FACE THE JUNGLE

NORWALK, Conn. -- Wayne Locurto wants to yank brand marketers out of their high-backed desk chairs and force them to stand and face their own products in the supermarket aisle."We try to do our pitches in stores whenever possible," said the president and chief executive officer of Actmedia, the nation's largest in-store advertising company. Most of the time, he observed, "you can't get them out of

NORWALK, Conn. -- Wayne Locurto wants to yank brand marketers out of their high-backed desk chairs and force them to stand and face their own products in the supermarket aisle.

"We try to do our pitches in stores whenever possible," said the president and chief executive officer of Actmedia, the nation's largest in-store advertising company. Most of the time, he observed, "you can't get them out of their offices."

On rare occasions when he can persuade marketers to take an unblinking look at how their products fare on supermarket shelves, Locurto said they are usually influenced by what they observe.

"If there is anything that would help this industry, it is to get the clients to realize what a jungle a retail store is. They look more user-friendly, but when you actually get into an aisle, there are so many products -- 30,000 SKUs in the average store. And the shopper is going to spend 21 minutes tearing through that," he said in an interview with Brand Marketing.

Actmedia, based here, specializes in guideposts for the retail jungle. Its array of in-store media ranges from shopping cart, aisle and shelf-edge signs to point-of-purchase radio and in-store demo and merchandising programs, and to the near-ubiquitous winking red lights of the Instant Coupon Machine.

On the strength of that service offering, Actmedia occupies the lead position in the $450 million in-store marketing field, with about $220 million in revenues in 1993. That figure has doubled over the last four years while profits quadrupled, he says.

While new competitors -- some with deep pockets -- keep cropping up, Locurto said he is rooting for them all to succeed.

"I like to have some competitors out there that are trying to sell in-store marketing," he said. "We are still in our infancy, so I need a healthy Catalina out there. I need a healthy Time-Warner selling the industry, more people coming to the brand managers and promotion managers trying to sell in-store."

Despite the emphasis by some of his competitors on new high-tech products for in-store, Locurto said he is convinced that growth in the supermarket business over the next several years will come from brand marketers doing more with currently available message systems.

He said he guesses that in five years the in-store marketing industry will be approaching $1 billion in size.

"To double this business, you don't need new technologies, you don't need new products. It's there already. There is lots of utilization to be added. We could be two to three times our size if we just sold out what we have available."

Locurto conceded that the downward spiral in technology costs has made some high-tech media viable -- satellite-delivered audio, for example. Many others have a way to go, by his reckoning.

"Now, two things could happen. One, the cost may come down so that what used to cost $10,000 per store would costs two or three or five."

Two, if in-store became more mainstream, it could charge prices more competitive to broadcast. Currently, Actmedia advertising products sell at about 10% the cost per thousand of daytime television time.

His advice to brand marketers: "Get with it and see that what we are in this business for is to move product. If you want to be able to measure the impact of what you do, measure it at the cash register."