KROGER TURNS TAX TIME INTO COMMUNITY EVENT

ATLANTA -- In an effort to ease the frenetic April tax season, Kroger sponsored first-time tax clinics at eight stores in the Atlanta marketing area.The KMA, along with Internal Revenue Service representatives and tax sepcialists from the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, provided information on the new tax laws and fielded questions about the new Roth IRAs.Kroger partnered with the accounting firm

ATLANTA -- In an effort to ease the frenetic April tax season, Kroger sponsored first-time tax clinics at eight stores in the Atlanta marketing area.

The KMA, along with Internal Revenue Service representatives and tax sepcialists from the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, provided information on the new tax laws and fielded questions about the new Roth IRAs.

Kroger partnered with the accounting firm and IRS in hosting the two-hour tax classes, which ran from 8 a.m. to noon on the six Saturdays prior to April 15. Several Kroger stores also were drop-offs for mailing tax returns.

"We're doing all we can to make a very serious matter as painless as possible," said Paul Smith, the KMA president . "We understand that tax season is a stressful time, especially deadline day," he added.

Smith said the retailer wanted to offer "taxpayers a convenient alternative for mailing their returns."

"We know how much of a headache tax season can be, and we feel we can alleviate some of that headache by offering these services," explained Brent Scott, the KMA's vice president of merchandising.

"This is just an extra step in our efforts to make our customers' lives as easy as possible," he said.

Kroger promoted the seminars in ads and flyers and store signage, and listed the individual store locations where the seminars were to be held.

As the filing deadline approached on April 15, Kroger had satellite post offices set up at several stores. A Postal employee was stationed at a dedicated checkout where taxpayers could come in and hand over their returns at the last minute.

From 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on filing deadline day, Kroger also had a big-top tent set up in the parking lot, where IRS representatives helped prepare last-minute forms and the chain provided free photocopies of returns and refreshments to harried taxpayers.

Store traffic that day "was so heavy Kroger used a sign-in sheet to keep up with the number of people waiting in line to ask last- minute questions," said Eric Tanenblatt, vice president at Duffy Communications here, which coordinated the events.

The Kroger parking lots also had drive-through drop boxes for those who just needed to drop off their returns.

As last minute taxpayers streamed into the tents and Kroger stores, Marjorie Brown, Atlanta's postmaster, said, "Next to Christmas, the income-tax deadline day is the busiest time of the year at the post office. We cancel over two million letters and cards on an average day, and on April 15 that number increases to more than three million."

Kroger and the Postal Service chose store locations that were not near main post offices, so drop-off points around the city were well-dispersed.

During January, Kroger, working with the IRS and Georgia Department of Revenue, set up cardboard shippers in all Metro Atlanta stores that contained, in all, more than one million of the top five federal tax forms, and state tax forms.

The tax season also presented sales opportunities for leading home-office and stationery items at other chains. Stop & Shop, North Quincy, Mass., promoted tax books and publications including the American Express Tax Guide for 1998 at $11.66, and J.K. Lasser's Tax Guide for 1998 and The Wall Street Journal Guide, each priced at $13.46.

The chain also featured 100-count Pentab personal-size envelopes, a 50-pack of business envelopes, or 80-count confidential, retailing each at 99 cents. Other items ranged from Xerox multipurpose copy paper at $2.99, to a Datex calculator for $6.99. Bic writing instruments were promoted 50% off, and Esselt ePendaflex, Oxford and Stuart Hall office products were sold 25% off.

Stop & Shop also highlighted store-brand invisible tape at two rolls for $1, and transparent tape and writing tablets priced at 79 cents each.

The ShopRite retail cooperative of Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., ran "Tax Time" ad specials that "make your life easier." A 500-sheet package of Xerox multipurpose paper was tagged at $1.99; six-count pack of Bic Wavelength pens, 99 cents; Mead Trapper Keeper portfolio, two for $1; two-count 9-volt or four-pack C or D Energizer batteries, $3.99; eight-pack of Energizer AA or AAA batteries, $3.19; and five-subject notebook, $1.59.