfectly good product to “take off” due to the limited amount of shelf space available. If it doesn’t show its stuff rather quickly, your new product will be discontinued. This is why it’s vital that you show immediate and increasing sales for any product you are fortunate enough to get on the shelf. The buyer may put your product in because of your national scan rating. But your product won’t stay there if it doesn’t sell well.

Consumer brand builders have the entire preceding year to save their brands by making those numbers justify the best positioning in the new sets. This means a disproportionately more intense marketing effort for new shelf placements. If your product gets a coveted shelf position, it means that ten or more didn’t! It also means that some other product was cut out of the set! Keep that in mind for next year! Do all you can do to make sales happen with all your new placements so you can make the cut next year. Special pricing, excellent signage, co-promotions, quantity display offers, and community outreach are all required to secure your precious shelf space.

So you made the cut…

But wait, there’s more! So you made the cut and you are there for another year. Now your concern is about your positioning. Just a small move from eye-level to floor level, for instance, can devastate your brand. Your position in the set relative to competing brands at similar prices can also make or break you. Known as “adjacencies,” you don’t want your brand to be sandwiched between two similar brands of lesser price. Ideally, you want to be between two similar brands of greater price.

Then there’s the placement of your product in the set from left to right, with left side of the set generally the more desirable. Lastly, there’s the type-set versus the brand-set. The type-set is where the buyer chooses to segregate all products by their type and groups the types, regardless of brands. This hurts a new brand because it diffuses the brand image throughout the set. The brand-set gets you the “billboard” effect buy grouping all your products in one place. Grouping by brands regardless of type always favors the new brand, which is then easier to discover.

So Happy New Year! Here’s hoping you make the cut, get higher-priced adjacencies, and get eye-level on the left side of the shelf in a brand-set!

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) & Shelf Smarts courses to help consumer product brand builders achieve success. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular business site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact