Man shall not live by bread alone. – Matthew 4:4
“Make sure you focus on the bread and butter items!”
Anybody who's worked for a retailer – particularly in supply chain – has either heard or said these words at least a dozen times. And everybody knows what those “bread and butter” items are: The fast sellers. The products that customers take out of the stores by the cartload. If you were ever stocked out on one of those items, the damage to your brand would be catastrophic.
Hence the perceived need to make sure your people in charge of replenishment are watching those items like a hawk.
Here's the thing though: Fast selling items with continuous demand in every store are precisely the ones that require virtually no effort whatsoever. They turn so quickly and the volumes are so well established that they basically manage themselves on autopilot. In most cases, these are the items that your competitors also sell (and potentially consider “bread and butter” items themselves).
The reality for most brick and mortar retailers is that they are in one of the following two categories:
- You're competing with amazon, or;
- You will soon be competing with Amazon
Unless you're Walmart or Costco, you really do need to be a category killer to overcome the perceived advantages while exploiting the weaknesses that “endless aisle” retailers like Amazon provide to customers. Yes, you need to have an online presence and offer as many channels to the customer as possible, but that won't be enough.
You can drive to Walmart right now and get a pack of wood screws, but are you sure will they have the size you need?
You can order the exact wood screws you need from Amazon, but will they be easy to find and can you get them right now if you need them?
If you're like me, you don't even ask those questions. The moment you identify a need for a particular size and type of screw, you jump in your car and go straight to Home Depot or Lowes and march straight to the aisle that has every type of screw and fastener you can imagine, confident that you'll find what you need.
Sure, there's a lot of slow selling dog crap in there when you look at the assortment SKU by SKU, but if you only pay attention to the fast selling items, then you're competing head to head with Walmart and Costco – probably not a winning strategy.
It's a broad assortment of those long tail items that really make you stick out in the customer's mind. They're the key differentiators that can automatically and subconsciously disqualify your competitors when people are in the market for what you're selling.
There's your real bread and butter.