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Vox: Leaders & Champions: Brenda Lord, VP Product Management & Development, Staples Brand Group

\"\"This is the next in a series of interviews Christopher Durham, founder of My Private Brand, will conduct with private brand leaders around the world. Today, he discusses retail-owned brands with Brenda Lord is the VP, Product Management & Development for Staples Brand Group.

Prior to her current role, Brenda has held roles at Staples in Global Vendor Management & Merchandising Portfolio Strategy, Acquisition Management, Head of International for Staples Brands Group and Director of Business Development, Staples Brands Group.  Brenda was in development/sales/sourcing with Test Rite, a global sourcing company based in Asia, and Category Merchandising at Staples, and earlier, Ames Department Stores.

She holds a BS from Purdue University and MBA from Babson.

Christopher: What is your first memory/experience with Private Brand?
Brenda: The two private brands that I recall making an early impression on me were:

Kenmore appliances and their reputation for quality that was only available at Sears. They were my first washing machine & dryer purchases as an adult.

The Mix-it brand of junior clothing at J.C. Penney, merchandised in a boutique store-within-a-store setting with commissioned sales teams.  I worked in that boutique in high school, and loved learning about working on commission, and in selling a line that had a cohesive design presentation.  The brand was launched by JCP in the mid-80’s to compete with the success of The Limited.  Although they have evolved the use of the Mix-it brand considerably, broadening its use, I’m still impressed thinking back on what investment they put behind that boutique concept.

\"\"Christopher: How did you get into the private brand business?
Brenda:
The first half of my career was in buying.  When I left a buying job to go to grad school, I also joined Test Rite, a global sourcing firm based in Asia that sourced and developed private brands.  I really enjoyed that for 5 years, and re-joined Staples® when they began aggressively building the Staples product brand in 2006.

Christopher: What does the future of retailer owned brands look like?
Brenda:
Our Staples Brand Products combine quality with great prices.  Our own brand products are playing a role in our overall corporate strategy by helping to deliver value and the features and functionality that are important to our customers.

\"\"Christopher: Retail and the shopper has dramatically changed over the last few years (mobile, online, social media, Amazon, Google) how have your private brands responded to these changes?
Brenda:
Staples is ready to help our customers however and whenever they prefer to shop. Customers who prefer to shop on Staples.com will receive free shipping on orders over $14.99 for Staples Rewards members, or customers can buy online (or on their mobile device) and pick-up in store.  As one of the largest internet retailers, we offer a huge assortment for every size business from small and mid-size to enterprise.

Christopher: What private brand accomplishments are you the proudest of?
Brenda:
The early days of building the Staples brand were exciting, and I was involved in building both the US and the international business at different times.  The creation of the Better Binder is a highlight – developed after extensive research into what customers’ pain points were with binders – durability, ease of labeling, opening and closing the rings.  It has been very successful over the years and is still a significant portion of our business across our student and business users, with patents that keep it exclusive at Staples.  The Staples brand now extends across hundreds of categories, many thousands of SKUs, has better unaided recognition than national brands in over 50 categories, and better quality ratings than our national brands, and is growing.  It hasn’t happened overnight, and has been built by many talented team members over the years.

\"\"Christopher: What keeps you up at night?
Brenda:
Striking the right balance between newness and a disciplined focus on quality core products.  Our customers count on Staples brand products to deliver for them at a great price, so that they focus on their task at hand.  There are many more categories that are core today than when we started.  So there is a tension between expanding and evolving.  I think that exists in all businesses when you are focused on your customer. 

Christopher: Is private brand a strategic priority for your organization?
Brenda: Yes!  Our branded products reinforce our relationship with the customer.  Therefore, we’re highly focused on creating quality products at prices our customers want, across our broad range of categories. For example, our Staples Brand Products for the back-to-school season, provide exclusive, on-trend designs so students can personalize the essential products they need.  We put a huge emphasis on our own brand products such as Staples Arc customizable notebooks, binders, notebooks, Staples writing and other necessities that kids, moms and teachers need for the school year. We also partner with several design houses to create products that are unique to Staples. Learn more about Staples Brand here: www.staples.com/staplesbrand

Christopher: How important is strategy to the success of private brands?
Brenda: It’s very important. As a company, we understand our customers’ needs when it comes to products and services, and we must stay in tune with the technology, social and economic changes that are changing our customers’ behaviors and the way they work. Over the years, we’ve altered our strategy to expand our own brand assortment, offer more value to our customers, and stayed committed to creating products that are built and tested to last.
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Featured Vox

Vox: Leaders & Champions: Andrea Collaro, Senior Director, Walgreens

\"\"This is the next in a series of interviews Christopher Durham, founder of My Private Brand, will conduct with private brand leaders around the world. Today’s interview is the first of 2017 in it he discusses retail-owned brands with Andrea Collaro PharmD, is senior director, brand management and product development for owned brands health & wellness (OTC/Advancecare/Wellness) at Vertex Award winner Walgreens. Andrea Collaro PharmD, is senior director, brand management and product development for owned brands health & wellness (OTC/Advancecare/Wellness) at Walgreens, which is included in the Retail Pharmacy USA Division of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. In her role, she is responsible for product development and brand management for all products under the Walgreens and Finest Nutrition brands.

