People to Watch 2020: Vanessa Vickers

Company: The Nature’s Bounty Co.

Title: Senior Manager, Category Development

Age: 33

Education: University of Arkansas, Walton College of Business (bachelor’s, business administration, retail marketing emphasis); John Brown University, Soderquist College of Business (masters, leadership and ethics)

Vanessa Vickers grew up in Bentonville, Arkansas, as the daughter of a Walmart executive. Fascinated by what she heard her father talk about, her childhood dream was to be a buyer someday. She followed that dream into college at the University of Arkansas, where she studied retail marketing and interned with Hershey in category management, basically being treated as a category analyst her final year in school. “I was barely 20 years old and making recommendations to buyers for the largest retailer in the world,” she recalls. “I remember being so shocked and excited the first time a buyer implemented something based on my opinion.”

Following an early graduation, Vickers went to work at E. & J. Gallo Winery – but had to push her start date back a month because she was not yet 21. She spent three years as a category analyst drawing planograms for Walmart and then was recruited to Campbell Soup Co. to take on her first advising role. She was there for two years before finding her way to Unilever, where she again landed in category management for Walmart for seven years, the first several developing the company’s planogramming process.

Wanting to take her turn at a smaller company where she could get more exposure, she made the move to Nature’s Bounty about a year ago and now serves as the company’s senior manager of category development, supporting the Walmart/Sam’s Club accounts for the vitamins and sports nutrition categories. “I support the sales teams as they present to Walmart,” she says. “A lot of data presentation, strategy work, new item sell-in – basic internal category management work.”

Vickers has been successful tying traditional category management with shopper insights, work that she says is constantly evolving. “I view category management as having three components that have to be combined to create value: insights, analytics and execution,” she explains. Whether you’re trying to influence internally or externally, people want to understand why something is happening or why it’s important, she notes. “What is the human want, need or perception that is causing something to happen?” Finding the quantifiable patterns in data that reinforce the insight comes next, followed by the recommendation to execute. “If you can’t actually start, stop or change something you’re doing, the insights and analytics component just become fun facts,” she says.

Storytelling, Vickers believes, is critical to influencing with data since consumers are inundated with non-stop messages and information. “It can be really hard to find a nugget of information that’s both new news and has enough scale to be relevant,” she says, but the key is finding a way to engage people that cuts through the information clutter.

Vickers prides herself on having had the opportunity to be a part of some very high-performing teams. “I can’t look back at anything in my career and call it ‘my’ success, but I can recall a lot of late nights and long weekends surrounded by some really amazing people working together to accomplish great things,” she says.

Similar, maybe, to her father and the influence he had on her early on? “He’s worked at Walmart since before I was born and I was always fascinated by the things he would talk about,” she says. “I remember him referencing the data they had that would show how often people bought things together – like peanut butter and jelly – or how often people would turn left versus right when they entered a store. I thought that was so cool.”