Decision Trees, Private Brand & Sam’s Club

This intriguing guest post comes from Dennis Whalen the Vice President of Marketing for the San Francisco, California-based branding and design agency Michael Osborne Design. Michaels post applauds the leadership at Sam’s and gives them credit for making hard decisions. Too often agencies sit back and pat themselves on the back for their “great,” “artistic,” or “innovative” work never understanding that it is much easier to create and present great strategy and design than it is for large organizations/retailers to select and implement. Most American retailers are highly matrixed organizations that require, “buy-in” from numerous stake holders throughout their organization, this has a tendency to dilute and often dumb down great strategy and great ideas.

Bravo to the leaders at Sam’s for pushing their Private Brand portfolio to the next level.

Decision Trees

We’ve been working with Sam’s Club since June 2010 to evolve its private label/proprietary brands program. During those 15 months, we’ve named, created brand identities and packaging design systems for three entirely new brands Artisan Fresh, Daily Chef and Simply Right. 600-700 SKUs across those brands will be in-store. Layer in several rounds of qualitative and quantitative research, photo shoots galore (KSC Kreate) and production (SGS) and the possibilities are just about infinite for this “project” to have gone askew. But it didn’t.

When I look back on all that’s transpired in our working relationship with Sam’s, I think about the huge decision tree that got us from day one to 473, i.e., today. Countless decisions along the way were made by all of us and lead by Sonya Gafsi, Senior Director Proprietary Brands and Maurice Markey, Vice President Proprietary Brands. I’m not saying we never made mistakes. No project of this scope is ever going to be error free. I am saying that Sonya, Maurice and team were so consistent in making the right/good/better/perfect decision on a daily basis that these three brands are now extremely well positioned to make a huge contribution to Sam’s revenues this year and well beyond. The result is our best client and best work in 30 years.

I look forward retailer and agency presentations next week at the Private Brand Movement in Chicago. I’ll be listening closely for those decision-making moments in projects that had huge impact on the outcomes from both perspectives.

Dennis Whalen

Dennis Whalen is Vice President at Michael Osborne Design. He has spent nearly 20 years developing new business in branding and packaging design starting with Primo Angeli straight out of business school. Since joining Michael Osborne, Dennis has worked with a wide range of retailers, including Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target, Safeway, Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, Nordstrom, BevMo, Bath & Body Works and Gymboree. 



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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.