DISPLAY OF POWER

Like a champion without his Wheaties, a retailer who doesn't give proper attention to the battery category isn't going to turn in a peak performance.Customers prowling the supermarket aisles for groceries probably don't have batteries on their minds, so it's up to retailers to juice up their battery merchandising to maximize impulse sales."If you ask me what is the No. 1 priority in the retail outlet,

Like a champion without his Wheaties, a retailer who doesn't give proper attention to the battery category isn't going to turn in a peak performance.

Customers prowling the supermarket aisles for groceries probably don't have batteries on their minds, so it's up to retailers to juice up their battery merchandising to maximize impulse sales.

"If you ask me what is the No. 1 priority in the retail outlet, it is about having the appropriate display and clear communications at the display," said Michael Harris, president of the Boston office of Marketing Drive Worldwide, which is based in Westport, Conn. "That's absolutely crucial for driving the category."

Some supermarket retailers recently have been putting some more power behind their battery promotions, driving incremental sales and turning batteries into more of a destination at their stores.

At Penn Traffic, Syracuse, N.Y., for example, the company has been adding battery endcaps in its supermarkets, according to Joe Ramirez, spokesman for the company, which operates the Big Bear and other supermarket banners. He said Penn Traffic now has batteries on endcaps in about 50 to 60 stores.

"We consider it basically a display-driven category," he said. "We place batteries in many high-visibility areas of the store."

Putting batteries in high-traffic areas also helps deter shoplifting of the items, Ramirez pointed out.

In addition to the endcaps, Penn Traffic also merchandises batteries on clip strips in various departments throughout the store.

Harris, whose company is the ad agency for the Duracell battery brand and other products under the Gillette umbrella, said batteries are not the impulse purchases retailers assume they are.

"It will surprise you to hear that more than half of all battery purchases are preplanned," he said. "When you stop and think about it, it really makes sense, because people say, 'Oh, I've got to get some new batteries because they've run out in my Walkman' or whatever. It tends to be driven by that."

Another retailer that's beefing up its battery displays to drive sales is Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas. The 73-store company, which operates the Minyard's, Carnival and Sack 'N Save banners, this past fall rolled out a battery-merchandising strategy in which it significantly increased its battery displays using extenders at the checkouts and clip strips on the endcaps.

"If you don't try to keep getting after it, it's not going to do as well as it should," said Dean Owens, vice president, general merchandise, Minyard.

The company, which offers batteries from Duracell and Eveready, also does more aggressive battery merchandising for seasonal promotions, Owens said. Stores sometimes use disposable, semipermanent floorstand displays that can serve as lane blockers or be placed in other high-traffic areas.

The new strategy calls for a minimum of six clip strips per store at the ends of gondolas near various categories year-round. Stores use two to four of the checkstand extenders per store, which straddle the checkout-lane merchandisers and hold about nine stockkeeping units on each side, he estimated. Some stores also use display spinners.

Owens said the aggressive merchandising strategy was tested a few years ago through a program that involved several general merchandise categories. It was coordinated by greeting-card maker American Greetings, Cleveland. Minyard had drifted away from the strategy, however, before rolling it out in time for the 2001 holiday season.

He said sales have reacted "quite well," adding that battery sales have started to recover after a post-Y2K lull when consumers refrained from buying after stocking up in late 1999.

He said margins are "OK" on the products.

"You're not talking about a 99-cent ring with batteries," he said.

Meanwhile Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz., recently conducted an "Energy for Learning" sweepstakes promotional tie-in with battery maker Panasonic, Secaucus, N.J., to drive sales of Panasonic's alkaline batteries designed for digital devices. Three grand prizes of $500 savings bonds -- to be used to pay for education -- were awarded, and additional consumer electronics were also given away.

"This promotion was a strong vehicle for both Panasonic and Bashas'," said George Fiscus, vice president, general merchandise, Bashas'. "There was a great spirit of partnership in creating the event, which we think translated to in-store excitement for our customers."

During August and September 2001, customers could be automatically entered into the sweepstakes promotion by purchasing two packages of AA or AAA Alkaline for Digital batteries using their Bashas' Thank You Card, at $1 off retail. The promotion kicked off with an in-store event at one of the Bashas' stores, complete with radio station tie-ins.

Bashas' also called attention to the event using a banner on the outside of the store and several in-store signs, including shelf signs and signs on the floorstands featuring the price.

Brian Kimberlin, senior marketing manager, Panasonic, estimated that sales of the batteries in the promotion rose about 95%.

Fiscus said only that the promotion "created strong double-digit lifts in volume."

The promotion was created exclusively for Bashas' as a way for Panasonic to gain a foothold in the market while also creating some goodwill in the community, according to Kimberlin.

"This was something relatively new to us," he said. "One of our goals this year is to do more of these customized promotions."

Fiscus said Bashas' typically merchandises batteries in-line, as well as on film-drop end fixtures and in the chain's one-hour photo departments.

Despite the growing number of supermarkets offering low-priced, store-brand batteries, Fiscus said consumers seem to gravitate toward the national brand names.

"Our strongest battery sales are always directly linked to an ad feature, a hot price or a peak seasonal window," he said. "We believe that the customer must be confident in the quality of the battery, however, as hot prices have never proved to drive no-name batteries in our stores."