Startup To Scale

143. Holiday Merchandising for CPG Brands

October 16, 2023 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 143
143. Holiday Merchandising for CPG Brands
Startup To Scale
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Startup To Scale
143. Holiday Merchandising for CPG Brands
Oct 16, 2023 Season 1 Episode 143

The Holidays are quickly approaching, and you’ve definitely seen the specific holiday displays in store from Halloween to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah to Christmas.

But should you participate in these in-store merchandising displays as an emerging brand? I’ve invited on George Tzafis, who works with emerging brands at Trax to discuss how to build a holiday merchandising plan.

We discuss:

  • Which holiday merchandising tactics perform best?
  • Is it too late to plan for holiday merchandising?
  • What are the top holiday buying events, and for what types of products?
  • Should brands invest in custom packaging, custom displays, or both?
  • What is necessary to support the rollout of displays? Should you rely on retailers or do it with yourself or any outsourced team?

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Show Notes Transcript

The Holidays are quickly approaching, and you’ve definitely seen the specific holiday displays in store from Halloween to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah to Christmas.

But should you participate in these in-store merchandising displays as an emerging brand? I’ve invited on George Tzafis, who works with emerging brands at Trax to discuss how to build a holiday merchandising plan.

We discuss:

  • Which holiday merchandising tactics perform best?
  • Is it too late to plan for holiday merchandising?
  • What are the top holiday buying events, and for what types of products?
  • Should brands invest in custom packaging, custom displays, or both?
  • What is necessary to support the rollout of displays? Should you rely on retailers or do it with yourself or any outsourced team?

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Holiday Merchandising for CPG Brands

Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] The holidays are quickly approaching and you've definitely seen those holiday specific displays in store from Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the Christmas, but should you participate in these in store merchandising displays as an emerging brand? So I've invited on George Tzafis to discuss how to build a holiday merchandising plan.

 George works with emerging brands at Trax and Is answering these questions all the time. George, welcome. 

George Tzafis: Hello, Jordan and nice see you. 

Jordan Buckner: So I think one question with this going out in October is it too late to plan for holiday merchandising? I know sometimes it gets planned a little earlier. Sometimes there can be last minute opportunities, but what is the time you usually look like and getting ready for these holiday displays?

George Tzafis: Yeah, that's a very important question to start with, and in reality, the retailers and especially the larger players, like the large CPG companies out there, they have yearly promotional calendars and yearly calendars with activities. So, in a way, this is [00:01:00] happening many times a year in advance of planning.

Also the tactics can be decided. Few months in advance, I would say two or three months in advance. However , as I always say, if you're an emerging brand you growing quick. And you want to be opportunistic. You want to grab space. You want to go and grab new consumers. So always you're going to try something and see if it's going to work.

Because at the end of the day, even if a small part of a last minute holiday activity works out, it's something that you learn for next year. So maybe if you don't go after grabbing a big chunk of sales. But a good learning can help you so a pilot or a test could be very welcome in this type of period.

Jordan Buckner: Yeah, I think that's really important. So, you know, for some of the larger retailers, there might have been deadlines passed, but especially for the smaller stores, and if you're just getting started, you have the opportunity , to try it out. 

And along with that. You know, what do you those seasonal merchandising opportunities really look like in stores?

It really just like displays or shelf talkers. I know it's kind of all the above, but have you seen some [00:02:00] things that are like, work better than others or that emerging brands should consider doing? 

George Tzafis: Yeah, that's a so I'll say everything can start from the packaging. Many times you are a CPG company. You can launch a more holiday festive type of packaging that can lure your consumers.

I'm not referring to a UPC change. I'm just referring for some additions on your existing packaging. That can come, of course, with some risks, because if the product is not going to move fast enough, you don't want to end up in January with a holiday package itself. Right? And then you have to involve in another activity of pulling that out.

So that's something that's it's very specific. And I would say. Intensive to invest. However, you can always do some P. O. P. materials, you know, self stripe blades or coupons on on the product or stickers that can do the following. Basically ring the bell inside the consumer's head that your product can be combined for a holiday occasion or for a gift.

So how do you connect these dots? When you are a [00:03:00] new emerging brands to a consumer, there is not being used to utilizing your product during their holidays. So you want to connect the dots inside the consumer. So you can do that with different type of colors, with different type of packaging, with p o P materials, with coupons, with sys or, or if you get into the store and try to place your product next to other.

