ACME SPORTS CENTER ROLLOUT

MALVERN, Pa. -- Acme Markets here plans to roll out its sports equipment and toy center concept to more stores that have the space to accommodate the 8-to 16-foot section.The chain has gradually expanded the section to some 30 stores since it began the program last year.Don Styer, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care, told SN he envisions the section will go into "our larger

MALVERN, Pa. -- Acme Markets here plans to roll out its sports equipment and toy center concept to more stores that have the space to accommodate the 8-to 16-foot section.

The chain has gradually expanded the section to some 30 stores since it began the program last year.

Don Styer, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care, told SN he envisions the section will go into "our larger facilities, where we have the space to provide the proper mix."

He did not know the exact number of stores or new locations for the section. "We'll have to continue to evaluate the demographics of the [store's] area, and the performance of each 4-foot segment [of related sports equipment products] that comprises the overall department to really tell us how far to go," he said.

Styer said stores that have had the expanded department for six months are generating good turns on the merchandise. "[The inventory] is seasonally adjusted and the mix changes for the different sports seasons," he added.

"The nice thing about this merchandise is it appeals to all age groups and a mainstream customer base. It contains a core everyday mix with products like yard games such as paddle balls, yard darts as well as soccer balls, footballs and basketballs and knee pads. It has everything you need."

The section is a way to cash in on the growing interest in outdoor sports and an active lifestyle that the Acme executive noted "people are more interested in today, and that draws continued attention to these kinds of products."

The 100 different items the section offers are merchandised on peg hooks, with larger and boxed items arranged on shelves lower in the display. Average retail price of the various products ranges from $4.99 to $16.99.

Besides Acme, other chains, such as A&P's Super Fresh Markets, Foodarama Supermarkets and ShopRite, are experimenting with the sporting goods merchandise.

In April, A&P's Super Fresh Markets division, Florence, N.J., began testing a 100-item mix in a 12-foot sporting goods section at its Glassboro, N.J., Super Fresh.

"This kind of general merchandise section at a supermarket is an interesting concept and experiment," said Bill Vitulli, A&P's vice president of government and community relations, Montvale, N.J.

The birthrate of the 1980s has meant "a lot of kids and many others are into sports in the 1990s. Kids' soccer and baseball teams and leagues are spawning a greater demand for these kinds of items," said Vitulli.

A sporting goods section "can help position a supermarket to compete against the mass merchandisers and improve the one-stop shopping concept," noted Vitulli.

Another chain with a similar program, Foodarama Supermarkets, Freehold, N.J., which operates 21 ShopRite stores, offers a variety of sports equipment as a regular department. Said Joe Saker, president, this "allows us to compete against the mass merchandisers."

The retailer established its sporting goods section at a 100,000-square-foot unit in Neptune, N.J. It features a selective mix of sports-related toys and equipment.

"It's a new category for us. We're being selective in the mix and are concentrating on impulse items in baseball mitts, footballs and bats," Saker said.

"We're going after that business because the Wal-Marts are going after our [food] business," he added.