CINCINNATI — Necessity might be the mother of invention for other companies, but Shopperations was born of frustration.
Olga Yurovski launched Shopperations after experiencing years of frustration as a shopper marketer for ConAgra Foods. Shopper marketers are the people who come up with ways to sell products in stores — with displays that include recipes and coupons, advertisements that push particular products and special store events, among other strategies.
"There's an army of people doing shopper marketing, and there's a lot of stress that these guys and gals are experiencing," Yurovski said.
That's because shopper marketers must juggle so much. They often are managing budgets that come from several different departments, working with creative agencies to generate ideas, coordinating events that promote several things at once and answering to all kinds of bosses who want to know how every penny was spent and whether that spending made more people want to buy more stuff.
Yurovski's Shopperations is cloud-based software designed to help shopper marketers manage all that juggling without the paperwork and reports that eat up so much of their time now, she said.
"Half of my time in the corporate world was spent explaining to people what I do — doing reporting," said Yurovski, a Ukrainian immigrant who worked for ConAgra Foods locally for six and a half years before leaving the company in 2014. "Right now, people are just overwhelmed with paperwork."
The fact that Yurovski understands shopper marketing so well gives her a big advantage when it comes to developing a tool to help people in the industry, said Justin Thompson, a principal with CincyTech, the seed stage investment fund that aims to stimulate the growth of local IT and bioscience companies.
"People like her have an idea that only exists because they know so much because they're so deep in this field, and they understand the pain," Thompson said. "That's what investors really look for."
CincyTech was so impressed that the organization awarded Shopperations an "Imagining Grant" for women and minorities. The $50,000 she got from CincyTech gave Yurovski the money she needed to hire software developers to create Shopperations while she met with potential clients, she said.
"That," she said, "was very helpful."
'Jack of All Trades'
Yurovski hired a team to develop the software based on her specifications and had a version up and working in January.
She already has a client testing the software and she's working to get more. The client isn't ready to be named publicly, she said, but it's an agency that works with shopper marketers.
Ideally, Yurovski would like to get a regional retailer as her next Shopperations customer.
Tekisha Harvey has no doubt that she'll get there.
Harvey, a shopper marketing executive at ConAgra Foods who used to work with Yurovski, said she thinks the software would make a huge different for people like her.
"We call ourselves a jack of all trades," Harvey said.
If Harvey creates a "meal solution" that features Hunt's Tomatoes, Pam Cooking Spray, Ro*Tel Tomatoes and Wolf Brand Chili, she said, each of the managers who oversees those brands wants to know exactly how many shoppers bought their products based on the event or program that Harvey designs.
"Right now, I would have to pull that data individually and create a post-analysis of events, gathering data from multiple sources," she said. "Having a tool that as a starting point would have all that data in one place would be very helpful."
Right now, all shopper marketers have their own ways of keeping track of the data they need to generate reports and answer questions for the many different bosses and brand managers who want information from them, said Tammy Brumfield, a former vice president of shopper marketing at ConAgra Foods who worked with Yurovski.
"I had a team of 27 people, and everybody was doing it differently," she said. "Some people were keeping spreadsheets. Some people would have the knowledge in their heads. Everybody was using different tools, different software systems."
Shopperations, she said, would create consistency that doesn't exist at this point.
Other companies have discussed creating a product that would help shopper marketers, Brumfield said.
"But there isn't really anyone who has really brought anything to market," she said.
'She Is A Grinder'
That means Yurovski has the potential to make Shopperations the first company to tap into a huge potential market.
And she's been making progress quickly, Thompson said.
"She's done a great job," he said.
When Yurovski first started working with CincyTech, he said, she had little more than schematics of her ideas.
"Now she's come back and shown that she can build it, and she's built a very nice product," he said. "She's very skilled in project management and product management."
She also doesn't need anyone to tell her to keep charging ahead, Thompson said.
"She is a grinder," he said. "She moves the ball forward, and that's what's really important."
For Yurovski, it's all about building a product that can relieve the pain she remembers feeling as a shopper marketer herself.
"Big vice presidents of marketing, they ask a question in passing, and the whole department is like, 'We have to boil the ocean,'" she said. "I witnessed a lot of lost productivity."
If the people in her former profession can spend less time on paperwork and generating reports, she said, that would give them more time to come up with creative ideas that ultimately help sell more products.
That is important enough to her that she has been willing to risk her own money to create Shopperations rather than getting another steady corporate job after leaving ConAgra.
It helps that her husband has a good job and good health insurance with the Procter & Gamble Co. Her in-laws live with the couple in Loveland and can help watch their two children.
"I'm taking the opportunity here to try it," said Yurovski, who is 39. "If I didn't, I'm never going to forgive myself."
In the end, her gamble could pay off in the form of a first-of-its-kind product to help a growing industry. And that could mean big money.
But that isn't what drives Yurovski.
"I have a mission," she said, "to end the pain."
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 17 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.