Holiday staples, for example, you know, you're going next to the baking items because everybody's going to do baking this month. So you want to kind of position your product as a complimentary to the holiday stable items that people can find in store. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah, I mean, that makes a lot of sense, especially because a lot of buying behavior changes during this time of the year, right?

Around the holidays, if people are cooking more meals, if they're baking more Halloween is around the corner. And my wife and I were looking for healthier snacks. We actually weren't even looking for candy. We ended up buying things like trail mix, which might disappoint some of the kids, but it might make the parents a little happier or even like, You know like veggie straw types of things where it's like, not [00:04:00] candy, but things that can be, they actually like Halloween specific packaging to really appeal to , that customer.

So even things like salty snacks could be a way of getting Halloween or certain events. 

George Tzafis: And to that point, Jordan, I want to mention that the so called holiday campaign can start not from the consumer, but from the store personnel and that buyer in the store. Basically, you can explain some of that based on my website traffics on the direct to consumers from the other years or from this, from this year.

I'm expecting that you're going to see consumers coming in, buy my product for Halloween. You have to order more to have more in your store for that last minute Russell for us for the Holy Halloween arouse many times the buyer in the store would not think about it. So you have to be proactively make that connection as well.

Jordan Buckner: I love that. And especially for brands who are. You know, still getting started in retail or just have a couple of hundred stores. It makes sense to test out things at a smaller level first and a couple stores because it can get really expensive to see what your volume [00:05:00] actually is when you are doing merchandising or promotion before really , scaling that out.

Yeah, for sure. That's awesome. So, you know, what's really necessary then to support the rollout of things like displays and point of purchase materials, you know, she rely on the retailers to do it is something that you should do it like yourself or with an outsourced team. 

George Tzafis: So just close your eyes and put your selves in the back room of a store during these days, the Q4 is going to be insane.

So many packages displaced from all kinds of vendors, all kinds of CPGs, different categories, big things, small, like it's insane. So what happens most of the times is maybe 50 percent of them will get out there on the sales floor. , it is difficult. Because the stores don't have enough labor to support that.

And many times they have lost the email of saying, Oh, you need to get out these shippers and put them there. Or you have to set up this display that way. And in that category. So what we end up seeing is different scales of a problem. The first one is. Is not getting done at all your display. Your [00:06:00] initiative is not getting done at all.

Second is, is getting done, but not on time. So we might lose 1 week, 2 weeks of execution in many sources in some stores. And the other degree that is not bad, but it can eventually data source that can eventually be as equal, but as not being excluded at all is your display. End up in the totally wrong area of the store, right?

You're not going to get the eyes of the right consumer. So it's like being in the back room. Basically. Okay. You make it out, but in totally different area. So that is also problematic. So I think the execution obstacles can vary and kind of affect you a lot. And it could be different per store.

You cannot predict how every different store will react to the campaign , you setting up. 

Jordan Buckner: You know, if you're in 10 stores as a founder, you could theoretically go to each one to make sure that's there. Sometimes you might have to go two or three times, right? If it's not there, maybe the display didn't arrive at the store at all.

George Tzafis: recommend that you have to like, go back. If you're a founder, I recommend you do that because you're going to learn. And I know founders, , when they do these kinds of campaigns, they're going to sit in the store for an hour. And see how the consumers interact [00:07:00] with this holiday display. It's a learning period.

Don't forget that. Right. 

Jordan Buckner: And then if you're in hundreds of stores, it's not really feasible to make it as a founder, every single store during that time period, because it's going to be limited. So how do you recommend founders think about like Making sure that their product is showing up and on display, what kind of tools do they have available?

George Tzafis: Yeah. So then you go back to what we have discussed before in this kind of episode is like, you're going to need someone that you can trust. They can have a good supply chain to get the displays. To the stores, and then a team that will be there to pull this place in an organized manner and place them out there in the store.

And the, I would say the icing on the cake is just to use those kind of a holiday term is to confirm the location. It's important because you want to review the impact of your holiday campaign. So knowing when the display. Was in the sales floor what location and exactly the SKUs and the count of units we had [00:08:00] there is going to help you to start seeing what was the outcome of the campaign.

So data at the end of the day is going to help you for future scale. Now, I understand that that could be problematic because that means you need speed. You know, you need to hear as many as possible in one or two weeks. Then you need to have some, like a, navigate all this complexity about how the retail world works.

Definitely, you know, at trucks we are huge on the surges. What we call this is the surges type of work that many times we do in Q four and around other big holiday weekends and events across the year. And the flexibility plays a role. Not all the stores will have issues. And then Something that I want also for to remind everybody is like the holidays, especially at the second part of Q4 takes part for about 46 weeks.

