BASHAS' TO ADD FOUR OF ITS BIG CARD AREAS

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Bashas' Markets here plans to expand its large 180- to 225-square-foot greeting card formats to an additional four stores.Bashas' continual expansion into larger greeting card departments demonstrates how bullish the retailer is on a category that is growing 35% annually."The profit and customer draw from greeting cards is one of the backbones of our general merchandise business

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Bashas' Markets here plans to expand its large 180- to 225-square-foot greeting card formats to an additional four stores.

Bashas' continual expansion into larger greeting card departments demonstrates how bullish the retailer is on a category that is growing 35% annually.

"The profit and customer draw from greeting cards is one of the backbones of our general merchandise business and it is especially crucial with the competition in nonfood from the other trade classes," said Jeff Manning, vice president of general merchandise.

The larger greeting card formats will go into three stores this year, and another next year, as the chain aims to forge an image as a greeting card destination stop, added Manning. In addition to the enlarged departments, Bashas' has considered the large party shop concept that was instituted by some big chains last year. However, the idea has been placed on hold due to the nonavailability of space at prototype stores, said Manning.

"We looked at party shops. We loved [the concept] and think it will work. But we have no timetable for the first one. We just couldn't get the [prototype] store big enough to incorporate a party shop. That is our prototype for our next five stores," he said. Although party centers may not be in Bashas' immediate future, the chain is closely monitoring the concept's success at other chains. "Where others have done party centers the concept seems to have paid off given the right demographic area. It's another niche that you can fill that also gives your customers added value."

Manning said deciding where to install a party center is key to its success, and it must be justified bydemographics. "You need a high-income area with younger children and better educated families that do a lot of entertaining. To this group color-coordinated, matching themes and products are an important ingredient for children's parties and adult functions." Party centers offer expanded gift wrap, streamers, balloons, accessories, candles, themed ensembles used for social gatherings and special occasions. Bashas' reconfiguration of store space into larger greeting card sections translates into business that might otherwise go to the card shops and other competitors.

"Greeting cards need a boutique approach in a prime traffic flow that is set off from the rest of the store and is as close to floral as possible," noted Manning. Bashas' sets up its greeting cards at high-profile areas close to the front entrance, where the department has experienced strong sales and shopper traffic. The chain presently has 12 card sections in the 144- to 225-square-foot range, and also has upgraded many other stores with 70- to 120-square-foot departments. "We've found that by locating the larger departments in an in-line double-wide aisle, with cards on both sides and a fixture running down the center, improves customer response. It more than likely will keep a customer from going to a drug store, a card retailer or gift shop," added Manning.