Category Manager Job Description
Usually working for retailers, category managers handle a specific category of merchandise such as electronics, clothing, auto supplies, or home goods. Their responsibilities include managing a cross-functional team, making decisions about which products to sell, helping with procurement, assisting with marketing and promotion, and overseeing inventory. Category managers require familiarity with marketing, sales, and supply chain management and are both creative and analytical in their decision-making. This job can entail traveling to vendors and working overtime.
Category Manager Duties and Responsibilities
No two category managers are exactly alike, as specific skills vary from employer to employer. However, after analyzing online job postings, we identified several core duties and responsibilities:
Develop Category Strategy
After performing research on product trends and customer demand, category managers develop strategies for new or updated products that could improve their category’s overall performance. They also work with the marketing team and build partnerships in the industry to promote a category’s products while cutting costs and increasing product sales.
Checking inventory levels, procuring additional stock, and getting rid of excess or unwanted inventory are all part of a category manager’s job. Other inventory management tasks include handling product placement, optimizing storage, and creating regular reports on product availability.
Category managers monitor the performance of both individual products and their category overall. This involves using data to determine the best- and worst-performing products, creating profit and loss statements, and assessing performance against competitors. Using this information, category managers assess their product and category strategies and develop solutions to improve performance.
Handle Vendor Contracts
Considering vendor performance, quality, and costs, category managers seek vendors in the industry, request information, and use their criteria to choose the best suppliers for their category’s products. They negotiate contracts during the signing process and at the time of renewal, and also monitor vendors’ adherence to contractual terms throughout the relationship.
Often working with a cross-functional team of marketing, procurement, and purchasing professionals, category managers provide leadership to execute their category’s strategies throughout the organization. They inform team members of category and product goals, assign roles and responsibilities, and work together to drive performance.
Category Manager Skills and Qualifications
As leaders and strategists, category managers have strong decision-making and people management skills. They often a background in the category of products they manage. Key employer requirements include a business-related bachelor’s degree and up to five years of experience in a related role. Employers also like to see the following skills:
- Supply chain management – involved in the product selection, purchasing, and procurement processes, category managers understand the product life cycle and how to turn their product ideas into goods that are efficiently made available or delivered to customers
- Project management – working with purchasing, procurement, and marketing employees to plan and execute product and category strategies requires project management knowledge
- Financial analysis – category managers use financial analysis techniques to analyze reports, determine product and category performance, and seek ways to cut costs and improve sales
- Negotiation – confidence and a thorough understanding of negotiation strategies help category managers persuade vendors to offer better contract terms
- Analytical thinking – these managers use analytical skills to decide between suppliers, determine new products and promotions for their category, and overcome challenges with inventory management
Tools of the Trade
Some tools category managers use include the following:
- Supplier management software (Retail Link, Apollo, Nielsen Spectra)
- Enterprise resource planning software (Oracle, Sage, Biztrak)
- Productivity software (Microsoft Office)
Category Manager Education and Training
Category managers often have a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management, finance, or business administration. These degree programs cover economics, business analytics, accounting, operations management, logistics, purchasing management, and management information systems. Some employers prefer candidates with a Master of Business Administration degree. These programs include core business classes and offer relevant specializations in supply chain management and operations management. In addition, some employers value the Certified in Production and Inventory Management and Certified Professional in Supply Management credentials offered by the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS).
Category Manager Salary and Outlook
The median yearly pay for category managers, classified as wholesale and retail buyers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is $53,340. The 10th percentile makes about $30,100, while the best-paid category managers make over $97,800. Full-time category managers usually receive health insurance packages, retirement plan options, and paid time off.
Because companies can easily outsource their procurement tasks to outside parties, the BLS expects an employment decline of 2 percent for category managers through 2026. However, there are still opportunities for category managers to find jobs since the nonfarm wholesale and retail buyer occupation is very large, with over 120,000 jobs. Worker retirement can also open spots up for new category managers.
Are you interested in learning more about category management? Here are some helpful resources to review:
Category Management Association – the CMA offers category management professionals training programs, professional development tools, networking opportunities, and information about best practices in the industry. It also has a certification program
Caegory Management in Purchasing: A Strategic Approach to Maximize Business Profitability – as a CEO with extensive purchasing experience, author Jonathan O’Brien helps category managers lower costs while offering high-quality products that the market demands. He uses case studies to show how managers can solve problems and make profitable purchasing decisions
American Production and Inventory Control Society – known for offering popular industry certifications for supply chain management professionals, APICS also provides local networking opportunities, a job board, career planning resources, an online library, and industry events
Consumer-Centric Category Management: How to Increase Profits by Managing Categories Based on Consumer Needs – dedicated to helping category managers select products that meet the needs of customers in their industry, this book covers market analysis, advertising, retail strategy, product planning, and performance monitoring. Success stories from companies like General Mills and Hewlett-Packard help show real-world applications of category management techniques
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