Decision Trees, Private Brand & Sam’s Club

Christopher Durham Sep 17, 2011 1

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

Vice President of Retail Brands at Theory House

Christopher Durham is the founder of My Private Brand and the VP of retail brands at Theory House, the branding and retail marketing agency. He is the author of “Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project,” a consultant, strategist and retailer who has worked with the world’s largest retailers to build, manage and grow compelling billion dollar brands.

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One Comment »

  1. Ron Sep 18, 2011 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    Am I missing something? Apart from the headline, there is not a word about decision trees.

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