INNOVATING WITH AN INTEGRAL ENTERTAINMENT DEPARTMENT

In covering supermarket video for 12 years, I've found that fresh merchandising ideas are a precious commodity. In other words, there's not much new.DVD was a big deal, but sell-through shippers come and go. Only a few retailers have significantly improved the design of video departments. Some cross promotions are breathtaking in their complexity; others are easily ignored. There's an occasional new

In covering supermarket video for 12 years, I've found that fresh merchandising ideas are a precious commodity. In other words, there's not much new.

DVD was a big deal, but sell-through shippers come and go. Only a few retailers have significantly improved the design of video departments. Some cross promotions are breathtaking in their complexity; others are easily ignored. There's an occasional new wrinkle in video rental rates. Nearly everyone in retail still complains about video shrink.

That's why I'm very pleased with this year's SN's Supermarket Video Retailer of the Year Award winner, Stop & Shop Supermarket, Quincy, Mass., which will be conferred during this week's Video Software Dealers Association show in Las Vegas. It's been about 25 years since supermarkets started renting and selling videos -- Stop & Shop was among the first -- and the Ahold division's Bestsellers! department is one of the few benchmark innovations in merchandising.

While others have tried integrating the various entertainment software products into one area, none have made it work as well as Stop & Shop. With five years under its belt, over 100 departments installed, and a continuing rollout of the program planned, Bestsellers! can be crowned a success.

With Giant Food of Landover, Md., now being run by Stop & Shop, there is a sharing of best practices. For example, Giant's health and beauty care theme of "Relax. Renew. Revive." is being used by Stop & Shop stores. Thus, industry insiders think the Bestsellers! concept may be adopted by other Ahold banners, such as Giant-Landover. Liza Casabona's story, referenced on Page 1, details a section that has DVD and VHS, music, video games, hardcovers and paperbacks, magazines, comic books and related licensed products. As the name implies, the selection is limited to best-selling titles and products.

The result is profitable, said a source quoted in the story. Bestsellers! helps Stop & Shop keep customers from other formats by presenting an inviting destination department that stocks the products they most want.

"It is an interactive department with an eye-catching design package," said Peter Hettinger, vice president, nonfoods. "It's kind of theatrical and has a bit of flair. It naturally draws people into the aisle, particularly children."

"It's a little scary. Stop & Shop was very brave to take on this concept," said Nancy Shalek, president, Shalek Advisors, Purchase, N.Y., who helped to develop the section.

As to shrink, Stop & Shop wouldn't discuss it, but in store visits, SN found the departments protected by closed-circuit TV, and individual high-theft items encased in clear plastic covers that are opened at checkout.

Where will this lead? I'm sure other chains besides Ahold's are closely monitoring the Bestsellers! departments and similar projects will soon be adopted, if they haven't been already.

I'm still waiting for someone to take a similarly innovative approach to video rental. I believe rental has a long life ahead of it in supermarkets. Regardless of DVD sell-through's success, renting movies at retail is an ingrained part of our culture.

Some retailers are testing vending machines for rental, but a winning idea will better embody the self-service supermarket environment where customers expect to touch and choose, with some personal service available. A re-imagined video rental program would surprise a lot of people.