If you think about it, right? It's an ongoing event. It's not really a one off thing. So replenishment. It's very important. You don't want to make all this investment to get it out and then two weeks later to be gone. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. Right. Like, cause if, even if you have a nice display and it works well and it sells out and you have an empty display and the store's not going to want an empty display and [00:09:00] maybe they didn't order your product, something that they put in the back room and then they forget about it.

George Tzafis: Yeah. Replacement is very important. Seriously. Yeah. Oh, 

Jordan Buckner: my God. I mean, what other mistakes do you see happening during that time? Or are there any other problems like that that founders should keep an eye out for? 

George Tzafis: Yeah, so I'm thinking always about. Cannibalization so you have to be careful of you don't want really to drive consumers from your home location to display because most likely the home location could hold a different assortment.

So you want always to make sure that somehow you provide the consumer. a steady presence of your product at your secondary placement and at the main location. I think that's number one. Number two is we always need to remember that the definitions to secondary locations. Provide incremental sales, but you need to be able somehow to measure that.

What I mean with that is you're going to get more sales just because it's a holidays, if you have an item that makes sense for the period of [00:10:00] time, it doesn't mean that your display was executed. It might be driven by the home location. So you have to. Where all words your entrepreneur had and start evaluating what actions work or didn't and what you're going to do better in the future.

So data thing is very important. Don't just go into a blast and okay. We saw a lift of 30%. That's great. Let's do it again. Because. Maybe it wasn't driven because of the secondary display, or maybe you can drive more because it was executed only 20 percent of stores and you measuring only the impact in 20 percent of stores, not the entire chain that you were hoping to get.

Jordan Buckner: Yeah, I think those are great. You know, that just reminds me as well as. Even just getting the display, if you're doing like an out of the vital display, just getting that to the stores, its whole logistical thing. Right? Because sometimes you can set up a display plus products with your distributor to deliver all those to the stores for you.

But then there's like a new item set up process that you have to go through. You have to make sure that that gets to the distributor and it's categorized [00:11:00] correctly, that the buyers know to place an order for that SKU different from their regular one. And so all that needs to be thought of and communicated in advance.

And then, you know, like some stores, you could probably do it directly to the store, but then that gets, you know, you need some type of relationship with them. So it doesn't just show up if you UPS it there. 

George Tzafis: And Jordan, you know what I have seen that is to me, it gets, you know, bad for the brand is you send them some zippers with product, right?

They're already pre filled and the zipper never made it never goes out , to the sales floor and acts as a replenishment for the main app. So , you have a zipper there, you think that he's going to get out there in the floor. Well, what you end up doing, the store is not ordering new product.

It's just getting the product from the zipper in the backroom and just put it at the shelf. That's what I say. Things like you think things are working, but they actually don't. Right. 

Jordan Buckner: You know, that's one thing that it was a huge eye opener for me when I was running my CPG brand. That is they, I call it the unfortunate reality is that a lot of [00:12:00] the pressure on your success just completely relies on the brand.

Right. Right. Everywhere from managing the distributors to. Working with retailers to organizing the merchandisers, you know, the marketing, right? Like as the brand owner or the brand manager, you have to be the conductor, making sure all these pieces are moving in sync and can't rely on. Anyone just to do it without you, right?

Like, hopefully people are doing their jobs, but things get missed. And when things get missed, you're the 1 that pays for it. And so you have to be the 1 orchestrating it all through the entire process until the customer buys it. And sometimes after. 

George Tzafis: In another area of investment for the holidays that I want also to bring up is demos.

in store demonstration during the holidays because people are spontaneous during the holidays when they go into the stores and they want to go you know to a friend's house or they want to buy something for their own event and they will try new things but given the opportunity for trial so demos can work very well [00:13:00] when you are demo your product in a store and don't hesitate to go and get partnerships with complimentary brands that you can together have a very nice you know, table and demonstrate that kind of a combination of the two products is definitely helping doing something like that.

, it's a good idea. 

Jordan Buckner: I love it. Yeah. Because then you can even , do semi bundling, right? And you can say, Hey, buy both of these products together. Yeah. For that. Yes. And then if you have the right the right, you know, the demo system set up, maybe the demo person can even bring a shipper for the demo or display that's there.

And maybe if they, you know, they can talk to the store and say, Hey, can we leave this set up? Right? So they can kind of do the setting up the demo. And then maybe it can remain in the store for a certain retail. 

