SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A new program of seasonal merchandise at supermarkets of Pueblo International here has been an immediate success, Bill Mansfield, vice president, general merchandise and HBC, Retail Food Division, told SN during the recent GM Marketing Conference of GMDC, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Pueblo started the program in March with offerings that included outdoor furniture, he said. "By Mother's Day, most of the furniture had sold."
Among the items in that early part of program were wicker furniture, patio tables and market umbrellas. "It's really been a very pleasant surprise that they sold through as quickly as they did," Mansfield said.
"We have summer year-round in Puerto Rico, so it makes sense that summer-related outdoor activity items would do well down there. There's plenty of competition, but despite that, we've had enormous success. This is the first year that we have sold this type of product, so maybe it is just something new for our customers to see in our stores," he said.
Pueblo has 40 stores in Puerto Rico and five in the Virgin Islands, Mansfield said. Ranging in total size from 25,000 to 70,000 square feet, stores devote an average of 48 feet of gondola space to seasonal products.
The retailer is in the early stages of a chainwide reset in which space is being allocated to a seasonal "cut-out" area. Two stores have the sections so far, and the difference in sales "has been dramatic in those stores, vs. those that had to merchandise the seasonal products where space was available," Mansfield said.
"If possible, supermarkets should position all of the seasonal product in one location," he said. Mansfield characterized the process of making room for seasonal as "right-sizing."
Running a successful seasonal program means not replenishing stock once it sells out, Mansfield noted. Therefore, the retailer will move right into the next phase: beach items. "The beaches are packed from June through September, so products such as beach wear, beach chairs and umbrellas will sell," he said.
Because of space constraints, Pueblo has a "planned progression" of summer items, he said. "We have a menu of items that we bought that are staged and will arrive at the stores throughout the summer," he said.
"Part of the magic of seasonal is not to have an endless supply. If your customer knows that you are going to maintain an inventory of this product year-round, they won't get too excited about buying it when a new product shows up; they wait. Whereas, if they see product come in and out, and not come back in, and you wait many months before the next shipment comes, there is a greater alertness on the customer's part: 'I better buy it; it won't be here forever.' That's a mystique that we should play to as a supermarket retailer," Mansfield said.
A CATEGORY IN MOTION
The seasonal category is in constant flux, he said.
"When you think about it, there are not many categories in the supermarket that are in motion. The canned goods aisle doesn't change much, so the customer takes it for granted. Whereas, with seasonal products, every week there can be a new offering coming through the store," Mansfield said.
"It's a dynamic piece of the grocery industry's business that is on a strong growth trend, and I believe it is a business that will stay. It will certainly outlast other businesses that we are currently in," he said.
However, retailers need to keep up with the category -- the new trends, products and colors. "How a retailer manages that will determine how successful they will be," he said.
To do that, Mansfield said retailers need a measurement tool, which can be as simple as a spreadsheet -- paper or computer -- to track scan data.
"Seasonal can be a wonderful addition of incremental sales and profits to a company, or it can be a mark-down that takes away from that excitement. We look at every item every week in that seasonal offering and are able to make adjustments both to that season's offering by moving product from a store that is not selling it to one that is, or making adjustments in next year's orders so that we don't repeat mistakes from the prior year. How a chain measures that seasonal piece of the business is going to be the difference between a profitable seasonal offering and one that is not as profitable," Mansfield said.
Retailers should encourage cross-merchandising with other departments within the seasonal area, he added. "The pumpkins from produce should be part of the Halloween seasonal presentation. The Easter lilies from floral should be part of the seasonal presentation, and certainly grocery has a myriad of items during the summer months, and candy during the winter months. So during the holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter, these other products need to be merchandised within that seasonal presentation," he said.