GREETINGS ALL AROUND

Outposting of greeting cards is converting grocery shoppers into card buyers at supermarkets. Greeting card outposts, or supplemental card shippers, have been used by supermarkets for the past several years to draw attention to greeting card departments and to increase impulse sales on one of the most highly profitable items in the store.Though most popular during seasonal promotions, they're now

Outposting of greeting cards is converting grocery shoppers into card buyers at supermarkets. Greeting card outposts, or supplemental card shippers, have been used by supermarkets for the past several years to draw attention to greeting card departments and to increase impulse sales on one of the most highly profitable items in the store.

Though most popular during seasonal promotions, they're now being used more often and in more visible locations, acting as billboards of sorts, said retailers polled by SN.

Checkstand outposting also has come into vogue. Retailers such as Giant Food, Landover, Md.; Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., and ShopRite stores in New Jersey are devoting lucrative space at the checkout to greeting cards.

"We're now trying to outpost card racks at the front end by

checkouts year-round," said a card buyer with an independent ShopRite retailer that is a member of Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., who asked not to be identified. Ambassador Cards, the company's card supplier, provides racks for outpost merchandising.

Retailers are even putting greeting card displays in nontraditional locations of the store, such as next to the meat and the produce section, as well as in departments like floral, which lends itself to cross-merchandising the products.

To pull in the higher gross profit that greeting cards can generate for grocers, Farm Fresh Supermarkets, a 10-store retailer based in Baltimore, instituted a new holiday shipper program at the front of the meat or produce section at seven stores that don't have a regular card section.

The outposts were set up in March to capitalize on the heavy traffic and good impulse opportunities offered before Easter.

"It's the place for holiday card shippers since very few customers come to the supermarket for cards. But once they see them, they'll pick them up," said Gerson Spiller, Farm Fresh vice president.

The outposts offer a different variety than the in-line cards, but the same price points, said the retailer.

Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa., which usually outposts cards in the floral and candy departments at Valentine's Day and Easter, plans to begin outposting cards near the deli in May. It predicts that the outpost will remind customers who pick up graduation party platters to send graduation cards as well, said Larry Schimpf, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care.

Clemens outposts cards in assortments different from those found at mainline racks, such as oversized 8.5-inch by 11-inch Valentine's cards selling for over $5 apiece.

The retailer tries to draw attention to the shippers with displays.

"Some stores build displays in the shape of a huge Easter basket at Easter with cardboard floorstands containing themed cards nearby," said Schimpf.

In addition, retailers are incorporating related merchandise in outpost displays. During this year's Super Bowl, Winn-Dixie's Louisville, Ky., division promoted Gibson party supplies with plates, tablecloths and napkins at 50% off. For Valentine's Day, the chain offered plush animals and gift bags with cards in lobby displays.

As a category whose profit margins are among the highest in the store, greeting cards can be an effective merchandising technique when outposted. They've become so instrumental that some retailers have started using them throughout the year.

Winn-Dixie previously featured about two outposts during holidays, but now has up to 10 card outpostings in the seasonal aisle, according to Nelson Rodenmayer, director of marketing and advertising.

"[Outposting] supports the supermarket as a destination for cards and draws attention to cards three to four weeks ahead of a holiday," said Rodenmayer. "Everybody sees the cards, even those not planning to make it to the main card department."

Added Schimpf of Clemens, "They actually remind people that you're in the card business. Outposting does especially well during secondary holidays like Valentine's Day and for special occasions like graduations." He added that they usually sell-down without being restocked.

About 90% of the cards merchandised on outposted displays at a major New England chain, which did not want to be identified, duplicate the stock and price points in the regular greeting card department, according to the greeting card buyer.

"We set them up at floral and other areas that seem a good tie-in for cards. But timing is very important in outposting cards. You should promote them right before shoppers need them," added the buyer.

To appeal to all age groups, Kessel Food Markets, Flint, Mich., merchandises greeting cards at secondary locations with less expensive cards that kids can take to school at Halloween and Christmas. It often outposts related items, such as makeup kits at Halloween and green decoration

crepe paper at St. Patrick's Day, said Tom Lazar, grocery merchandiser.

"Outposting generates good impulse sales and provides the added display space for merchandising cards during major holidays," he added. "It's a growing trend. Cards are changed seasonally or at holidays. When there isn't a holiday, everyday cards or themed products can be used."

Kessel Food Markets relies on spinner card racks outposted at floral departments. The chain is trying to find the space to outpost at other departments in all of its 24 stores.

At Baker's Supermarkets, Omaha, Neb., outposting increases sales at floral and seasonal areas during the major holidays, stated Bob Greenwald, the company's new director of nonfood. The turn rate for outposted cards is usually very high since they are mostly seasonal cards with a short selling window, he added.

Baker's uses its outpost to promote its mainline card department. Signs above the checkstand displays explain that a larger card variety is available in the main card department.

The only downside to cross-merchandising cards in other departments is loss of space devoted to the primary category. "I've gotten around this at other chains with trade-offs. I would allow the floral department to put their products in greeting cards in exchange for some space for alternative or birthday cards by floral items," Greenwald added.

Keith Uddenberg, Gig Harbor, Wash., uses outposts only during Christmas.

"That's the only time when we set up secondary locations. It's usually a 4-foot front-end display with boxed Christmas cards, which are different from the regular selections," said Debbie English, nonfood specialist at the 25-store chain.

The boxed cards are set up in October and supplied under the Sangamon name by a distributor. They are promoted at the same 50% off price points as boxed cards in the regular section all through Christmas. "We keep them replenished through the entire season," English said.

"Greeting cards as a category are very lucrative with their 50% profit, and it's usually all supplied on a guaranteed basis," Spiller of Farm Fresh said. "While we have a 30-foot-long card section at three other stores, we're planning on new 24- to 30-foot in-line card sections at the stores that now lack a permanent card department, as the space becomes available."

Farm Fresh has its outposted shippers about eight weeks in advance of the holiday "to build shopper awareness for the cards before they will buy them," Spiller said.