HAWAIIAN FESTIVAL HEATS UP WINTER SALES

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Consumers Markets here heated up sales this winter with a Polynesian-Hawaiian festival.Hawaiian loaf cake, banana cream pie, pineapple upside-down cake and kettle tarts got the spotlight. They attracted attention, but employees' festive attitudes also helped push bakery sales up 23%, compared with the same week a year earlier, said Michael Knisley, bakery-deli director for the

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Consumers Markets here heated up sales this winter with a Polynesian-Hawaiian festival.

Hawaiian loaf cake, banana cream pie, pineapple upside-down cake and kettle tarts got the spotlight. They attracted attention, but employees' festive attitudes also helped push bakery sales up 23%, compared with the same week a year earlier, said Michael Knisley, bakery-deli director for the 23-unit chain.

"Our people were so enthusiastic. I know that helped. They decorated their departments. Some made up signs that said things like Luau Lane and Aloha Avenue. One store even had a paper palm tree beside the cake table," Knisley said.

"And several of our managers said customers told them they loved the festival idea." This was the first time the retailer had used a South Seas theme to warm up midwinter spirits, but it probably won't be the last, Knisley said.

The 1-pound Hawaiian loaf cake, featured at $2.69, and the 8-inch square pineapple upside-down cake, at $2.99, were created especially for the festival. The 8-inch banana cream pies, which usually are $3.49, were put on special for $2.99.

The cakes were baked in-store from the same cream cake base, Knisley said. Customers particularly liked the Hawaiian cake, he said. It contained pineapple and coconut and bananas.

All the products were displayed in clear-dome packages. The cakes were stacked on tables in front of the bakery counter and the pies in a refrigerated case.

The kettle tarts, which are cake doughnuts frosted with white icing, dusted with coconut, and filled with pineapple, were sold from the service case at 39 cents each.

The chain ran a one-eighth-page bakery ad the first week in March that was devoted to the Polynesian-Hawaiian theme. Banners and posters in-store called attention to the products. All the promotional attention helped push sales significantly, but sales regularly have been up double-digits from a year earlier, Knisley said.

"Our sales each month are 13% and 14% over last year," said Knisley. He attributes the increases to more interest on the part of bakery staffers.

"We've actually cut the staff back 25% since this time last year, but the effect is that they work better together," he said.

"We gave them what they wanted: more hours. As people left, we didn't replace them; we gave the time to the remaining staff. We have very few part-timers now."

He added that he's giving store-level employees more autonomy as well.

"They know what sells in their particular market, and they know what brings people in their area into the department. So we're letting them choose the manager's specials. For example, one store may have rye bread that's nearing it sell date, and they know reducing the price of that product will attract attention," he said.

"The bakeries are more productive and I see more aggressive merchandising when I go out to the stores," Knisley said, adding that displays are better maintained.