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    In a little less than a year, CPG CatNet has grown into a major online resource for category management professionals.

    When entrepreneur Donna Frazier launched San Antonio, Texas-based CPG CatNet last December, little did she realize how quickly membership in the association and demand for the group's services would grow. Now 1,000-plus newsletter subscribers and members strong, CPG CatNet is regarded both domestically and abroad as the premier resource for category management professionals who appreciate being connected to their colleagues and to critical information needed to perform their jobs most effectively.

    "The developmental stage of the association has been a really exciting time," says Frazier, who before establishing CPG CatNet served as a category management recruiter for many of the food industry's leading retailers, manufacturers, and suppliers. "It's been a fast year, and we've worked exceptionally hard to make CPG CatNet the one-stop resource for training, data and software products, filtered industry news, category management career advancement tools, and, perhaps most importantly, peer interaction."

    Member services

    With membership in the organization open to those maintaining "a professional interest in category management best practices," Frazier and her able staff, including newly appointed research director Glenda Ledesma, offer a number of services to companies and individuals who join, including online discussion forums, resource directories that provide access to tools and information cross-referenced by topic, an events calendar outlining retail seminars and share group activities convening around the world, a weekly online newsletter, and career services for both candidates searching for category management jobs and companies sourcing talent. Particularly exciting for Frazier is the CPG CatNet category management training and certification program that's being discussed and developed by members.

    "Training is an extremely pertinent subject," she explains. "Because work experience varies significantly, with some category managers having worked in retail and others having worked in manufacturing or the supply side of the business, it's oftentimes difficult to assess a candidate's actual abilities for job placement and recruitment purposes. With this concern in mind, we recently began collaborating with a 25-member supplier share group organized by the East Coast consulting firm Customer Managed Solutions (CMS). This private discussion group is mapping out a certification program that will enable the retail industry to identify category managers who possess basic, intermediate, or advanced skills; consumer insights training; and so forth."

    Open to discussion

    Continues Frazier :"Our next step in the process includes reviewing the certification drafts with our CPG CatNet online public discussion group, a mixed set of anonymous retailer and supplier participants. We're listening and benchmarking, and we're asking industry colleagues, including members of our own advisory group, to identify what collection of coursework, testing, and actual job experiences are necessary to achieve each level of certification. We'll fine-tune the work even further when presenting it to private discussion groups, with participants chosen in noncompeting member categories."

    "Our plans for the next year include further developing our new Category Management Vendor Referral Service," she adds. "We'll be investing a significant amount of time getting to know the strengths and unique services offered by each vendor in order to thoroughly understand their products and services."

    Frazier stresses that CPG CatNet does not -- and will not -- recommend one vendor's products or services over another. She notes: "There have been so many requests from suppliers for referrals of vendors that we've decided to bite the bullet and offer the referral service on top of the resource directories which provide for members vendor lists by channel and category. We'll always be acting in the role of linking consultants with members -- we're not providing the actual consulting services."

    Adds Frazier: "It's important to understand that we're not functioning as a trade association, but rather a peer networking and information service. We definitely serve as a point of connection for trade associations working to advance their members' category management efforts, and I'm pleased to report that during the past year we've established exceptional relationships with groups such as NACS, GMDC, and others."

    While, for the most part, food retailers and in particular independents believe that category management can benefit their companies through increased productivity, improved shrink control, and sales optimization, Frazier points out that many have no idea how to launch such programs within their stores.

    Smaller retailers benefit

    "For family-owned supermarkets with limited resources and experience, I believe that our organization is invaluable. Any company, unless it's huge and has been doing category management for years, hasn't amassed the kind of information that will be available through CPG CatNet. Right now the resource directories are being fleshed out by the new research director. Even those independents that rely solely on their wholesalers for category management services find the site very resourceful in that they can subscribe to and receive information specific to their areas of interest."

    Also useful to independents is the CPG CatNet weekly online newsletter, which pulls news from over 600 sources and reaches more than 1,000 professionals around the globe. "It's the first in the world devoted to category management issues," notes Frazier. Additionally, she recommends that independents participate in her group's retail independent forums devoted explicitly to category management.

    Global reach

    It's rewarding for Frazier and her team to know that CPG CatNet has captured the attention of category managers worldwide. "When we hooked up with Google this summer, we attracted a tremendous amount of international attention and began getting hits from numerous areas, including South America, Great Britain, and others," she recounts. "This popular search engine, along with countless word-of-mouth referrals, has allowed us to generate a global network of category managers who actively exchange ideas and assist one another. Their appreciation for CPG CatNet truly validates the need for our organization."

    Independent Retailing Editor Jane Olszeski Tortola can be reached at [email protected].

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