TEXAS CHAIN MAKES DRIVE FOR PET SUPPLIES

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Reacting to high profit and sales opportunities offered by pet care, United Supermarkets has expanded its pet accessory departments and reports a 10% to 20% boost in category sales.The expanded sections, designed to create a pet store look within the supermarket, were rolled out in May. Most have 30% to 40% more space and variety. At smaller stores 6-foot sections were increased

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Reacting to high profit and sales opportunities offered by pet care, United Supermarkets has expanded its pet accessory departments and reports a 10% to 20% boost in category sales.

The expanded sections, designed to create a pet store look within the supermarket, were rolled out in May. Most have 30% to 40% more space and variety. At smaller stores 6-foot sections were increased to 9 feet, and at larger stores, where space for pet accessories had been 12 feet, departments range from 15 to 60 feet.

"We've expanded our pet supplies to include large dog houses, pet carriers, feeding and watering containers. All have done exceptionally well," said Steve Paul, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care for the 43-unit chain. United's stronger merchandising effort in pet care is intended not only to build higher impulse sales, but also to keep business from going to mass merchandisers and large pet supply warehouse stores.

Although large pet supply stores have entered United's market, Paul said he sees untapped sales for small animal cages, cedar chips and different types and qualities of fish foods, while "bird seed and bird feeders just keep going off the chart."

To accommodate the enlarged pet accessory mix, United installed a shelf over the top of the pet supply gondola, where space permitted, to merchandise large dog houses and carriers.

The retailer will carry pet carriers year-round. The items have been moving "exceptionally well this summer when people vacation or travel," said Paul.

"While you see a big surge in the pet supply category in spring and summer, these items can do well the rest of the year too," he added.

Paul said pet supplies aren't price-sensitive so there's no need merchandise the category as a loss leader. United customers are buying $55 to $65 large pet carriers and dog houses, he said.

However, United did revise its margins on the faster moving items, such as flea collars, by about 5% to compete against Wal-Mart, pet shops and farm supply stores.

"As an industry, we are way underdeveloped in pet supplies. Pet owners will spend money on their pets, and they want to take care of them. The more we put in, the more we sell," said Paul. The chain buys its pet merchandise from several vendors. "We now carry wider selections from many vendors that offer a full product range, including a dozen brands in chemicals and lines of small animal items for birds and other small pets," Paul said.

The chain has identified key items like flea collars and rawhide chews which it highlights in ads at lower retails as part of its more aggressive push in the category. In the spring, the chain ran full-page ads devoted to pet care supplies, and announced the larger pet accessory sections.