HARP'S TO ROLL OUT BOOKS ON TAPE

SPRINGDALE, Ark. -- After a three-month test that ended in mid-July, Harp's Food Stores plans to roll out an audio book rental program. The retailer saw 20% revenue increases in the video departments it was testing the audio books in, said Carl Johnson, video specialist. "We made the decision we were going to keep it, and probably start expanding into more stores in the future," said Johnson. "We

SPRINGDALE, Ark. -- After a three-month test that ended in mid-July, Harp's Food Stores plans to roll out an audio book rental program. The retailer saw 20% revenue increases in the video departments it was testing the audio books in, said Carl Johnson, video specialist. "We made the decision we were going to keep it, and probably start expanding into more stores in the future," said Johnson. "We will have it in all of our stores within the next two years. You don't have much invested in it. An audio book costs $10 or $12, and after you rent it out a couple of times, it pays for itself," he said.

Harp's charges $2.48 for a three-day rental, $4.98 for seven days. "The trend during the summertime is for people to take the seven-day rental and take the tapes with them on vacation," he said. The retailer does not offer a one-day rental on the audio books, he said. "I would recommend audio books to anybody just because the market is there. Unlike video titles, people will pick up an audio tape when they are on the go," he said. Audio books have longer "legs" than new video releases, Johnson noted. "You can rent them for up to a year and then start selling them off," he said. Harp's now has the program in three stores. "I plan on stepping it up in probably two to three more departments in the next fiscal year [which begins in September], build it up in our larger departments, and see what kind of reaction we get," he said. The 28-store chain has 18 video departments with inventories ranging from 1,000 to 4,500 tapes.

The retailer chose the test stores based on location. "One store is in a college town," said Johnson. "We put in a lot of classics and titles that the professors use in their courses, and a lot of students will rent the audio tape of a book while they are studying for an exam.."

At first, Johnson had no intention of putting the audio books in, but began to notice other retailers doing well with them. Then supplier Rezound International, Minneapolis, made a presentation that was hard to pass up.

"They allowed us to try it for three months, and they said if it didn't work out, they would pull everything and pay us back for everything that we put into it," he said. "But it's worked out to our advantage. We've really enjoyed having them in the stores," said Johnson.