What Does a Category Manager Do? (Including Duties and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 15 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you have an interest in the retail sector and believe you understand what consumers want, you may make a good category manager. Category managers have leadership roles with major retailers. You may become a category manager after advancing in the retail sector. In this article, we answer ‘What does a category manager do?' including the skills they apply, what they do to secure their jobs, how much they earn and how they progress in their careers.

What does a category manager do?

A category manager controls the development and sales strategy for products in an assigned retail category. Category managers oversee all products and brands within their assigned category. The category planner tasks they perform vary depending on their employer. Here are some of the duties that category managers usually perform:

  • reviewing category products with sales and marketing team members and assessing if they are still in demand

  • adding and deleting products from the category

  • engaging market research companies to conduct research on behalf of the business

  • researching and analysing sales and consumer data to gauge demand and grow the category

  • meeting with product managers to discuss the products they manage within the category

  • setting the pricing for products

  • determining marketing, including advertising strategy and in-store placement and promotion

  • managing supplier contracts including negotiating terms, approving new contracts and renewing existing contracts

  • developing strong relationships with suppliers to ensure consistent supply and introduction of new products

  • developing strong relationships with stockists to ensure products are priced, displayed and promoted in line with strategic plans

  • tracking the financial performance of the category and its individual products

  • forecasting product demand trends and financial performance

  • developing and maintaining category reports

  • reporting category performance and predictions to the procurement or purchasing manager

Related: How to Write an Effective Category Manager Resume in 7 Steps

What skills do category managers use?

Category managers use technical skills to successfully manage the products within their category. They pair their hard skills with soft skills that help them build connections with their suppliers and colleagues. Here are some of the important skills that businesses often list in their category management job description posts:

Industry knowledge

Successful category managers have a clear understanding of the retail sector and what inspires consumers to buy products in their category. They know how the procurement cycle works and the principles of strategic sourcing. Their strong industry knowledge helps them devise the best strategies and make the most accurate predictions.

Business knowledge

The best category managers also have an in-depth understanding of the business and its place within the industry. They have a thorough understanding of the products in the category and a basic understanding of products in other business categories. Their understanding of the company's products, strategy and the vision of the executive board helps them make strategic decisions aligned with the overall objectives of the business.

Negotiation

Superior negotiation skills help category managers strike deals with suppliers that favour the business. Their negotiation skills also help them persuade stakeholders to support their strategies. When category managers negotiate well, they can find good long-term solutions that both parties are happy with. If conflicts arise with suppliers or colleagues, category managers use their negotiation skills to settle matters efficiently. This approach helps their relationships stay strong.

Related: How to Develop Negotiation Skills

Interpersonal skills

Category managers use their interpersonal skills to build strong and meaningful relationships with suppliers, colleagues and stakeholders. People naturally gravitate to people with strong interpersonal skills. Displaying these skills can help category managers engage suppliers and get help from people in the business. Good interpersonal skills can also help professionals advance to a category manager position.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Research

Category managers try to find out as much as they can about the category's market, customers and their buying habits. For example, they want to know more than how many customers bought a specific product. They want to understand what motivates purchases, such as whether the customer feels loyal to the brand, believes the product is good quality or likes the product's packaging. Understanding all these factors can help category managers learn why the products in the category are appealing. They can use their research to replicate the success of certain products throughout the category.

Analytical thinking

Category managers use analytical thinking to get meaning from sales reports and consumer research. Analysing market data helps them compare sales within the product category and the category's performance to competitors. They may use this data to make changes to improve the category's market position. Analysing consumer data helps them determine how customers' tastes change and how the business may stay relevant. Assessing purchasing behaviours can help category managers develop appealing sales and product promotions.

Problem-solving

Category managers are problem solvers who use their research and industry knowledge to create smart category strategies. They use their problem-solving skills to develop strategies to improve sales, grow the category and serve consumers better. Good category managers may develop a range of different solutions that they trial and assess. This approach helps them identify the optimal strategies for their category.

Computer literacy

Category managers use computers to manage and present data from their research. Advanced spreadsheet and analytical software skills help category managers manage and gain insights into their data. They may also use presentation software to present their findings to business stakeholders.

Tips to help category managers succeed

Category managers come from a variety of backgrounds and have a range of qualifications. As career paths vary, you can choose the path that best suits you. Here are some tips that may help you advance to a category manager position:

Pursue a bachelor's degree

While some category managers have diplomas, many companies prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. Completing a degree shows your commitment to gaining an in-depth understanding of your chosen career. Various degree programs can teach you relevant information for a category management job, such as a Bachelor of Business (Logistics and Supply Chain Management), Bachelor of Business (Marketing) and Bachelor of Commerce.

Gain experience as a product manager

Product managers have similar duties to category managers. As they focus on a single product within a category, becoming a product manager can be a good transitional role for aspiring category managers. Consider spending between five and 10 years developing your skills as a product manager before applying for category manager roles.

Stay within the same retail category

Retail is a broad industry with many different categories including cosmetics, pet care and appliances. When you choose an area of retail you're most interested in and remain within this category, it can help you advance in your career. Specialist retailers may prefer applicants for category manager jobs to have at least one year of experience in their category. The more experience you have, the more attractive employers may find you.

Apply for internal promotions

When you apply for a category manager job at the company that already employs you, it can give you an advantage over other candidates. People within the organisation have already seen your skills in action and can vouch for your performance. These people also understand how you fit within the corporate culture. You also have a better understanding of the products, product categories, customers and strategic vision of the business. You can let your colleagues know you're interested in becoming a category manager so they can inform you if any vacancies become available.

What is the average category management salary?

The average salary for a category manager is $117,684 per year. Experienced category managers typically earn more than people new to the position. The average salary for a junior category manager is $81,323 per year. Location and employer can also impact category manager salary.

What are future career options for category managers?

Some category managers stay in category management jobs until they retire. Other category managers advance to higher manager positions. Here are some common roles people take after becoming category managers:

1. Procurement manager

National average salary: $112,889 per year

Primary duties: A procurement manager locates resources for a business. They also ensure all products procured for the business meet customer demand and align with the company guidelines. Category managers report to procurement managers. Procurement managers report to company executives.

Related: What Is a Procurement Manager and What Do They Do?

2. Project manager

National average salary: $120,625 per year

Primary duties: A project manager leads a project team and ensures they deliver the project on time and on budget. They hire the project team, delegate tasks and track the project's process.

Related: What Is a Project Manager?

3. Chief executive officer

National average salary: $151,598 per year

Primary duties: A chief executive officer develops the overall strategy of a business. They manage a company's operations and resources to help the business grow its profits and customer base and enjoy long-term success.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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