MORE RETAILERS DIG CONTINUITY AS MARKETERS ADD THE OFFBEAT

CHICAGO -- More supermarkets are being sold on the sales-building potential of continuity programs, while marketing firms are developing more offbeat promotions to appeal to them, said buyers and exhibitors at the ninth annual Association of Retail Marketing Services Retail Promotion Show here.Representatives from 95% of the major chains, including Kroger Co., Safeway, American Stores Co., Albertson's

CHICAGO -- More supermarkets are being sold on the sales-building potential of continuity programs, while marketing firms are developing more offbeat promotions to appeal to them, said buyers and exhibitors at the ninth annual Association of Retail Marketing Services Retail Promotion Show here.

Representatives from 95% of the major chains, including Kroger Co., Safeway, American Stores Co., Albertson's and Publix, registered for the show, Jan. 9 to 12, and actual buyer attendance was up about 10% over 1997's, said Gerri Hopkins, executive director of ARMS, Red Bank, N.J.

"We're going to be doing some kind of dish promotion, so we were looking at a number of those," said Ann Houle, nonfood merchandiser at Bozzuto's, Cheshire, Conn. "We haven't really done a lot of continuity-type things, so this has been a really good experience."

Gerald Lee Vossekull, vice president of sales in the Muskegon, Mich., division of Pewaukee, Wis.-based Roundy's, said he was considering doll and plush-toy promotions. "It's not something we've done a whole lot of, but there are a lot of opportunities. It's got a lot of potential."

In addition to promotions of proven items like tableware and dolls, exhibitors touted atypical programs involving design-your-own ceramics and even bicycles.

George Pittel, executive vice president of Service Marketing Group, Garden City, N.Y., noted, "It used to be a strict continuity show. Now there are people here showing product that doesn't really fit in the category."

Cincinnati-based SAI Consulting's Huffy bicycle incentive program, implemented by Supervalu and Kroger, including its King Soopers, Dillon and Fry's divisions, has "provided incremental sales where they never had it," said Scott Staff, SAI's president and chief executive officer.

During the back-to-school and Christmas seasons in 1997, Kroger stores featured Huffy bicycles in endcap displays and offered them for $79 -- they're regularly priced at $139 -- to customers who bought a certain amount of groceries.

Staff said the Christmas promotion generated between $1.5 million and $2 million in sales of the bicycles alone and that Kroger plans to run it again in the spring.

Metacom, a division of R.N.R. also based in Plymouth, has developed continuity programs involving prerecorded music that have been picked up by Kroger, Lucky Stores and Vons Cos., among others, according to Jere Clune, vice president of sales for the wholesale division.

Clune said Metacom's CD listening stations, which cost the company $1,300 to install and generate an average of $450 to $850 a week in sales for stores, have just gone into Cub Foods, Rainbow Foods, King Kullen and A&P units for 90-day tests.

Ohiopyle Prints, Ohiopyle, Pa., which specializes in T-shirts and other apparel printed or embroidered with town names, signed Safeway at the show for an in-and-out promotion.

"It's always the same old dishes and towels and things," said Rob Anderson, sales manager. "[Buyers] are looking for new things."

Another exhibitor, Sellthrough Entertainment, St. Louis, offered a number of licensed products, including some Disney exclusives and multipacks of the original "Godzilla" movies.

At the show, its "Cigar Aficionado" line of "music to smoke by" CDs was picked up by Kroger's Mid-Atlantic marketing area, Roanoke, Va., said Greg Wiley, regional vice president of sales at Sellthrough.

Also at the show, Wiley said, the company's line of CD compilations keyed to specific age groups was picked up by Supervalu and Spartan Stores for promotions designed to drive greeting-card sales.