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BASHAS' ROLLS OUT NEW CARD, GIFT SECTION

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Bashas' here recently extended a new section including high-end gift merchandise to 61 stores after a test program that resulted in 43% sales lifts, George Fiscus, vice president of general merchandise, told SN. The areas also have new greeting card lines, broader candle selections, extra party goods and party-favor items."The size of our sales gains was surprising and gratifying,"

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Bashas' here recently extended a new section including high-end gift merchandise to 61 stores after a test program that resulted in 43% sales lifts, George Fiscus, vice president of general merchandise, told SN. The areas also have new greeting card lines, broader candle selections, extra party goods and party-favor items.

"The size of our sales gains was surprising and gratifying," Fiscus said. "The key has been reinventing the department in the spirit of providing a true destination for our customers' needs."

The retailer tested the Social Expressions sections in three stores last year during a six-month period as part of an American Greetings Research Council initiative. The results of the project were unveiled during the recent Food Marketing Institute show in Chicago. In contrast to the sharp sales gains in the three test stores, sales declined 15% in the three control stores that were part of the Bashas' test, Fiscus said.

"The difference in customer response and customer feedback between the two groups of stores was dramatic. They noticed the difference, they responded and they bought a lot of items at prices far beyond the retails we normally expect to sell," he said.

In addition, 66% of shoppers noticed a change in the department in the test stores compared to 45% in the control stores.

The chain began rolling out the Social Expressions departments last month. All revamped sections will be completed by mid-July, Fiscus said.

Bashas' brought in a wide array of party goods and accessories from Amscan, Elmsford, N.Y., and tailored the selection based on individual stores' customer base and demographics. In addition, the retailer completely updated its mix of greeting cards from American Greetings, Cleveland, and Recycled Paper Greetings, Chicago, to complement the variety. The retailer also brought in candles from Endar Corp., Temecula, Calif. Bashas sold gift merchandise ranging in price from $5 to $79.99, Fiscus said, with highly positive results. Those high-ticket items "had 100% sell-through in our stores," he said. The price range for the gift items created a "good-better-best" option for customers.

"We tried to make it a department where, if a customer walked in for something for a social occasion or an event in their lives, there was one destination they could go to and pick up those items," he said.

The retailer expanded the selection within its existing greeting-card department footprints, which range from 20 feet in-line to more than 100 base feet and island displays, Fiscus explained.

"Another key learning has been that customers do notice change, and when provided with expanded variety that fulfills their needs, they respond quickly and dramatically," he said. "It has been great to see that when the item is great quality at a great price, customers will purchase outside of the typical perception of a 'supermarket' item."