5 Questions with the Vertex Awards Judges, Michael Duffy

Leading up to the judging of the fifth annual Vertex Awards International Private Brand Design Competition I sat down with each of the judges and asked them five questions about Private Brands, package design and differentiation – their answers present a unique global perspective and depth of knowledge of the retail brand space.

Early bird entries close December 15th
Standard entries close January 15th
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Today’s conversation is with Michael Duffy, Group Creative Director & Partner, Equator Design in Chicago, Illinois

Over the last year Amazon, Whole Foods, Lidl and Jet have made aggressive moves into private brand, what impact are you seeing them have on your private brand clients and their brands?

Any extra focus on driving new or investing more in private brands, is in my opinion a good thing, as it drives innovation. I can’t comment specifically for our clients, though I can say they are all highly committed to their private brand programs to ensure they are leading the way when it comes to fresh and unique thinking, therefore giving national brands a real run for their money.Any investment in the private brand sector should be seen as a positive one, as it drives quality, creativity and value; meaning the customer will benefit from having a wider choice at a more affordable price point.

What role should strategy play in solving retail problems?

A robust strategic approach is vital to the success of any private brand; it’s no longer good enough to apply a lazy, cookie cutter approach, the sector in the US is now demanding much more. The standard is being raised across the board and as this continues to grow the expectations of the customer will also increase. Private brands have to stand for something and to succeed they need to get noticed and chosen, this can only happen by creating a strategy that’s true to the over-arching brand proposition which should be rooted in tactical thinking.

What is the most common mistake retailers make with their brands?

The most common mistake a retailer can make, is to underestimate the role a private brand can play across their store footprint, which extends to each store community. To elevate brands above the competition you have to value the importance of great design and the impact it can have on sales if executed well alongside the right partner.

What advice do you have for retailers trying to take their brands to the next level?

Don’t rush, don’t under invest and partner with the right agency. Quality and shelf stand out have to go hand-in-hand. Be brave and dare to be different, invest in innovation and aim to lead; taking inspiration from global players within progressive markets.

What will private brands look like 10 years from now?

I envisage private brands will simply exist as ‘true’ brands where they offer something that national brands can’t. The in-store experience will need to re-invent itself to rival the online environment, things like omni-channel retailing will most probably be the norm. I’m sure one day we’ll also be opening the door to drones delivering our groceries but let’s wait and see, either way the future looks like it’s going to be an exciting one.



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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.