Collaro joined Walgreens in 1997 as a pharmacist. In 2001, she became disease state manager and 2002-2010 she was a buyer in merchandising for diagnostics, diabetes, vitamins, cold, cough and allergy. In 2010, she was named manager of generic pharmaceutical strategy and global sourcing of pharmaceuticals. Then in 2011, she joined the owned brands team as director of product development for health care categories.

Collaro received a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (PharmD) from University of Illinois College of Pharmacy in 1997.

CD: What is your first memory/experience with Private Brand?
AC: When I was a pharmacist in our stores, I remember educating our patients every day about available prescriptions and OTC alternatives that were more cost-effective and were the same quality as National Brands.

CD: How did you get into the private brand business?
AC: I started recommending private brands as a pharmacist in the stores and once I moved to the support office, I worked on developing and sourcing private brand healthcare products as a buyer.

\"\"CD: What does the future of retailer owned brands look like?
AC: I think “sky is the limit,” it can be as big as your company wants it to be.

CD: What keeps you up at night?
AC: Staying ahead of trends is one of the biggest topics that keeps me up at night.

CD: Is private brand a strategic priority for your organization?
AC: How important is strategy to the success of private brands? An organization needs to determine the role of private brands in their company and then develop strategies that bring that role to life.

CD: What advantages does private brand have over national brands?
AC: Private brands offer a value to the consumer while preserving quality.

CD: What disadvantages?
AC: Private brands do not have the media spend that large CPG’s have.

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Featured Vox

Vox: Leaders & Champions: Carrie Mesing, Director of Private Brands, FreshDirect

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Featured Vox

Vox: Leaders & Champions – Steve Gibson, VP, Global Sourcing, Merchandising & Private Brands – The Source

\"steve-gibson-the-source\"This is the next in a series of interviews Christopher Durham, founder of My Private Brand, will conduct with private brand leaders around the world. Today, he discusses retail-owned brands and their evolution with Steve Gibson, Vice-President – Global Sourcing, Merchandising & Private Brands at the Vertex Award winning retailer The Source – a consumer electronics small box retailer with over 550 stores across Canada – and Vice-President of SeaLink Sourcing Group Limited – an Asia-based electronics sourcing company with offices in Hong Kong & China. A retail ‘lifer,’ he has spent 30 years with leading national retailers in Canada in merchandising, global sourcing, and product development, with a love for building private brands.

CD: What is your first memory/experience with Private Brand?
SG: I remember, as a young man in the grocery store with my mother back in the late 70s, looking at the Loblaw’s ‘No-Name’ iconic yellow packaging and asking her why there was no name? She explained to me the concept of the store brand and the value that it created. That has always stayed with me.

CD: What does the future of retailer owned brands look like?
SG: The future will continue to be strong provided the store brands continue to offer value – whether that be price, features, quality, tastes, etc. Private Brands began as a ‘me-too’ offering, and have greatly evolved since then. If we continue to go down the path of innovation and value, we will see continued success.\"8037404_box\"

CD: Retail and the shopper has dramatically changed over the last few years (mobile, online, social media, Amazon, Google). How have your Private Brands responded to these changes?
SG: We’ve used these tools to help us accelerate our Private Brand sales. Our own website allows customers to rate our products and provide feedback. The positive feedback provides other customers with confidence in our product. Any negative feedback we investigate and integrate into future product development.

We’ve also utilized online stores in other channels, such as Amazon Marketplace, to list our Private Brands. This not only expands our potential customer base, but also builds brand credibility as customers see our product in several channels.

CD: What private brand accomplishments are you the proudest of?
SG: Definitely our HeadRush brand (headphones and audio). This has come the farthest in terms of brand evolution – product quality, form factors, packaging, price points, customer feedback. And of course, winning a Vertex award.\"8044481box-1\"

CD: How have your private brands evolved over the last few years?
SG: I think it’s fair to say our brands are in a constant state of evolution. In the electronics business you just can’t stand still. Product lifecycles continue to get shorter and shorter based on the new technologies that continuously emerge. Our brands started with a solid foundation covering the opening price points, typical of where most private brands are positioned. As we gained acceptance from our customers, we continued to elevate to higher price points, which were also successful. A great example would be our HeadRush earbuds – when we first introduced the brand, we were selling opening price point $9.99 earbuds. This year we just began offering $99.99 earbuds. If anyone would have said even a year or two ago that we’d be carrying $99 private brand earbuds, I would have been extremely hesitant.

