PRICE CHOPPER'S TRUMP CARD

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. -- The greeting card section at Price Chopper Supermarkets' Eastern Parkway store here demands consumer attention.And that is specifically what the chain had hoped for, said Robert Hunt, director of general merchandise at the 85-store chain. Working with Gibson Greetings, Cincinnati, Price Chopper's greeting card section has the depth and color of a small-sized card store but thrives

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. -- The greeting card section at Price Chopper Supermarkets' Eastern Parkway store here demands consumer attention.

And that is specifically what the chain had hoped for, said Robert Hunt, director of general merchandise at the 85-store chain. Working with Gibson Greetings, Cincinnati, Price Chopper's greeting card section has the depth and color of a small-sized card store but thrives on the synergy unique to its supermarket environment.

"We try to position the greeting card section as a social expression. We tie it next to the floral department whenever we can and bring it to front of the store for a higher profile," said Hunt.

At the 76,000-square-foot Eastern Parkway store, greeting cards practically jump out and say hello to customers as they come through the door. The 120 linear feet of the section make it easy for Hunt to include a gamut of cards in the mix.

Price Chopper carries Gibson's Life As We Know It and Recycled Paper Products lines, and is also testing "The Far Side" cards in a few stores, according to Hunt. He added that one of the chain's challenges will be to continue to expand the alternative area and build everyday business, in addition to focusing on peak holiday times.

"Anywhere we feel there could be a party or a social gathering, we try to tie in a greeting card purchase," said Hunt, adding that this philosophy is enhanced by the chain's efforts to tie in greeting cards with other store departments.

At the Eastern Parkway store, one of the three facings of greeting cards runs alongside the floral department -- the contrast of deep-green potted plants juxtaposed boldly against the pastel greeting cards.

Hunt said Price Chopper cross-merchandises the card section with photo finishing, bakery and floral. "During Valentine's Day, we do a very big job [of cross-merchandising]," Hunt said. "We try to make sure customers purchase a card along with a bouquet of roses. During Christmas, we'll put a hanging tag out on the poinsettias with an offer on greeting cards. We've promoted in the bakery, too, with offers of 50 cents off greeting cards," he continued.

These holidays and party themes also lend themselves to the sale of party goods such as plates, cups and napkins. "One of the up-and-coming trends is that [the party segment] will become much more of a major factor in greeting cards and we'll look to capitalize on that. We'll probably end up with a nice average transaction if we can sell a couple packages of napkins, plates, favors, etc," he said.

Price Chopper's commitment to the party section is evidenced by an endcap called Anchors Aweigh, featuring nautically decorated plates, forks, napkins, cups and a plastic tablecloth. The endcap is displayed facing the checkout, and also uses Kodak Fun Saver 35mm cameras as a cross-promotion in the display.

"In party goods, the customer does have options. So you need to be fairly sensitive to price," explained Hunt. "But what they're really looking for is a nice, bright-colored ensemble with good quality products. And as long as they recognize it's a decent value for them, then we have as much opportunity as anybody else to sell it to them."

Hunt said Price Chopper and Gibson work very closely to plan the greeting card department. "We go out for planning sessions with Gibson, not as often as we'd like, but we've gone to their facility to see what is coming down the road -- not just in six months, but a year from now, what they've got planned out. We try to use what they have available and incorporate that into our own decor so it really has an impact on the customer," Hunt said.

The chain's goal now, Hunt said, will be to include massive, high-profile greeting card sections in all large, new and remodeled stores like the Eastern Parkway store. Currently, "a minimum of 25 stores have a greeting card section as large as Eastern Parkway," he added.

The chain also hopes to boost its turns in the department. "We're never satisfied with turns. Our turns and sales per linear foot are better than the country average, but we always try and build that business," Hunt said.