Leadership – Do You Have What It Takes?

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As published in Global Retail Brands, March 2013

In life and business, let’s face it, the followers outnumber the leaders; it’s a fundamental truth. The word “follower” shouldn’t have a negative connotation, but in business we sometimes interpret it as tepid and risk-averse, when actually it is strategically wise. Apple basically created the market for tablets today with its iPad, but you wouldn’t call Amazon and Samsung unwise for seeing the width and opportunity within this still emerging category and capitalizing on it.

For years, retailers and their private brands have been more about following than leading, but globally this is changing across all retail channels, and it begs the question, what does it really take to lead? Here are four attributes that are important if you want to lead:

Conviction & Attitude
Leaders act with conviction and swagger. They operate with a command of the facts, but leave room for reasonable intuition. In private brands we often want a “sure thing” in launching a product or adding to the brand portfolio, but you have to leave yourself open to experimentation if you are to lead. Across every “best in class” private brand program there is not just a willingness to take reasonable risks, but also a leader who is empowered in the organization at a high level, not a surrogate with thin infrastructure.

Know Your Path
Having a penetration and share goal is good, but many organizations don’t know how to arrive at the target for private brands. Leaders have done their homework on where the “white space” is and how they will take advantage of emerging consumer trends. To lead, the vision must be resoundingly clear to your own organization and understood by your suppliers. There should be two-way dialogue in creating the path, and once it is charted, report progress frequently.

Leaders aren’t afraid to go “all in”, and they aren’t afraid to dominate a category. Archer Farms and Target is a great example. They have entered a category, which most retailers virtually ignore, spices, and they merchandise the brand massively.
Leaders have fearlessness in their approach to product development. Who would have ever thought that retail brands could enter into the most vital and sensitive of categories? If you are losing your hearing, there are Kirkland Signature hearing aids at Costco. Bitten by a snake? Look to Ozark Trail Snake Ointment (by Walmart) if you need a cure. Leadership across products where the consumer is their most risk-averse.

Leaders “walk the walk” with their own brands, and they invest in a credible brand and marketing language to support the products. The story leaders tell about their brands is not just a functional one, focused on product alone, but is supported through the right media, merchandising and storytelling to give the brand meaning.
We have a huge opportunity to lead in the private brand industry, but don’t throw around the word too freely. Global retailers need to embrace these four components for true leadership.

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