General Nutrition Center (GNC) recently removed Michael Archbold, who two years ago, replaced longtime CEO Joe Fortunato. The “interim” replacement for GNC’s CEO is Robert Moran, former chairman and CEO of PetSmart and a GNC independent director since 2013. The announcement of Archbold’s departure was made July 28th, 2016.
Being in the sports nutrition CPG industry for the last decade, it was natural that a large percentage of my industry friends were sharing the news story and adding their opinion of the struggling retailer. I naturally engaged a few of them in discussions about “what they would do with GNC if they were CEO?” The answers were varied but they were much different than my plan of action. That got me to ponder further on “What I would do if I was the next CEO of GNC.” To be honest, I am not even closely qualified to run a $2.6B retail business, even though I was honored when friends said “I would do a great job at it.” I am emphatic to the previous and current CEO challenges in the landscape of retail business today. Regardless, I thought it would be fun to put together a few ideas on how I would “fix” GNC.
- Go Private. This option would salvage GNC’s still-powerful multinational brand value while overhauling the company at a quicker pace than if it were to stay public. A private equity investor could swiftly put in new management and close unproductive locations in the company’s massive store base. This would also allow them to work on better online strategies that include a major focus on mobile. **Note: Petsmart did this in 2015 and Moran was a previous CEO at the company but left in 2013**
- Purchase The Vitamin Shoppe ($VSI). In my opinion, this could work in theory but I lack the confidence in the execution area of the M&A. The main issue at GNC is not competition with other brick and mortar retailers but this move would strengthen the two weak positions of both brands and create some synergies and economies of scale throughout the newly formed company. It wouldn’t change the regulatory environment, competitor landscape or business strategy issues that plague both companies.
- Create an Omnichannel Retail Strategy. Today, every retailer faces the challenge of serving a customer that’s more informed, connected, and empowered than ever before. Consumers today are increasingly able and willing to shop online and from their mobile devices, creating a “super mall” in every pocket. Omnichannel is not a new thing but it has garnered a great deal of attention in the last year as consumers chose online over in-store as their choice for holiday shopping. For those that are unaware, Omnichannel is an approach to sales that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience, no matter if they bought online or in-store last time. The main difference between omnichannel and multichannel is that omnichannel is truly integrated on the back end. The true value in this strategy is that data freely shared across the company and its channels and is at the forefront of all transactions. Imagine walking into a GNC and speaking with an associate that is carrying a mobile device like an iPad. This iPad is loaded with all your customer data, including your preferences, previous purchases, and customer data on your personal information. Imagine further that they also have access to all the data of similar customer groups and their buying patterns. This creates an amazing environment for a customer experience and to be honest opportunities for the stores to create better baskets of sales.
- Create a Unique Experience In-Store. Recent market surveys show that Millennials are more likely to spend their money on “experiences.” Some retailers like Lululemon are embracing that within their brick and mortar locations. I am not suggesting GNC start holding yoga classes in their locations but I believe their is an easy fix to create a unique experience. This would be to have every product available for a live sample. They already have in-store product demos from time to time that is funded by the CPG vendor brand. The same could be done through automated sample machines that use full products because I know some brands don’t always make product samples. This would simply be built into the marketing budgets when GNC decides to stock a particular brand/product. GNC then becomes a destination to “try” products with the main customer experience piece being training the sales associates to convert to sales while providing exceptional service. I know the argument for this would be that people will just take advantage of the free samples but I argue that if competitive pricing and channel strategies are in place, GNC would not have to worry about that problem.
- Sell as a Third-Party on Amazon (and other Marketplaces). Many big brands and retailers have said “if you can’t beat them, join them.” I am aware that GNC already dabbles in this with their private labels but I would take it a step further to diversify the channel. This would include all of the exclusive product lines and sizes they possess. This would help ease channel conflicts by not offering the whole product mix as the margins on Marketplaces are much lower for critical mass brands/products that don’t have a strong minimum advertised pricing (MAP). I would also create more private label brands that would be Amazon exclusive.