PIGGLY WIGGLY SERVING UP A SNAZZIER PHONE CARD

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Piggly Wiggly has begun offering its retailers a new private-label, prepaid phone card that emphasizes the stores' close ties to their local communities.The new cards feature the Piggly Wiggly pig logo, as well as the company's tag line, "Down Home, Down the Street." They're being offered to 400 retailers operating 700 Piggly Wiggly stores in 19 Southeastern states.Supplied by Ameritech,

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Piggly Wiggly has begun offering its retailers a new private-label, prepaid phone card that emphasizes the stores' close ties to their local communities.

The new cards feature the Piggly Wiggly pig logo, as well as the company's tag line, "Down Home, Down the Street." They're being offered to 400 retailers operating 700 Piggly Wiggly stores in 19 Southeastern states.

Supplied by Ameritech, Chicago, the new cards were "designed with more vibrant and appealing colors in purple, green and mustard yellow to complement the Piggly Wiggly logo," said Betty Johnson, marketing services manager at Piggly Wiggly corporate headquarters here.

The new program, launched earlier this summer, replaced a card with a plainer design that was supplied by MCI, Atlanta. Since 1996, some 235 Piggly Wiggly retailers had participated in that program, selling what Johnson called "a more generic card with a pig's head and coins as background."

The new prepaid cards are priced at $8.99 for 30 minutes, $16.99 for 60 minutes and $29.99 for 120 minutes. "Sales have definitely been positive," said Jane Raulston, telecard manager at RFS Marketing Services, Oklahoma City, which Piggly Wiggly has contracted to help market the card. Some retailers have been offering discounts to attract users, Raulston said. For example, some stores are selling the 30-minute card for as little as $7.50.

Johnson anticipates that about half of all 700 Piggly Wiggly stores will carry the new phone cards. So far, 34 stores have picked them up, "and Piggly Wiggly managers are out [in the field] offering them to retailers," said Michelle Healy, Ameritech's senior manager of new-ventures marketing.

Stores are merchandising the cards by displaying empty packages on J-hooks and clip-strips near front-end checkouts, the packages being exchanged for live cards -- stored in register drawers -- at the time of purchase. To maintain security, stores are activating batches of 10 cards at a time.

Piggly Wiggly retailers are using ceiling mobiles, window decals, lane dividers and buttons to call attention to the new phone cards.

In a sales letter to retailers when the program was kicked off, Larry Wright, Piggly Wiggly's president, touted prepaid's wide appeal: "The growth of this product category has recently exploded," he wrote. Prepaid cards, he noted, appeal to a broad-based market that includes "migrant workers, middle-class consumers, college students, military personnel, business travelers and anyone else that spends time away from their home."

Although consumer awareness of prepaid phone cards has increased in the past few years, only 35% are aware of the product's existence, according to Michael Bischof, Ameritech's regional sales manager, who detailed category trends in Turnstile, a magazine for Piggly Wiggly retailers.

Bischof said that while prepaid cards are often purchased on impulse, they're most successful at store level when "employees understand and have used the product, and they're better able to answer customer questions."

Prepaid sales are lost "when a customer asks if you sell prepaid phone cards, and the cashier doesn't know or is unsure where they're kept," he said.