AMERICAN STORES TO SELL PHONE CARDS IN MARKETS

SALT LAKE CITY -- American Stores here has signed a three-year exclusive agreement with SmarTalk Teleservices, Los Angeles, to sell prepaid phone cards in its supermarket divisions.Approximately 600 stores of Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa.; Jewel Food Stores, Melrose Park, Ill.; and Lucky Stores, Buena, Calif., are expected to begin offering 30-, 60-, 120- and 240-minute SmarTalk cards in the second quarter,

SALT LAKE CITY -- American Stores here has signed a three-year exclusive agreement with SmarTalk Teleservices, Los Angeles, to sell prepaid phone cards in its supermarket divisions.

Approximately 600 stores of Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa.; Jewel Food Stores, Melrose Park, Ill.; and Lucky Stores, Buena, Calif., are expected to begin offering 30-, 60-, 120- and 240-minute SmarTalk cards in the second quarter, said William Kahn, SmarTalk's vice president for corporate communications. American Stores did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The food-and-drug chain has been selling SmarTalk phone cards in its drug divisions -- Sav-On Drugs, Buena Park, Calif.; Osco Drug, Oak Brook, Ill.; and Jewel-Osco Southwest, Albuquerque, N.M. -- for a few years. But the food divisions carried several phone-card brands from other suppliers.

Acme, for example, previously carried Call Time 30-minute phone cards for $9.99 and 60-minute cards for $18.99. SmarTalk bought the Call Time brand from Frontier Communications, Rochester, N.Y., last year.

At Chicago-area Osco Drug stores, SmarTalk 30-minute cards retail for $9.99, a 90-minute card is $18.99, and a 120-minute card sells for $35.99.

American food-and-drug units most likely will price their SmarTalk phone cards similarly, said Kahn.

To stimulate higher prepaid-card shelf turns, the food divisions will display empty phone-card wrappers throughout the store, which customers can exchange for a live card at checkouts.

"Displaying the empty packaging lets customers know that these cards are in the stores," stressed Kahn. Some of American's food stores have carried live cards primarily at checkout registers and customer-service counters, where they aren't easily visible.

American Stores and the vendor are developing an advertising and promotion program that will target major holidays and seasonal events. These will range from Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, back-to-school, Christmas and others, Kahn said.

He also noted that point-of-purchase materials will be customized for the grocery chains, and SmarTalk will expand its training program to encompass American's food-channel employees.

Trainers will visit stores at least monthly, said Kahn, working one-on-one with employees. "The most important aspects are the selling points of what a phone card is, how it works and why it saves people money," he said.

"Cashiers should also be prepared to explain to customers why prepaid cards are economical, and that they're ideal as a gift."