Merchandisers have been described by some as “The Silent Sales People” of retail, important team members who help supermarkets and suppliers make sure product is on the shelf at the right time to satisfy shoppers’ requirements and, of course, sell more product. To others they are “shelf stackers,” but those in the know are aware that the role and the potential impact is so much more than that.

I believe the all-round skills needed better suit the sales description.

But no matter what they’re called, merchandisers, in my opinion, form the backbone of the supermarket industry. They’re the people who get up in the small hours to make sure there are enough groceries on the shelves for when shoppers wake up and get down to the supermarket.

They’re at the frontline of any marketing and sales strategy. It’s a job that supports the marketing and promotion of particular suppliers and products, and it does this in a variety of ways: erecting in-store displays to showcase products, rotating according to use-by date, making sure the price is right – and filling shelves with the correct product.

It’s hard work, with generally unsociable hours, and the pressure is always on, because when one store is completed, they’re often off to the next, and the next … all with the goal of finishing before the shoppers arrive.

It’s a job that calls for a cool head, common sense, and a lot of responsibility, and those starting out have to undergo training provided by suppliers or their agencies. That includes completing a health & safety requirement called the NZ Food & Grocery Council Safe In-Store Pass. It’s an online course designed by retailers and suppliers to improve the safety of merchandisers (and sales reps) in-store. It covers common hazards, procedures on handling them, and how to act when an incident occurs – all vital tools in a busy early-morning supermarket.

In addition, those who handle food can gain an FGC Food Handling Approved Pass, giving them skills to safely handle food for public consumption.

Merchandising can be a stepping-stone to a career in management/sales representative, with many companies valuing the ability to be accurate under pressure that merchandising brings. Most merchandising agencies offer staff personal development plans setting out targets and opening up conversations about career paths

Part of a merchandiser’s job involves communicating with supermarket managers and helping resolve product issues as they arise.

So, as well as knowing their products, they need to know a lot about how a supermarket works, and also how individual stores like to do things. That means they’re the eyes and ears for suppliers on what products are selling and what aren’t, with their reports often beating sales data back to the supplier.

But the strongest part of the value of merchandising is the job they do to get product in store and ready for sale. As one of FGC’s merchandising agency members puts it, the last 50 metres is the hardest part of the supply chain, and has been shown to be the most expensive for retailers. For that reason, the job merchandisers do as a service to retailers should be applauded and valued. Unfortunately, that’s not universal, and some continue to receive less-than-ideal treatment.

I’ve written about this previously, but I continue to be disappointed when I hear reports about some of the treatment directed at some merchandisers. It ranges from rudeness and shouting to swearing, and even instances of bullying and harassment. This isn’t acceptable in any workplace. Friendliness and courteousness is free and does make a difference to people doing an already stressful job.

Many merchandisers are highly valued by the stores they work in, and those stores surely get the best out of suppliers.  It seems to me that attitude to merchandisers (and store culture generally) comes from the top, with store owners setting the tone.

The reality is, without merchandisers helping retailers, the work just wouldn’t get done, putting even more pressure on already busy supermarket staff. So thank a merchandiser today and remember that professional courtesy doesn’t cost a cent.

(Originally published in Supermarket News)