Middle-out Planning

A merchandise financial planning approach that combines elements of both top-down and bottom-up planning, starting with high-level targets and incorporating detailed store or category-level data.

What is Middle-out Planning?

Middle-out planning is a retail inventory management approach that combines top-down strategy with mid-level managers' granular insights. It bridges the gap between high-level objectives and on-the-ground execution, leading to better coordination and agile responses to market changes. This approach improves inventory planning, assortment optimisation, and overall retail performance.

How Middle-out Planning works

  • Top-Down Strategy: Retailers set high-level objectives, such as revenue targets and gross margin goals, at the corporate level. These goals are based on market analysis, historical data, and overall business strategies.

  • Mid-Level Analysis: Mid-level managers, such as regional or category managers, provide insights and data specific to their areas of responsibility. They consider local market trends, customer preferences, and other relevant factors.

  • Collaboration and Alignment: Mid-level managers collaborate with corporate teams to align their localised insights with the broader corporate strategy. They discuss potential challenges, opportunities, and the expected impact on the overall business.

  • Assortment Planning: Based on the combined top-down strategy and mid-level insights, retailers plan their merchandise assortments. This process involves selecting the right mix of products, ensuring sufficient inventory levels, and aligning with customer demands.

  • Reactive Adjustments: Middle-out planning allows retailers to make agile and timely adjustments to their plans based on changing market dynamics. If certain product categories are performing better than expected, the retailer can reallocate inventory and resources to capitalise on the opportunity.

  • Performance Monitoring: Retailers continuously monitor their performance against the set objectives. They analyse sales data, customer feedback, and other metrics to assess the effectiveness of their middle-out planning approach.
By combining corporate strategy with localised insights, middle-out planning empowers retailers to make more informed decisions, adapt quickly to market changes, and enhance overall operational efficiency.

Pros of Middle-out Planning

  1. Localised Decision Making: Middle-out planning allows retailers to incorporate localised insights and data from mid-level managers, who have a deeper understanding of regional market trends and customer preferences. This enables more accurate assortment planning and inventory management tailored to specific customer demands.
  2. Agility and Flexibility: With middle-out planning, retailers can quickly adapt their strategies based on changing market conditions and customer behaviour. The collaboration between corporate and mid-level managers facilitates rapid adjustments to inventory allocation, pricing, and promotions to maximise sales opportunities.
  3. Improved Performance: By aligning corporate strategies with localised insights, retailers can improve overall performance. The ability to make data-driven decisions at both the corporate and regional levels leads to more effective inventory management, reduced stockouts, higher customer satisfaction, and ultimately, increased revenue and profitability.

Cons of Middle-out Planning

  1. Coordination Challenges: Implementing middle-out planning requires effective communication and collaboration between corporate teams and mid-level managers. If there are gaps in communication or lack of alignment between different levels of the organization, it can lead to inefficiencies and suboptimal decision-making.
  2. Data Integration Complexity: Middle-out planning involves integrating data from various sources, including corporate databases and regional market data. Ensuring data accuracy and consistency can be challenging, especially if the systems used by different teams are not well-integrated.
  3. Time and Resource Intensive: Coordinating efforts between corporate and regional teams can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. It may require additional training, technology investments, and ongoing support to ensure a seamless planning process.


Below you will find answers to common questions
How does middle-out planning differ from traditional top-down or bottom-up planning approaches?
Middle-out planning takes a collaborative approach that combines the insights and strategies from both corporate headquarters and regional managers. Unlike top-down planning, where decisions are made solely at the corporate level and pushed down to regions, or bottom-up planning, where decisions are made primarily at the regional level and aggregated upwards, middle-out planning strikes a balance. It involves corporate teams setting overall strategic goals and guidelines, while regional managers have the flexibility to tailor execution plans based on their local market knowledge and customer preferences.
What are the key benefits of implementing middle-out planning in a retail organisation?
The key benefits of middle-out planning in retail are improved agility and responsiveness to local market dynamics. By involving regional managers in the planning process, the organisation can capitalise on their in-depth knowledge of local customers, preferences, and trends. This leads to better assortment planning, pricing, and promotional strategies that resonate with the specific needs of each region. Middle-out planning also fosters collaboration and buy-in from regional teams, leading to higher employee engagement and improved execution of strategic initiatives. Ultimately, this approach enables the retail organisation to achieve a balance between centralised control and decentralised execution, resulting in optimised performance across regions.