SEASONAL CHANGES

Supermarkets are expected to up the ante on seasonal merchandising this year.The General Merchandise Distributors Council's study on Seasonal Best Practices has added new impetus to the category, which is being used by some as a competitive tactic to offset mass merchandisers' offerings and recoup margin lost to items subject to footballed pricing."It probably represents one of the last bastions we

Supermarkets are expected to up the ante on seasonal merchandising this year.

The General Merchandise Distributors Council's study on Seasonal Best Practices has added new impetus to the category, which is being used by some as a competitive tactic to offset mass merchandisers' offerings and recoup margin lost to items subject to footballed pricing.

"It probably represents one of the last bastions we have for profit in nonfood since everything has become commodity-driven," said John Stahl, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care, Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa.

In Stahl's opinion, the role seasonal merchandise plays in generating nonfood profits cannot be over-emphasized, "particularly with supermarkets having to shave margins in everyday nonfood sections and HBC to compete with the mass merchandisers."

Indeed, he said the traditionally faster-moving seasonal selections can make up for the slower-turning regular general merchandise.

Grocery wholesalers like Associated Wholesalers Inc., are concentrating on better organizational merchandising, presentation and improving the overall logistics of delivering seasonal merchandise to stores in a timely manner.

Last fall, the York, Pa.-based wholesaler began conducting regional retailer training sessions on major seasonal promotions planned this year. "Meeting in groups of 30 to 35 at hotels in areas extending from the New England states down through Virginia, we gave the retailers details about ordering on a timely basis, display techniques and markdowns," said Charles Yahn, vice president, general merchandise.

AWI is using materials contained in the GMDC's Seasonal Best Practices program for developing more consistent seasonal promotional displays in designated areas of stores.

"We're spending more time on developing instruction manuals dealing with store displays, markdowns and other critical areas of seasonal and holiday promotions to stimulate consumer sales," said Yahn.

AWI's key seasonal promotions will be themed around the major holidays and other events such as a large spring-cleaning sale. This month retailers will tie into a Special Olympics promotion in which Procter & Gamble will feature its HBC products, including Crest toothpaste, Scope mouthwash, Crest Complete toothbrush, Oil Of Olay, Secret and Sure deodorants, Pert shampoo, Pantene Pro V shampoo and conditioner, and Baby Fresh wipes. These will be displayed at store level on endcaps and floor displays.

The wholesaler will promote vitamins during next fall's cough-and-cold season using a new "healthy eating" theme. Header signs and floor displays will stress the idea that if people take vitamins and eat well, they may avoid a cold, Yahn added.

It is hoped that this effort on seasonal merchandise will pay off in higher impulse shelf turns for the 500 East Coast retailers AWI supplies with nonfood, said Yahn.

The continued expansion by mass merchandisers has prompted grocers to re-examine seasonal programs and look for ways to enhance their effectiveness, said nonfood executives surveyed by SN.

At Genuardi's, there will be increased emphasis on nonfood tie-ins during holiday drive periods. The chain will cross merchandise greeting cards with other categories during five holiday periods: Valentine's, Easter, Mother's Day, Halloween and Christmas, and possibly at back-to-school.

Many of the 650 stores that Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan., supplies with nonfood expect to increase their seasonal general merchandise selling space this year.

Until a year-and-a-half ago, the retailers were serviced by outside nonfood rack jobbers that had allocated little or no shelf space to seasonal goods.

"But retailers now realize what the sales and profit potential from seasonal general merchandise can be," said Dick Swain, vice president of general merchandise at Associated Wholesale Grocers. The wholesaler now supplies seasonal general merchandise programs to retailers.

"It's new business and it creates excitement in the store. Retailers can really tune into that," said Swain.

Plans call for stores larger than 35,000 square feet to devote dedicated areas at Easter, back-to-school and Christmas. In addition, there will be a spring push on lawn, garden and outdoor living products.

"We assist and advise retailers regularly to ensure that displays and in-store merchandising are being done correctly," said Swain.

A surge in seasonal general merchandise programs is on the horizon this year at the 233-store Associated Grocers cooperative in Baton Rouge, La., according to Sonny Ellis, director of health and beauty care and general merchandise.

"If retailers sit back and let Wal-Mart take all the general merchandise business, they'll only lose that gross profit, and I think they're seeing that happen," said Ellis.