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Establishing a beachhead: considerations when adding a new category to your portfolio
D-Day offers lessons on how to assault growing your book
If your company or the portfolio you oversee isn’t increasing its offerings, its relevance is shrinking by comparison to those competitors who are adding new products, new regions, and new categories to their book. However, the art of curation requires a nuanced understanding of growth. The unmitigated accumulation of products merely for the sake of having more to sell is like laying out in the sun too long just so you can have tan; even in the best case, you get burned. This is particularly true when adding a new category to your portfolio.
Here some examples are illustrative:
Your company only sells wine and wants to begin selling spirits.
Your company only offers French wine and you’re considering importing Italian wine.
You oversee a portfolio of Spanish wines from dozens of producers across the regions of Rioja, Priorat, Galicia, and Jerez and you want to start selling wines from the Navarra for the first time.
First, know this: one new product does not equal a new category.You aren’t launching a spirit portfolio by putting a gin in your wine catalog. Don’t say you offer canned wines, if you only have one canned rosé that is perennially out of stock.
To establish a beachhead, you have to harness the power of numbers.
The Allies didn’t storm Normandy on D-Day with just a few boats and a couple hundred soldiers. The WWII invasion of Europe required the combined the forces of over 150,000 troops, nearly 7,000 ships and landing vessels, and over 2,300 aircraft.
Luckily, launching a new category in a company or portfolio requires significantly fewer numbers.
Still, to be successful, a new category requires a certain level of “gravity” that is usually difficult to achieve with only one producer or product.This force of attraction makes people take notice and not just your customers. Your sales team will take a new category seriously when you do. This will be evidenced by the planning, money, coordination, and time that went into the creation of this new category. Launching four producers in a new category over two months is a meaningful blitz, while trying to do the same thing with one producer is an irksome diversion.
When establishing a beachhead, timing is also key.
When it came to D-Day, “the list of potential invasion dates were only a precious few because of the need for a full moon to illuminate obstacles and landing places for gliders and for a low tide at dawn to expose the elaborate underwater defenses installed by the Germans.”
Aim to minimize distractions. Launches in OND, are forced to compete with the harried nature of the busy sales season. Summer launches compete with vacations. There is no perfect time to launch a new category, but there are worse times than others.
Coalition building is a pre-requisite for inaugurating a new category.
The success of D-Day was dependent on collaboration between the United Kingdom, Canada and the USA.
If a brand or portfolio manager wants to launch a new category and doesn’t have the support of the sales team, the senior management, the order board, and even other portfolio managers, they are facing an uphill battle. Everyone needs to be on the same page because compounding mistakes undermine the effort.
All too often the opportunity to create a mindful and measured book of offerings is sacrificed on the altar of growth. How common is it that another product or producer is added to the existing assortment because “it’s a hot category” or “it’s trending?” Ultimately, a new category’s success rests on the authenticity of its belonging in the portfolio. Stakeholders can see when someone is trying to fit square peg into a round hole.
Note that adding a new sales territory is no different. Adding one sales rep to cover a new, large metropolitan area is not the same as successfully covering and servicing that geography and its customers.
However, not every category is created equal; not every category requires a quorum of products to make it impactful. For instance, I’d rarely recommend that most small or mid-sized distributors sell more than one Port or Sherry producer.