The Last Ten Yards

The last ten yards. The metaphorical length of time, or distance, your product takes from arrival to stores to when it is headed down the checkout conveyor belt. Also known as “the last 50 yards”, or “the last mile,” the last ten yards of the supply chain are the most critical and most often time when a marketing campaign goes awry. Carelessness, miscommunication and mishandling are all culprits in the last ten yards not going as planned.

Losing Sales and Tying Up Capital

The end game is proper handling, arranging and displaying of the product or display in order to get in front of customers’ eyes and into their shopping carts.
In brick and mortar retailers, shelf space is at a premium. In his article, “Managing the Last 50 Yards,” James A. Cooke provides an interesting perspective, “If the product is not on the shelf when the customer comes into a store to shop, then there’s a ‘lost sale.’ And if the product is in the store, but is still sitting in the backroom, then it’s more than a lost sale—it’s also inventory that’s tying up working capital.”

Some retailers’ last checkpoint in the supply chain is “arrived in store.” But, that’s not the end game, is it? The end game is proper handling, arranging and displaying of the product or display in order to get in front of customers’ eyes and into their shopping carts. Instill practices and processes to keep a keen eye on the display once it gets to the store.

Effective POP Execution

To eliminate SNAFUs in the last ten yards, here are some considerations:

1. Acknowledge the impact of overarching decisions

Problems can stem from all the way upstream to corporate headquarters. Harvard Business School professor Zeynep Ton has been researching this problem for years. He states, “Many retailers tend to overlook store processes and treat store labor as an expense to be minimized. Too often, retailers make decisions regarding product variety, promotion, and packaging with no regard for what goes on in-store.”

Bad calls at the leadership level result in quality issues, lower productivity in the stores, and unnecessary, redundant steps that further complicate the jobs of in-store team members. Hire a team of experts to conduct an audit to understand each store’s specific nuances. One store’s back room may be twice the size of another’s. And, one store may have five shelves where another has seven. Knowing the intricate details of each store will eliminate many problems in the last ten yards.

To ensure customer satisfaction, do not overlook seemingly tedious supply chain activities such as having the right product in the right place, at the right time, with the right label, and the right price.

2. Provide timely, to-the-point communication

Get your employees on board with your ideas by considering them when you craft product assembly instruction sheets. If your display arrives with a simple note that says “set in store next Friday,” the chances of execution going smoothly is slim-to-none. It is simply not timely, nor is it clear to the field member.

3. Supply both intellectual and tangible tools for employees

Be creative. Consider a fun, personable music video showing how to set up your laundry detergent display encouraging the in-store team to follow through. Or, empower your team with a mobile phone app that allows for on-the-go check-ins to ensure all displays that should be out, are out.

It’s no surprise that many stores have disorganized, messy backrooms. If a team member can’t find a promotional sign right away, they might defer to a reorder sheet instead of taking the time to find it. Provide the tools, ideas and hardware they need to be organized. Instill a backroom cleaning day, and make it a regular team event. Periodically send the team organizational tips- keep communication lines open.

4. Listen to your in-store employees and show them appreciation

Stop, collaborate and listen. Let your team know you’re on their side. The people in the field know what’s happening in your stores, and are the best resource for ideas and information about in-store execution. Invest in employee training. Not only will they be extra reliable and capable at their jobs, they are more likely to stay longer.

In [Zeynep] Ton’s book, The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits, he states, “a product that has made it from China to Topeka can get stuck in a back room because there aren’t enough employees to bring it the last ten yards to the selling floor.” It’s important to employ an efficient number of individuals to keep the store running. If employees are spread too thin, they’re rushed and either make mistakes or take shortcuts to get work done, including setting up that promotional sign or display.

Finally, keep your retail stores lean using Kaizen, which translates from Japanese to “change for the better.” Conduct a quick week-long Kaizen event led by store managers to discover what small ergonomic changes can make a big impact in team members’ everyday lives.

5. Test ahead of time for ease of use and set up

The last step in the supply chain process is entrusted to a store team member, who could be anyone from a 16-year-old kid to a retiree working a side-job. The best way to ensure your display meets its intended destination is to put yourself in their shoes. Like it or not, they may not have the same passion for your product as you do.

If the end user grasps the concept quickly, the better chance the display will be up and out on the sales floor on time. Create your tools and instructions, then proceed to test someone who did not engineer the display, and does not have prior experience working with the item at hand. Other options to consider are set-on-arrival or pack-out displays. If the store receives a display already put together, they can set it in the proper location, no assembly required.

Looking to the Future

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “there’s an app for that.” Soon enough, all store environments will be equipped with mobile phone apps that make it easier for stores to follow time sensitive product from receipt to set. Technology is taking a front seat in the supply chain, specifically the last ten yards. More and more companies are utilizing technological devices to keep track of product.

Check with your suppliers to see what they can help you with in the process leading up to the last ten yards. They should be able to offer mobile app development, instruction manual creation, store profiling, or all of the above.

Ensure your hard work throughout the supply chain is given complete attention at the point of activation. The investment made upfront will save you time and money in the long run.

Visit our photo gallery to get inspired for your next POP project.