CONTINUITIES USED AS WEAPONS AGAINST MASS MERCHANTS, DISCOUNTERS

Retailers are using dishware, bakeware, music and other continuities to keep sales from going to mass merchandisers and discount stores, retailers report. "Not only do [continuities] build traffic, they also offer our regular shoppers another reason to come to us," said Jay Madden, vice president of Carl's Grocery, Mission, Texas. Some campaigns have been so successful that several chains recently

Retailers are using dishware, bakeware, music and other continuities to keep sales from going to mass merchandisers and discount stores, retailers report. "Not only do [continuities] build traffic, they also offer our regular shoppers another reason to come to us," said Jay Madden, vice president of Carl's Grocery, Mission, Texas. Some campaigns have been so successful that several chains recently sold out of certain pieces. This prompted stores to reorder to keep shelves stocked.

Some of the more recent promotions have included hand-decorated porcelain china pieces at Tom Thumb, Dallas, and a tape and compact disc campaign at Buehler Foods, Jasper, Ind. However, the best supermarket continuities often feature mainstream products that consumers use often, according to nonfood buyers. "A towel continuity is one of the best. It increases store traffic and overall sales," said Tom Bollinger, vice president of John C. Groub Co., Seymour, Ind. "It's also something that all families and all individuals use continually." He added, however, that towels are an expensive promotion.

Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, is "getting back in continuity promotions in a bigger way," said Mike Adamson, manager of general merchandise communications and buyer. A stoneware stamp saver card promotion now running at one of Associated's ad groups is exceeding expectations.

"The product has been just blowing out of here," said Adamson. He pointed out that while profit margins on continuities are "fairly thin, at around 8%, we hope as we perfect these continuities down the road that they will build traffic and generate profit." Indeed, continuities are high-impulse and offer products not usually carried on a regular basis, retailers say.

"These promotions increase general merchandise sales," stated Carol Isacson, director of nonfood at Plumb's, Muskegon, Mich. "They keep shoppers focused on general merchandise and make customers aware you do have those items available when they are in your store." Isacson added that continuities offer retailers 8% to 12% margins.

Bollinger of John C. Groub Co. said a Pepperell towel promotion, which featured department store quality merchandise, worked out very well.

"Towels are something all customers need at one time or another," he said. "They are purchased for personal needs or for guest purposes and they wear out." Stoneware is another continuity that can run as a short-profit program, he said. "Consumers like the idea of being able to change the look of what they've been using for three or four years," he said. "Also, like towels, they can be used as gifts for college students or for when kids get married. It has a wider range of uses."

As for where continuities should be displayed, up front works best, said Bollinger. Isacson of Plumb's agreed.

"The best place for continuities is at the front of the store, close to the start of the shopping pattern," Isacson said. "It's best before the cart is full and overflowing, since at the end the shopping trip there may not be any room left, and they may put off picking up that week's featured item." Under a stamp saver card promotion at Associated Food Stores, which will end next month, customers must complete a saver card with 20 stamps worth $100 in store purchases. Once completed, the card can be redeemed toward a 20-piece set of service for four at $19.99. Shoppers who redeem two cards worth $200 in purchases can get the set for $11.99. The set also can be purchased at $27.99 from open stock, said Adamson, along with a five-piece completer server set.

Though profit margins on continuities are thin, Associated Food hopes to strengthen programs in the future so that they will generate more profit, he said.

Plumb's promoted Corning cookware earlier this year, and is planning a stoneware promotion next January.

"We'll be doing a holiday glassware continuity for the major fourth-quarter holidays. It will start in October in time for Christmas," said Isacson. These have done well in past years, as have Cannon towels and other towels in irregulars, she added.

Plumb's runs dishware continuities 10 to 12 weeks; towels, 10 weeks, and Christmas, eight weeks. All continuities are for profit and are no longer planned as traffic building events. "The continuities are high-impulse and offer products that aren't usually carried on a regular basis," said Isacson. "They really increase general merchandise sales." She noted, however, that when continuities run, there's a slight drop in health and beauty care sales.

Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio, runs about five continuities a year, said Bill West, director of nonfood. A cookware promotion that just ended was the most successful program the retailer has had in several years, he said.

"It did so well we had to reorder products to keep stores supplied," said West. Items included various sizes of fry and sauce pans in a department store quality priced at $7.99 to 17.99. Some items were discounted up to $5 off suggested retails.

One of Seaway's hottest continuities was a Corning French White Collection that started Jan. 15 and ended at Easter. Price points ranged from $1.99 to $13.99. "Although we expected the continuity would end up being slow because of Easter, it actually turned out to be red hot," he said. "In fact, it did so well we had to reorder a couple hundred cases of the last three or four items several times. We think the items, a large casserole, platter and roaster, were in heavy demand for preparing Easter dinner."