George Tzafis: We do a lot of that matching to be honest. We have our partners. They come to us and say, guys, you know, doing these demos, but we're looking for a brand in the chocolate space.

Do you have any partners? Yep. Let us do the matchmaking here. And we just bring someone for them that would be interesting. very cool having like two nice brands working together, doing demos. And it's an investment, but I think for the holidays, it works. Like [00:14:00] people are ready to try things.

Jordan Buckner: Yeah, I love that. I love that. Think about it as a new product discovery time, especially when you have the legacy brands doing this type of matchmaking because their portfolios are so big. They with internally, they have their own matching of different products, but a lot of consumers are saying, what's , the better for you version of these holiday staples.

And if you have something that's comparable, right, then that's a good match. Oh, this is perfect. 

George Tzafis: That's exactly what's happening. Yes. Very, very good thinking. Yep. 

Jordan Buckner: I love that. And then, you know, thinking about on the other side, how you mentioned this a little bit earlier, but do you see brands overshooting with this peer in terms of doing, maybe buying too many displays or too many custom packaging designs , that don't sell and then have to liquidate product at the end hold off on it.

see that happening? 

George Tzafis: Honestly, I don't see that part. And because retailers are also very strict, there are many retailers right now that are being very strict about, I don't want zippers, if you want, you have to be in the end cap. So, they don't give you a lot of flexibility. However, what I see brands stretching a lot, and that's why [00:15:00] it's also like , the subject of today's discussion is the last minute.

There is a situation that you are beyond that point that you can save, you know, the day and learn something. So many times we're going to advise and say, it's not going to happen in 1 week in 2 weeks. You can make it. Yes. If you have 3, 4 weeks, you can try to do something. But when you come, like the week before Thanksgiving, there is no way you can do anything.

And if someone tells you, okay. You know, you can go and grab some space. It's not going to happen. So I have seen Brad trying to stretch on the last. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. I mean, and that brings up another thing that I've been talking with a lot of brands about recently, as well as when you're building a brand, it can be done, but rarely that it happens in the two or three years when you're building a business, building a brand, it can take five, 10, 15, 20 years to really get a strong brand presence.

And on 1 hand, that seems like a really long time, but on the other hand, it also relieves you a lot of the pressure where you can say, hey, this is a long term thing. If I miss. This holiday season or do something smaller now, maybe it gives [00:16:00] me all the preparations so I can be ready for next year. If I do all the design work for shippers and maybe we just test them in a hundred stores, then next year I can evaluate the performance and then roll that out further or make adjustments on that smaller scale.

George Tzafis: I'm always all in about testing and being scrapping. You can try that. Like you don't need to build a seeper. You can go to a store. With a great coupon and a great product that makes sense for the holidays and then give you a tiny little self next to the cashier or at the end cap and still you can help you move some product and it's going to be great.

So, definitely going and test and and try things just as you said, going to build a secret is going to be a big investment, you don't want to rush. The development of building a zipper that's branded with a whole it adds up, you know, it's not it's a lot of money. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. And then that way, you know, both for yourself and for retailers, how it performs, right?

If you see do all this work and you only see a 10 percent lift during that period. Maybe it's worth it. Maybe it's not. But maybe you go and you do. [00:17:00] A couple of these and you see a 300 percent lift and you're like, Oh wow. Like that's a big boom. And you can take that story to other retailers in advance next year and say, Hey, look, we saw this performance and this is why we should see, you know, we want us to be , off, you know, out of aisle and get all these other placements.

George Tzafis: Yeah. And that's why I think you know, demos maybe is a better. Way for a sort of them last minute thing to do. Yeah, 

Jordan Buckner: I love that. I think those demos are are key because as you mentioned, people are looking for new things and there's lots of stuff going on in the store. And so they're 1 open to new things, but also they might get lost unless someone's pulling them over and saying like, Hey, we'd love for you to try this.

So that's right, George. Thank you so much for joining today and talking about everything seasonal merchandising. If anyone. Needs help in doing this, reach out, happy to give you any tips and suggestions. If you need help getting boots on the ground, happy to introduce you to George and the Trax's team to be able to make sure your product displays are showing up in the store and selling through so that you can see the [00:18:00] holiday lift that's going to bring in new customers and move your brand forward.

So thanks so much. George for joining us. 

George Tzafis: Thank you, Jordan. It's always a pleasure, like having discussions with you. And I hope I'll see all our friends and brands in the stores in these holidays. I'm gonna walk different stores and just go and check out new products as well. I 

Jordan Buckner: love it.