GERLAND'S UNIT GROOMS PET CARE EXPANSION FOR SUPERSTORE FIGHT

HOUSTON -- In response to increased competition from pet superstores, Gerland's Food Fair here plans to double the size of its pet care department at its Deer Park store, which is now being remodeled.The new section, said Kim Botkin, nonfood director of the 20-store chain, will consist of two sides of an aisle plus a split aisle. The 24-foot department is slated to debut the end of August. Gerland's

HOUSTON -- In response to increased competition from pet superstores, Gerland's Food Fair here plans to double the size of its pet care department at its Deer Park store, which is now being remodeled.

The new section, said Kim Botkin, nonfood director of the 20-store chain, will consist of two sides of an aisle plus a split aisle. The 24-foot department is slated to debut the end of August. Gerland's devotes 12 feet of space to pet care at its other units.

"We're really going to dress it up and make it look like a store within a store," said Botkin, citing enhanced endcap displays and larger in-aisle displays as important ingredients.

Gerland's will continue to use Grocers Supply, Indianapolis, as its supplier of pet care products at Deer Park and will service the department itself.

Since the chain is still plotting its pet care assortment at Deer Park, Botkin could not give a stockkeeping unit count. He said the new department will feature an expanded bulk-rawhide program and larger items like pet carriers and dog beds that the other, smaller locations do not stock.

"We're working with Hartz to direct-order additional items our supplier doesn't carry," he added.

In pet food, Botkin said, the Deer Park Gerland's initially will stock more units and larger sizes of items it already carries.

Brian Brickarell, pet food buyer for Grocers Supply here, said he had seen figures from Ralston Purina that put pet superstores' share of the area's market at 40% or higher.

"They've got to do something to compete with the Petcos and the PetsMarts here," said Brickarell of the Gerland's strategy. "I think it's a good move for them. I don't know what it's going to do, but at least they're attacking the situation.

"It's not a battle retailers are going to give up on too easily," he added.

The profitability of pet care explains why. Botkin said his margins on Hartz products were about 50%, "35% on more price-sensitive items" like two-in-one collars and shampoos.

"Every day it seems like another Petco opens," he said. "We want to get some of that business back from the category killers."

After a Walgreen unit next door to the Deer Park store closed, Gerland's took over the vacated space and is in the process of expanding the store to 60,000 square feet, said Botkin. The typical Gerland's is 35,000 to 40,000 square feet.

"It's a good location, and we had a chance to get some additional room to make it bigger and better," he said.

But even if the pet-care expansion proves a sales success, Botkin noted, space constraints would make duplicating the idea difficult.

"To do the same thing in a lot of other stores is probably not too practical," he said.