As Melissa McPherson hones her category management skills at the NOCO Express convenience chain, she’s also at the forefront of how the convenience chain is preparing its future course.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Growing up in the Buffalo area, Melissa McPherson knows how to keep moving forward even when adverse conditions rise up to test your focus.
Of course, it’s not only the weather that can bring challenges. So too can being a category manager for a growing convenience chain. For those in the know, category management in one is a process of driving and delivering value, growth and innovation. Of course the daily responsibilities can seem endless.
At 39 NOCO Express locations, McPherson manages non-alcoholic beverages, salty snacks, candy, grocery, auto, general merchandise, packaged sandwich, dairy, frozen, and health and beauty cosmetics. Those are a lot of important categories for the family-owned NOCO, headquartered in Tonawanda, N.Y., which recently marked 85 years in the western part of the state.
Because of her influence at the growing business, CSD is recognizing McPherson as a 2019 Category Management Leader.
The mornings start early for McPherson.
“The biggest challenge is trying to balance everything,” she said. “Coming from Pricebook it was easy to almost go through your day with a checklist, but moving into category management is pretty different. No day is the same as the one before. It’s always changing and you just need to be able to adjust your time.”
She also oversees NOCO’s Pricebook manager, training her in category management as well.
Before coming to NOCO, McPherson worked at the Wilson Farms convenience chain, as part of the chain’s shrink team, then moved on to point-of-sale coordinator and then onto Pricebook manager.
After Dallas-based 7-Eleven acquired 188 Wilson Farms convenience stores in April 2011, McPherson had the opportunity to work for another community-oriented convenience chain in New York State, where’s she’s happy for the opportunity because she has a direct effect on the type of products customers choose every day.
Providing customers with what they want, where they want it and when they want it requires attention to detail and constant due diligence. Packaging and brand is a key consideration in some customers’ decision-making. Others may want functionality and convenience. Regardless, the decision-making process is key. “We look at each item differently,” McPherson said. “Some items we will test out at a few key locations so we can gather customer feedback. But then there are other items where you know you have to have it right away.”
It also involves tracking ongoing retail trends, “what is the new hot flavor and how can we get it in the stores.”
No convenience operation is absent of challenges. Like other Empire State c-stores, NOCO faces rising transportation costs—driven in part by local driver shortages and tariffs.
FRIENDS & FAMILY
Also, no job as diverse as the one of category manager would be complete without platform changes and sometimes, reinstituting good ideas. One of the biggest for McPherson’s team and NOCO Express was relaunching the brand’s “Friends & Family” loyalty program in 2018.
“This occurred back in May and has been a huge hit with our customers. We offer a three-cents-per-gallon savings as well a variety of in-store specials that are only available to our Friends and Family members.”
While serving its customers is the primary agenda for NOCO Express, the c-store retailer works to bolster its core foundation, including its company culture. It’s something McPherson sees happening in various ways.
“Last year we began ‘a day in the office’ for our store managers,” McPherson said. “The store managers come into the corporate office and spend one on one time with each member of the office team to get a better understand of their role. It really helps the managers see how everyone may be working on different tasks, but all working for the same goal.”
When she’s not making the NOCO experience better for patrons, McPherson enjoys cooking, reading, gardening and spending time with her family.