Other things we have done to evolve our brands are:

  1. Utilize any customer feedback we receive in creating future product,
  2. Continuously focus on quality and improve product wherever possible,
  3. Consider the cost and value of adding extra features, and
  4. Invest in all packaging elements – the creative, card stock, inner trays, etc.\"8036193_box\"

CD: Is private brand a strategic priority for your organization?
SG: Yes. The margin in consumer electronics National Brands overall is extremely thin. Private Brands contribute significantly to the bottom line.

CD: What role should design play in solving private brand/retailer problems?

Design is key – not only at the packaging level, but the item level as well. No one wants an ugly product in an ugly box. Design is your first impression with the customer. If the design does not catch the customer’s eye and appeal to them, the rest is academic.

\"8049946_box\"CD: What advice do you have for retailers trying to take their brands to the next level?
SG: Treat it as a brand and not a private label. Give your own brand the same treatment and amount of resources as you do the National Brands. Get as much input as possible – listen to your customers, stores, and merchants. Pay attention to your competition. Have an end goal in mind and then work toward it. And I can’t say enough in terms of innovation. Don’t stand still.

CD: What advantages does Private Brand have over National Brands. What disadvantages?
If built right, value is the primary advantage. You take product similar to a National Brand and offer it to the customer at a lower price or take a more feature-rich product and offer it at the same price. It gives the customer an alternative to the National Brands and creates a loyalty when the customer is happy with their purchase.

Disadvantages can be where you have not strategized properly – for instance, a lack of innovation leaves you to compete only on price advantage, and if that disappears for whatever reason, then you have nothing left to fall back on.

Another disadvantage could be a quality or other issue that arises and can damage your entire brand. All it takes is one bad experience to do significant damage.

CD: How did you get into the Private Brand business?
Purely by chance. By beginning a direct import program early in my career, I realized very quickly it would not amount to much without a Private Brand to tie it all together. That was back when Private Brands were essentially positioned as ‘me-too’ without a lot of emphasis on innovation. It was definitely a learn as you go experience.

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Vox

Vox: Leaders & Champions: Michael Rahbek, Head of Private Label, Dagrofa.

\"dagrofa-rahbek\"This is the next in a series of interviews Christopher Durham, founder of My Private Brand, will conduct with private brand leaders around the world. Today, he discusses retail-owned brands and their evolution with Michael Rahbek, Head of Private Label at Danish retailer Dagrofa.

Michael Rahbek is a highly accomplished visionary combining outstanding sales, marketing and business development talents with over 10 years experience both from A-brands and Private Brands. He has worked with Unilever and Coca-Cola and is now responsible for driving the overall Private Brand development of the Vertex Award winning, Danish retailer Dagrofa, while also playing an important role internationally as a board member of United Nordic and a member of the commercial committee at the European buying group, EMD.

North American readers will notice his use of the term “A-brand” which is a common term in Europe for national brands.\"190

CD: What is your first memory/experience with Private Brand?
MR: From a professional point of view, it was during my employment at Unilever on “the other side of the table.” I remember the different retailers launching their own series of products, which put pressure on us back then to increase our margins and increase our degree of innovation. When I started up the Private Label department at Supergros (later renamed to Dagrofa), we had the more traditional “me too” approach vs. the A-brand. Our journey has helped me evolve from the traditional “Private Label” approach to the more strategic and consumer-oriented Private Brand solution.

CD: What does the future of retailer owned brands look like?
MR: Overall, I expect a stronger consolidation of the traditional A-brands in order to keep up with the fast development of retailer-owned brands. Retail brands will overall increase their importance, both in sales and revenue, in categories where Private Brand already has a strong preference. But new categories will also be conquered.

The reason is quite simple; where traditional A-brands have had limited success in understanding changing consumer needs and have neglected important category development through innovation, Private Brands will win. I gave a speech to a group of sales directors where I was asked how big the private label share will be and I answered honestly: You decide yourself. If you don’t develop the categories, your brand equity will diminish and loyal consumers will turn their backs on you.

I also expect some categories where private brands will play a different role due to strong A-brands who continue to invest. I profoundly believe in the coexistence between Retailer Brands and the traditional A-brands.\"338

CD: Retail and the shopper has dramatically changed over the last few years (mobile, online, social media, Amazon, Google). How have your private brands responded to these changes?
MR: We engage with a full blown So-me strategy and implementation, hence understanding that these are very important in connecting with the end consumer. Actually, the importance and breakthrough of social media allows us to engage with the end consumer in a totally different way than was possible just a couple of years ago. This is also how we strive to create our own brand ambassadors, hence increase our brand equity in the end.

