SAVE MART'S BABY AISLES BECOME MORE FUN

MODESTO, Calif. -- Save Mart here is targeting young parents by making its baby aisles more fun and easier to navigate.The first store to feature the new design opens this week in Fresno, Calif. A store opening in Lathrop, Calif., in October will be the second one to feature the new design. If successful, the concept will be rolled out to all existing and new Save Mart and S-Mart Foods stores."We

MODESTO, Calif. -- Save Mart here is targeting young parents by making its baby aisles more fun and easier to navigate.

The first store to feature the new design opens this week in Fresno, Calif. A store opening in Lathrop, Calif., in October will be the second one to feature the new design. If successful, the concept will be rolled out to all existing and new Save Mart and S-Mart Foods stores.

"We attacked the baby aisle and tried to make it a destination," said Ray Agah, director of engineering and construction for the chain. "We want to make shopping more exciting, less of a chore."

To make it easier for customers to find products, the new design features boulevard signs in pastel colors on the top shelves. Assortments are grouped according to product type rather than brand.

Stained concrete floors feature etchings of three colorful building blocks measuring 18 square inches.

The central focus of the aisle is a weighing station, though. This 4-foot-wide area features a picture of a giraffe and a talking scale for babies. There's also a chart that measures children's height. Parents can get a printout of the child's weight or height and the date.

With sales of baby items migrating to specialty stores, mass merchandisers and dollar stores, retailers are trying a number of strategies, from baby clubs and everyday low pricing, to win back young moms, who are considered crucial customers because of their big shopping baskets.

In the 52 weeks that ended May 15, supermarket dollar sales of diapers dropped by 7.2% over the year-earlier period, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Sales in drug stores and mass merchandisers also declined in the same period, but to a lesser extent.

Save Mart will track the effect of the redesigned baby aisle by counting the number of times the scale is used daily, and by comparing sales of baby items with other stores, before expanding the concept to other locations.

"We'll see how many hits we get, but other baby aisles are pretty drab," Agah said. "This opens up a lot of avenues. It brings people to your store, and hopefully, mothers will stay in the store longer."

Mothers often bring young children to the store, and touches like the scale make the shopping experience personal and interactive, said Laurie Klein, vice president of Just Kid Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based market research company.

"If people are shopping for price, they'll always go back to the specialty or dollar stores," she said. "But for new moms, it's worth paying a little more because they want to experience this, and it gives them another reason to go to the store beyond shopping."

Grouping products by brand also makes items stand out more on the shelves, she said.