Profile: Tonya Herring, Chief Merchandising Officer, SVP Merchandising, Giant Food
Tonya Herring believes every career is a journey and a set of experiences that builds your skill set for the next challenge. She has been fortunate to have multiple roles throughout her career, including positions in operations, marketing and merchandising.
Like many in the business, Herring started in a grocery store with Safeway in Northern California. She worked her way through the ranks to district field positions and eventually became Safeway vice president of own brands for perishable category development.
In 2015, she came to Ahold USA as the senior vice president of non-perishable. Last year, she was asked to be the chief merchant for Landover, Maryland-based Giant Food.
What are your current responsibilities?
HERRING: My team and I are responsible for all aspects of merchandising – pricing and promotion, all category management and commercial planning. As a merchant-led organization, my team builds the company sales strategy engaging key vendors and suppliers to ensure a complete and purposeful assortment for our customers. But we can’t do it alone. We work with our marketing and insights partners to ensure we understand trends, brand targets and communication channels to effectively tell our story. In addition, possibly the most important element is that we work closely with our store operations teams ensuring clear communication as they execute the plans and engage with our customers every day.
Describe the structure of your organization as it relates to merchandising, including how you interact with shopper marketing and with insights.
HERRING: Giant Food is organized to deliver great food for our customers in an easy way so they can live their lives. As merchants, our first responsibility is to ensure we are a great local brand that focuses on this promise for our unique shoppers in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore markets. We work closely with our vendor partners, Giant marketing, store operations and Giant insights to build the plans and programs that deliver on this. Any program we consider and put in front of our customers should be supported through data, align with what we as a brand are promising our customer, and is accretive to the goal of being relevant to our customers’ lives.
How does your company define success for its in-store marketing programs?
HERRING: So much of our success as a brand is determined by the in-store experience for our shoppers. Key elements of that are the products, prices and messaging/information that they find at service counters and on shelves. Giant wants to offer a unique experience to our customers that enhances the store shopping visit. That can mean occasionally taking risks on new items, small brands, local finds or global flavors. On every item, our pricing must be competitive and offers must be easy to understand. In-store elements should do several things – be unique, build affinity for Giant, connect to the overall seasonal messaging and most importantly be valuable for our shopper.
How has the emergence of the omnichannel shopper influenced your overall approach to merchandising?
HERRING: Our lives are full of activity and at times complex so we need the places we shop at to be as flexible as our lives are. That means being able to grab that fresh snack on my way to a concert with my friends, or all the right ingredients for a dinner party, and to be able to have my weekly needs delivered to me when I choose. For Giant Food it’s not just about how our shoppers get their food, but what they are getting and the great assortment we provide them. That assortment has to be right for the shopper no matter where or when they get it. If we have that right, and enable shoppers to easily access it, then that’s what omnichannel is all about for me.
How has merchandising changed in recent years? What trends are happening now?
HERRING: Merchandising development and decision making have changed to be more consumer-focused and purposeful. We want to make the most informed decisions so we use all of the data available to us to make the best decision for our consumers. We have the ability to dive deep into this data on a store-by-store basis. The consumers are telling us that natural, organic, minimal ingredients, sustainability and more all play an important role in their product-buying decisions. They are also telling us that company’s values are key in their decision making of where to shop.
HERRING: I have been fortunate enough to be a part of centralizing an organization, four different organizational redesigns, two major mergers and building two groups from the ground up. But my most successful accomplishment has been in my people. Mentoring women and men and then watching them grow from administrators to directors, from analysts to code writers and from zero grocery knowledge to experts, have been my biggest accomplishments in my career. To build success, you must build teams that win. I have been very fortunate to learn and be mentored from the best in the business. Being given the opportunity to pass that along is what drives me and drives my teams to be our very best everyday.
HERRING: At Giant Food, the merchandising organization is 1 year old as of January. My biggest success in 2018 was building a new organization that delivered on financial expectations, built relations inside and outside our organization and is ready to deliver on the future.