AFFILIATED SW DIALS LINQ FOR PREPAID PHONE CARDS

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Affiliated Foods Southwest here has teamed with LINQ Telecom, Fort Worth, Texas, to offer prepaid phone cards to the cooperative wholesaler's 1,000 members, including 400 grocery retailers."It's a new service that we're offering our stores," said John May, general manager of Shur-Valu Stamp Co., the wholesaler's trading-stamp subsidiary, which is handling the prepaid program.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Affiliated Foods Southwest here has teamed with LINQ Telecom, Fort Worth, Texas, to offer prepaid phone cards to the cooperative wholesaler's 1,000 members, including 400 grocery retailers.

"It's a new service that we're offering our stores," said John May, general manager of Shur-Valu Stamp Co., the wholesaler's trading-stamp subsidiary, which is handling the prepaid program. Noting that Affiliated is a competitive player in the seven states surrounding Arkansas, May said prepaid phone cards are just another program to help give Affiliated retailers a competitive edge. "We think we're competitive and we feel it's a good program for our retailers." Of the 1,000 Affiliated members, 600 are convenience stores, said May.

Affiliated bought into LINQ's technology and reliability, said May. "We were looking for a quality, reliable brand of calling cards to supply our stores. We believe the LINQ partnership will provide our customers with that service. So far, I'm pleased with them and we've already received a positive response from store owners." The wholesaler began shipping cards to stores last month.

Prior to the new supply agreement with LINQ, Affiliated handled private-label Shur-Fine cards. "We never were into [prepaid cards] that much but we're into it now," stated May.

"They have had products in the past," commented Reid Fitzgerald, LINQ's vice president of sales and marketing. "They chose us because of our stability and the quality of the product we offer." LINQ will supply product on an exclusive bases to Affiliated. The Shur-Fine private-label cards will no longer be carried, Fitzgerald said. Distribution of the tear-away cards will be done through the wholesaler. The cards, inactive while warehoused, will be batch activated by Affiliated as stores purchase them. Only the supplier logo will appear on the cards. "We're open to co-branding if they're interested in that in the future. Today it's strictly a LINQ product," said Fitzgerald.

The cards will be attached to what Fitzgerald described as high-quality cardboard pieces that display promotions and rate information. The cardboard pieces can be hung from "a pegboard type display," he said, adding that they would be merchandised near checkstands. "We're also providing some acrylic display racks for them."

The cards are being sold in denominations of $5, $10 and $20 and come in two rate tiers. The 3.9 cent-per-domestic-minute card carries a 49 cent-per-call surcharge, according to Fitzgerald, while the 8.9 cent-per-domestic-minute card does not.