SPACE RACE

There's a ton of nontheatrical children's video product on the market, but less of it is making it to retail shelves because so many hit movies are going direct to the sell-through market. "The upcoming releases of so many titles will make our sections very tight," said Bob Gettner, video buyer and coordinator, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb. "Whatever is newest will get prime space and secondary titles

There's a ton of nontheatrical children's video product on the market, but less of it is making it to retail shelves because so many hit movies are going direct to the sell-through market. "The upcoming releases of so many titles will make our sections very tight," said Bob Gettner, video buyer and coordinator, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb. "Whatever is newest will get prime space and secondary titles will get bumped to an endcap just to make space." "For rental, we have to go through our reports and pull what has not shown movement to make room for new titles. There is so much stuff out there, we have to do these things on a continual basis," he said.

"We look at the 'A' titles and big releases that are out and then consider whether we need to fill something in on the side," said Bob Glisch, vice president, operations, Mega Mart, Oak Creek, Wis. "If I can get a strong-enough lineup every month with 'A' titles, I'm strictly going to run 'A' titles," he said.

Many variables are involved when it comes to purchasing decisions on secondary children's videos, said Jamie Molitor, director, video operations, Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo. "It depends on what else is available and what kind of floor space I have to work with. There are a lot of different reasons, and the reason I buy something one month may not even apply in the next month," she said.

"We rely on the other animation as filler in slow weeks when there are no 'A' titles coming in," said Randy Weddington, video specialist, Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark.

"We just picked up the Turner Cartoon Network Valentine's package -- with the 'Flintstones,' 'Scooby Doo' and 'Yogi Bear' -- and that seems to be doing all right," he said. "We try to bring in something new for the customer every week and keep them in the sell-through habit that we've got them developing. That seems to be working," said Weddington.

With the proliferation of children's videos, Harps will cut down on the initial orders of some titles and then re-order what sells from its distributor, he said. "It's nice to be in that position."

One key to success with nontheatrical children's product is to know when a hot trend is fading, said Glisch of Mega Mart. "Take the Barney tapes. The popularity is still there, but not as strong as it once was. You don't want to stick with one thing and ride it until it is dead. You have to switch to what is hot at the time," he said.

"There are a lot of new offerings that we didn't see even a year ago," said Clifford Feiock, video coordinator, Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis. "We try to place as many of those as we can in our stores for rental to test the waters. Some of them have been very successful, while others leave a little to be desired," he said.

"To sell the secondary titles in our stores, they have to be pushed really hard," said Gettner of B&R. "You need to do a lot of advertising to get them the exposure they need to sell. With some of these titles, we will just have a copy or two for rental," he said.

Southeast Foods, Monroe, La., tests the nontheatrical product in its stores that do best with children's product, said Denise Darnell, video supervisor. "Anything that comes out, we will put in there. If they are successful, we will spread those titles around to the other stores," she said.

This is primarily for rental, Darnell noted. "We bring in very, very few of the secondary titles for sell-through. The customers sometimes aren't even aware of them and that makes it hard to sell them," she said.

When it comes to buying decisions on the nontheatrical children's titles, sometimes "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," said one buyer who asked not to be identified. That is, given a multitude of product choices, the purchase order will go to the most persistent salesperson. "It's sad but true, but that's what it often comes down to," the buyer said With so many unfamiliar secondary lines, quality has become an issue for many retailers.

"It bothers me that some titles are out just to make money because that is the trend," said Shirley Decker, product management coordinator, Goff Food Stores, Haslett, Mich. "Video buyers and distributors have to be careful about what they are bringing in. I don't bring everything in. I don't have the room, but I also think that isn't good business," she said.

"We are seeing a lot more good children's titles coming out, but we are also seeing some stuff that looks a little thrown together," said Monte Deere, president, Video III, Orem, Utah, which racks over 100 supermarket video rental departments in the Western states. "We welcome the wave of children's titles, but we will carefully look through and make sure that we are not putting in the thrown-together material."

Getting children to watch the screeners sent by the studios is a time-tested way to sort the good from the bad. "Several of us have children, so in the last few months, we've sat our kids down in front of these titles and let them take a look. They are the best critics," said Deere.

"I try to get my nieces and nephews to review those videos for me. There's hardly anything out for children that they turn away from," said Rick Ang, buyer, Video Mart, Sacramento, Calif., which racks video departments for Bel Air Markets in Sacramento.

While space for sell-through is tight, this children's product fits well with Bel Air's rental program, he said. "The customers are looking for something new and different, and the studios are providing us with that," he said.

This enables Ang to replace old titles in the children's sections. "Because of the relative low cost of these films, we can turn our inventory a lot sooner and bring in newer product. But we always keep the established classics -- the 'Bambis' and the 'Dumbos' and titles like that," he said.

Children's nontheatrical is a category that has "worked really well for us, primarily because they come out at such low price points," said Deere of Video III. "We get a quick return [on investment] on them. They also have a longer shelf life. They continue to rent even when they are one, two and three years old." Video III has put children's titles on an endcap facing the main store, said Deere. "That draws the kids into the section and has been fairly effective," he said.

Television exposure prior to the video release can be a mixed blessing, depending on the program, said the retailers. "Some of the animated videos from television do well," said Gettner of B&R. " 'Goosebumps' has done fairly well, although it rents better than it sells." "Television exposure doesn't seem to make much difference in the sales or rentals of animated children's videos," said Trish Smilie, customer service/video manager, Steele's Markets, Fort Collins, Colo.

"We don't do well with some of the titles from television," said Decker of Goff. "The Nickelodeon titles like 'Rugrats' have not done well and 'Goosebumps' bombed. We couldn't give them away. The same thing happened with 'The Baby-Sitters Club.' We are very leery of titles that start out on television."