Staying Competitive in a Tough Economy

A moribund economy is not the best time to take over as a category manager in charge of identifying what customers will spend their money on, but Pat Zelechoski is up to the challenge.

Zelechoski, named category manager for NOCO Energy Corp.’s 31 NOCO Express convenience stores in the Eastern New York, will take on the responsibilities of sales, margins, product placement, ordering and buying. At the same time, she will continue in her role as pricebook manager, which entails SKU management, bringing in new products and ensuring retails are matching up with budgeted margins, resulting in a fair price for the consumer.

“I think the biggest challenge right now is the economy and stocking the type of products our customers want to purchase, and negotiating the products you need with the suppliers,” Zelechoski said. “There’s a lot going on with cigarettes right now in New York State, and trying to make that a profitable category has been a little tough.”

New York has the second-highest state cigarette tax in the nation, with smokers paying $2.75 per pack. Rhode Island is first with a state tax of $3.46

Having begun her career with NOCO 12 years ago, Zelechoski is well positioned to meet those challenges. Her goals as category manager are to increase overall sales, improve the look of the stores and increase profits for NOCO.  She has held various positions since joining the company in 1997, including district manager, but spent most of her career with NOCO managing the pricebook, which she took the initiative to build for the company. 

“We didn’t have a pricebook when I started here, but I was able to develop one,” Zelechoski said.

She also gained experience as a category manager when she took on the role for six months after a colleague left the company. That experience combined with her background working with pricebooks gives her strong insight into how to keep stores on track for maximum profitability. 

Category Management is Key
To stay competitive in a tough economy, Zelechoski said examining sales is the first step. “Before purchasing something, you go back and look at your SKU management and see if you sold everything you purchased and, if not, were there certain locations that sold the product versus other locations?” she said. “We have some city locations and also suburban locations, so it really depends on the product and what it is.” 

Gaining this knowledge helps Zelechoski better know the demands of her consumer base and how she can best stock the store to fit their needs.

Having just started the position officially in April, Zelechoski said she is looking forward to getting out in the field more, working with store managers, examining different store sets, exploring ways to improve sales and the product mix, and finding opportunities to gain in these areas.

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