CD: What private brand accomplishments are you the proudest of?
MR: Changing our strategic view of Private Label into Private Brands was a key decision the company took three years ago.

We have a somewhat progressive working title to our strategic project called, “Private Label is dead.” We did a total revamp of our strategy, understanding the importance of building retailer brands that understand the needs of the consumers.

We eliminated almost 20 different category brands, and spent a lot of time engaging with consumers, understanding their behavior and feelings towards private brands – and actually got a strong insight. Often, a consumer will have no idea if a brand is a Retail Brand or not – except if the brand carries the name of the banner.

That is why we also decided not to use our banners on the products of the brands.

Based on insight, we developed a cross-category food brand called Gestus (In English, “gesture”), focusing on food categories. We have the mission to create good quality products with superior designs and a strong communication platform. Two years after the launch, we now see a number of consumers who do not associate Gestus as a Private Label, but as a “real” brand. This is quite significant.

CD: How have your private brands evolved over the last few years?
MR: We are consolidating a number of brands into a strong consumer concept, strongly focusing on consumer trends and category development. This has really had a very positive effect on the sales of our Private Brands. It’s funny however, that both internally and externally, we have a strong desire to discuss A-brands vs. Private Brands. In our research, we found out that especially younger consumers often see Private Brands as the A-brand.

\"155CD: Is private brand a strategic priority for your organization?
MR: Yes, both in relation to overall sales, revenue and also creating differentiation in the market. We are very keen on keeping our focus on creating strong concepts that will give us a competitive advantage towards our main competitor. The Danish market is very heavily dominated with price promotions on A-brands in order to lure consumers into the stores. Once they are in, we will try to use our Private Brands to create loyalty to our own brands, ideally creating what we all strive for – loyal consumer to our store formats.

CD: How important is strategy to the success of private brands?
MR: Without a clear strategy you have nothing but an “old private label” approach and a road with a lot of curves. Private Brands must act, behave and be treated as any other A-brand, with the same high level of focus on reaching the designated target. This can only be done if you have a clear strategy in mind and have a full understanding of both customers’ and consumers’ needs.

CD: What role should design play in solving private brand/retailer problems
MR:
Given the fact that we mostly battle in the store, neck-to-neck with a well-known A-brand, design plays . When we design our products, we always have a key consumer point of view in mind. Our ultimate goal is that a consumer should have no issues putting our products in their lives and homes.

CD: What advice do you have for retailers trying to take their brands to the next level?
MR:
Focus on the needs of the consumer. The traditional consumer and customer models are changing and becoming obsolete. Consumers today have different buying patterns and habits which maximize the level of complexity even further. Having the assumption that a Retailer brands can’t create the same value as a traditional A-brand is both an internal and external barrier that needs to be addressed. Treat your brand as a real A-brand and select the categories where the traditional A-brands have lost their momentum or predict which categories are next. Usually, investigation and analysis of the Private Brand development in other countries will likely give you the answer to which categories are next.

CD: What do you look for in great brand design? How can design help retailers and their brands differentiate? What does differentiation mean to you?
MR: Our ultimate goal is to design products that consumers will recommend or have on the dinner table when having guests over. This means we strive to understand the relevance of shelf impact since also understanding how important it is so as to be viewed as attractively as possible in the eyes of the consumers. As consumers, we tend to buy traditional A-brands because they satisfy an underlying need in our brain to achieve the benefits communicated in their marketing. This is also why some consumers shop till they drop.

CD: What advantages does private brand have over national brands. What disadvantages?
MR: One factor is actually what A-brand usually say is their key advantage: innovation. As Retailers, we can, in fact, react very quickly when it comes to changes in the consumer’s needs. We have a less complex organizational structure and can react very quickly. And we have the ability to develop solid cross-category concepts and products that make it easier for consumers to navigate.

One key disadvantage is that Private Brands traditionally do not use a mass marketing solution to promote ourselves. However, my personal view is this will significantly change over time.

CD: What keeps you up at night?
MR: I am very keen to make business progress and I hate to miss out on a great business opportunity. J  I strive to deliver innovative solutions to the Danish and Nordic consumers through a strong understanding of the consumer decision tree, and upcoming trends.

On a day to day basis, we monitor the development of raw material prices, which in the latest year have had some significant ups and downs. That is actually something that can keep me up a little bit at night.

CD: How did you get into the private brand business?
MR: In his old job as category director, our group CEO called me up to hear if I had any candidate names to recommend for the position of head of private label. After giving out a few candidates, he actually asked me why I did not consider the job myself. After many months of great discussions, I agreed to take on the challenge. Back then, I asked myself if Private Label was really that interesting. Looking back from where I am now, the answer is a clear Yes!