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Meet | Susan Martin, SMART IN PLANNING

We’re catching up with a handful of members from across our industry community to see how they’re navigating these unprecedented times. Meet SMART IN PLANNING CEO & Founder Susan Martin.

by The AFC

28 September 2020

AFC | Covid-19 Industry Profile Series

We’re catching up with a handful of members from across our industry community to see how they’re navigating these unprecedented times. Meet SMART IN PLANNING CEO & Founder Susan Martin.


Susan Martin


I’ve been in Merchandise Planning my entire career; that’s 25 years, so I guess that means I really like it.  SMART IN PLANNING, is the culmination of that experience.  I started out with a mantra to “change the face of Planning”, and that still drives me today, because I can see so much potential for Retailers and Planners, through doing Planning well.  

I’m super proud of what we’ve achieved in these past 5 plus years, and the impact we’ve had.  Our services and support span literally  “everything Merchandise Planning”.  That includes establishing Planning in new environments, rebuilding Planning through systems, process and education in more mature environments, system implementation support, bridging vacancies, and Board Advisory.

I have a tight team of Planning professionals, with amazing depth of experience across different product types, business structures and technologies.  They are so adaptable and solution oriented, and they quickly become part of the family in our clients’ businesses.


What are some of the key challenges that you in your business, AND others in your industry community are facing around COVID-19? How are you navigating these?

We work exclusively with Retailers and Wholesalers, we don’t operate in other sectors.  That means when they bleed, we bleed too.  That’s not just a commercial thing – it’s our community.  So while we have been fortunate to weather this period better than some, we are acutely aware of colleagues and friends going through very tough times.

The nature of our work means we see first-hand the commercial positions that business are in;  we see their trade figures, margin and stock positions; we know the health of the business, the direction it’s heading, and the opportunities and challenges being faced.  

While some businesses have enjoyed fantastic growth, others have are experiencing a lot of uncertainty, OTB and cash flows pressures, decreased demand, loss of confidence, major shifts in demand and supply, and more.  Through a series of free webcasts, with industry groups like AFC, and through our YouTube channel and other platforms, I’ve shared a lot information and strategies to help businesses navigate these challenges.

Our clients that have been trading well have ramped up our support.  We’ve been assisting with unusually high volumes of forecasting to stay in stock and meet demand, and also with system implementations and process improvements to put those clients in an even stronger position going forward.

SMART IN PLANNING Webcast #1:  AFC Curated Merchandise Planning Workshop >>

SMART IN PLANNING Webcast #1: AFC Curated Merchandise Planning Workshop >>

SMART IN PLANNING Webcast #2:  Merchandise Planning and the Road to Retail Recovery >>

SMART IN PLANNING Webcast #2: Merchandise Planning and the Road to Retail Recovery >>


What are some of the opportunities for our industry that you see coming out of this crisis?

It can feel insensitive to talk about opportunities when there are still so many businesses who are in a bad way, but I can see some learnings and opportunities through a Merchandise Planning lens, for example -resetting overstocks, learning that they can manage with less inventory, an increased focus on forward Planning and Merchandise Planning, taking more considered decisions on inventory investment, setting stronger foundations in system and process, reducing risk and cementing key supply relationships, and so on.

These times have pushed businesses to critically assess what stock is really needed, forcing assortment choices, thinking ahead rather than doing what they’ve always done.  These are standard Planning practices, but they are getting more emphasis, which will help drive a better result.

I always say that one of the reasons I love Retail is because it’s so dynamic – there are always new ways of doing things, new ideas, room for creativity and innovation.  This environment in particular favours that culture.  Operationally, it lends itself to trailing and testing ideas without having to commit too heavily eg try different offers, ranges, programs, layouts, messaging in different stores or channels.  Being agile is much more than a cool term.

With all the shifts in the market place in demand, supply and consumer behaviour, there is also a chance to shine in areas that might not have previously been your lane.

I absolutely recognise that many businesses and people are under enormous strain, and some unfortunately won’t recover.  But if there is to be some good news, these are the areas where I see it, in a Merchandise Planning context.


How will you be passing the time during social distancing?

We have always had a component of remote work in our business model, so we were able to continue without much disruption.  It would have been great in some ways to get a lot of things off the “to do” list, but think I just put more things on it – my brain has been ticking overtime.

This has translated into a number of webcasts and online workshops, where I’ve tried to help as many people as possible with thinking and strategies to navigate the uncertainty.  I also put out a Planning Postcard series to stay connected with my community, and bring a bit of sunshine and stimulate their thinking while in isolation.


How can people get involved?

A Passion project for me is training.  I’m a big believer in “growing your own” when it comes to Merchandise Planners, as that’s how my own career path started.  We’ve been developing an online course over the past couple of years, and have kept putting it on the back burner, while we prioritised Client commitments and projects.  Although we have continued to be busy through this time, we have also done a big push to get our first course up and ready to launch, so hopefully a few people who do have some extra time capacity can get the benefit of that.

This has been in works for way too long (read as “my entire career”), but I am beyond excited to finally be able to go live. 

WANT more?

You can find out more from SMART IN PLANNING and their SMART SCHOOL via the website links below.

And follow their journey on Youtube, Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram as @smartinplanning.


smart school 2.png

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