BEYOND THE MAINSTREAM

For supermarkets looking to maximize video sales and enlarge their base of rental customers, special-interest titles -- especially sports and fitness tapes -- may be one solution.This category is often understocked in supermarkets, where competition for limited shelf and floor space means that mainstream, broadly popular titles have priority. "The place for special interest is in permanent racked

For supermarkets looking to maximize video sales and enlarge their base of rental customers, special-interest titles -- especially sports and fitness tapes -- may be one solution.

This category is often understocked in supermarkets, where competition for limited shelf and floor space means that mainstream, broadly popular titles have priority. "The place for special interest is in permanent racked sections," said Greg Rediske, president, Video Management Company, Tacoma, Wash.

Many retailers, lacking that luxury, choose to forego this market instead. "For us it was such a small piece of the pie that it wasn't worth pursuing," said Clifford Feiock, video coordinator, Nash Finch, Minneapolis.

Other retailers, however, make an attempt to stock a variety of product in order to satisfy as many customers as possible. "Most of our departments are quite small," said one video specialist who asked not to be identified, "so we're limited in the amount of sell-through that we can bring in. But we've still managed to carry documentaries from MVP and Real Entertainment regularly."

This particular retailer said his departments do a solid rental business in hunting and fishing titles during the season. "Our customers appreciate our carrying titles beyond the hot renters that everyone has. It helps distinguish us from our competition," he added.

For retailers able to devote the extra space during this, an especially crowded fourth quarter, the sell-through slate includes several sports and fitness titles worth considering for their profit potential.

Sports, one of the most extensive of the specialty categories, is a major complement to movies in a balanced product mix. In sell-through it offers good profit margins as well as cross-promotional opportunities, while in rental it adds variety to the inventory.

One popular sport is wrestling, which has long been a strong renter, said retailers. "Wrestling continues to be a solid renter for us in both urban and rural markets," said the video specialist. "And along with a strong T-shirt market, there's also a high demand for the used copies we sell."

"Our low-priced rental lines from pay-per-view events perform well for the supermarkets that stock them," said Robert Mayo, marketer for Titan Sports of Stamford, Conn., which produces World Wrestling Federation tapes.

Indeed, the sell-through wrestling market, which has been secondary to rental, is now growing. "On the latest VideoScan sports chart, six of the top 10 sellers, and all of the top four, are WWF titles," said Mayo. (VideoScan tracks national sell-through video sales.) Titan is poised to take advantage of this. "Our fourth-quarter focus is on sell-through, which there has been little emphasis on," said Mayo. "Wrestlemania XIV," "Royal Rumble," "No Way Out," all three-hour tapes duplicated in standard-play format, are being repriced to $19.95. In addition, on Nov. 24 the company will release four 60-minute tapes featuring wrestling superstars, each priced at $14.95 each.

Regarding supermarkets, "there's been a stigma with WWF in the past," said Mayo, "but we're breaking through that. Sell-through is performing well where it's placed correctly, which is in high-traffic areas."

Baseball has new life this year, due in part to the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. In response, PolyGram Video, New York, has just released "Race for the Record," which documents the sluggers' quest, at $19.98 retail. "This offers a huge opportunity for supermarkets," said PolyGram's Senior Director of Specialty Programming Sal Scamardo, "since it's an instant collectible item."

PolyGram will also market a tape of this year's World Series, to be released three weeks after the final game. "It's important to get these out as quickly as possible to take advantage of the hype," said Scamardo.

Like other suppliers, PolyGram recognizes supermarkets as a valuable outlet for special-interest videos. "Supermarkets have always been important supporters of sports and fitness tapes," said Scamardo, "since they make sense as impulse purchases."

In addition to its Major League Baseball output, PolyGram also produces National Football League titles. Just released in its "NFL's Greatest Games" series is a condensed version of the 1958 NFL Championship that features all of the plays as well as the original commentary, at $19.98. The company will also release its Super Bowl video in early February.

Other new NFL titles combine music and sports with equal emphasis. "NFL Country" features duets with football stars and country artists like JoDee Messina and Randy Travis, while "NFL Jams" showcases urban stars like Boyz II Men and Faith Evans. "One of the main selling points is that these are created for home video," said Scamardo. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Burbank, Calif., with its ESPN Video and ABC Video lines, is another major sports supplier. ESPN Video has a wide range of product that includes NASCAR, CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams), college basketball, hockey, extreme sports (the ESPN X Games), college football, sailing and horse racing. In December the company will release "NASCAR 1998: The Year in Review." ABC Video supplies volleyball, baseball, figure skating, golf and Olympics titles, most retailing for $12.99 to $14.99.

Both Buena Vista and PolyGram stress the market's variability. "Supermarkets are strong in theatrical but sports is more sporadic," said Jackie Lapin, head of media relations for ESPN Video, New York. PolyGram's Scamardo added, "The challenge for us has been to extend interest throughout the season."

Fitness, another major special-interest category, is also considered largely seasonal, with many supermarkets stocking product in January. "The traditional wisdom is that fitness tapes do best in the first quarter, after holiday over-indulgences give way to New Year's resolutions," said the video specialist.

"We're already soliciting for January promotions of The Firm, Reebok and Kathy Smith titles," said Bill Bryant, vice president of sales, grocery and drug, for Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn.

Sony Music Video, New York has strengthened its market presence with its acquisition of the complete line of Kathy Smith videos, which have been bestsellers for well over a decade. "We're looking forward to bringing these into supermarkets," said Alex Beeman, senior director of marketing for SMV. "We've repriced the titles and redesigned our point-of-purchase to be more in keeping with that environment."