CATEGORY CACHET: STOP & SHOP GAINS INSTANT EXPERTISE

QUINCY, Mass. -- Stop & Shop has moved itself to the head of the class with its Staples-branded office and school supply sections.According to Peter Hettinger, the chain's vice president of nonfood items, establishing the branded sections gave Stop & Shop access to Framingham, Mass. based-Staples' category, procurement and brand expertise."We've always had a basic assortment [of office supplies],

QUINCY, Mass. -- Stop & Shop has moved itself to the head of the class with its Staples-branded office and school supply sections.

According to Peter Hettinger, the chain's vice president of nonfood items, establishing the branded sections gave Stop & Shop access to Framingham, Mass. based-Staples' category, procurement and brand expertise.

"We've always had a basic assortment [of office supplies], and devoted a lot of space to stationery and art supplies. We were very happy with the productivity of the sections, but we had this feeling that we could do better. As we started experimenting with it, we saw very shortly thereafter that, yes, you could make a fairly dramatic impact in the category if you focused on it."

Nancy Shalek, president, Shalek Advisors, Purchase, N.Y., said Stop & Shop is not alone in partnering with national retailers that are making a small presence in supermarkets with branded departments. "It provides branding support for supermarkets and gives them a unique differentiation from their competition," she said. "It also takes somebody who knows what they're doing in running a general merchandise department into the supermarket environment. Staples knows what products to sell."

Hettinger said such co-branding efforts are all a matter of survival. "Supermarkets are going to have to venture into areas they are not as comfortable in as the core areas of their business."

He added that it's just as easy to pick up office supplies at Stop & Shop as it is to make a separate trip to Staples. In addition, the Staples brand name lends the department instant legitimacy, particularly in New England, where consumers are familiar with the name, he pointed out.

The Ahold USA division is in the midst of rolling out the branded departments, ranging in size from 40 to 80 linear feet, to all its stores, including Giant-Landover division's stores.

Departments are branded and signed with Staples' name, as well as some private-label products. The aisles are usually located within the nonfood department. The section backs onto a perishables department that runs down the rear of the store. There is secondary perimeter exposure for the department in an endcap, Hettinger said.

Currently, Stop & Shop has 60 sections up and running. Departments were installed first in stores where another office supply prototype had been tested, and in new and remodeled stores that opened. Resets started last week throughout the rest of the chain. Giant-Landover's branded Staples sections begin rollout later this month, Hettinger said.

At present, the only marketing for the sections is their in-store exposure to customers through signage and grand-opening events at some newly built stores. Eventually, there will be weekly advertising in the circular to draw attention to the department, he said.

The rollout to all 560 Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover stores will be complete by the end of July, he told SN.