KING SOOPERS PARTY CENTER DEBUTS

DENVER -- King Soopers last month opened a 300-square-foot party center in a new store here that will be staffed by a full-time party planning consultant.The chain used the new store opening as an opportunity to debut a store character, called King, that will represent the company in advertising, in-aisle signs and special promotions.The party center, which is the retailer's largest greeting card

DENVER -- King Soopers last month opened a 300-square-foot party center in a new store here that will be staffed by a full-time party planning consultant.

The chain used the new store opening as an opportunity to debut a store character, called King, that will represent the company in advertising, in-aisle signs and special promotions.

The party center, which is the retailer's largest greeting card and party supply department, and the store character were created in conjunction with American Greetings, Cleveland, the chain's card supplier.

"Obviously, we hope to increase sales in that department since traffic in the greeting card department is very high, and a lot of people shop for cards, party goods and gifts there," said Mike Schulten, category manager of general merchandise. The King character, based on the name of Lloyd King, who founded the chain in 1947, is being "used to help differentiate our card section," said Schulten. The character exemplifies "the royal treatment and feeling that we give to our customers, whom we call our guests," Schulten noted. A plush doll with the message, "The King Has Arrived With a Sooper Deal,' was merchandised for $4.99 throughout the store, drawing extra attention to the new store logo and party center, Schulten explained. The King character will become part of the total store sign program and will appear in circulars and shelf talkers.

Party goods account for about 25% of the overall department mix. Gift wraps are contained in a 60-foot-long section and on freestanding display fixtures. The six freestanding display fixtures carry themes such as weddings, juvenile and boys' birthdays and feature coordinated tableware and utensils, napkins and party hats.

"This is the first section with a party planning consultant to assist with planning a party or other events. They can recommend the themes and everything you'd need in cards, party supplies, food and accessories," Schulten added. The large card department overall "is a destination department," he said. The department layout and design closely resemble a modern greeting card shop.

Placement of the party center is at the left side of the store near general merchandise and by the pharmacy and health and beauty care department. Here the card section benefits from traffic generated by nonfood areas. Party planning kits, which provide tips on decorating and table settings, are handed out for ordering baked goods and cakes, deli items and beverages.

A party planning glass showcase is decorated with thematic suggestions for place settings and accessories tied to major holidays. At the store opening, for example, showcase decorations featured Halloween and Thanksgiving party goods. The new department has a good mix of plush products, quality chocolate, glass and ceramic mugs, and gift items priced between $5 and $20.

Schulten said the King character has been made into a walk-around character for in-store promotional appearances. At new store openings a photographer will be available to take pictures with the King and customers. With 175- to 225-foot card departments at the chain's other 62 stores, the move "to expand this larger 300-foot center into our other stores will depend on how well this first one does. It uses a large amount of space, and the question is whether we want to devote this amount of square footage to the department at our other stores as they are remodeled," Schulten explained. "King Soopers has been operating large card departments for some time, and has captured the lion's share of card sales in the Denver market," said Dan Moraczewski, vice president of sales at American Greetings.