ORLANDO, Fla. -- More supermarkets are driving their seasonal nonfood promotions across department lines and reaping big rewards. Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, is one case in point.
Thousands of heavy-gauge stainless-steel omelet pans, retailing for $19.99, were sold under a themed Mother's Day promotion -- "Breakfast on Us." As part of the value-added promotion, shoppers who purchased the pans received more than $9.40 in free bacon, eggs, biscuits, butter and juice.
"Our customers loved it. What's more, we sold thousands of pans and our grocery partners were absolutely delighted with the results," said Liz Yegerlehner, Marsh's general merchandise category manager and a panelist on a workshop devoted to seasonal best practices hosted by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., during its GM Marketing Conference here last month.
The Marsh chain provides strong management support for cross promotions like this, she commented. "The Marsh family, on through operations, is a strong advocate of this kind of cooperation, which is why we've found it relatively easy to develop collaborative strategies," Yegerlehner said.
Increasingly, seasonal promotions are driving general-merchandise volume for supermarkets competing against other trade formats, according to workshop participants.
Strong support from chain management and other departments is just as important as creative merchandising concepts because it encourages positive teamwork leading to successful nonfood promotions at store level, panelists said.
Yegerlehner said examples of this intracompany cooperation include a full-scale gadget program in produce and a magazine cross-merchandising program "literally throughout the store."
Marsh also strongly supports employees' store-level awareness of promotions and the way they are to be executed.
The retailer provides "how to do it" videos for each seasonal event that dramatize their importance and show store-level staffers how events tie together with other departments and the correct setup.
"We believe very strongly in visual communication. There's a weekly telecast from headquarters to stores where each department gets a chance to 'sell' its latest and greatest programs, like the Mother's Day breakfast promotion," Yegerlehner explained.
Marsh's seasonal promotions include customized items that are tailored to stores' planograms by its nonfood promotion supplier, Promotions Unlimited, Racine, Wis.
"Marsh might feature a $9.99 bunny for their high-end store locations, instead of going with a $2.99 one," said Steven Greenberg, vice president for sales at Promotions Unlimited.
Some seasonal nonfood specials work better for some chains than others in attracting shopper interest, Greenberg said.
"This summer Marsh promoted liquid bubbles [for kids], which is a good grocery item, and also promoted 20-inch Lakewood box fans, priced at $11.99, to compete against Wal-Mart," he said.
Many individuals, including the loyalty-program director at Hastings, Mich.-based G&R Felpausch Co., have input in seasonal planning.
Involving others "makes a big difference in our results because we're trying to do a better job of using the talents and the offerings of each department to enrich our offering to the customer," said panelist Bonnie Quick, director of general merchandise at the 20-store chain.
"Our loyalty director is an integral part of the planning process. He uses databases to provide guidance on what and how much to buy. In addition, we take a look at tie-in opportunities generated by what goes in our best customers' market basket, along with their seasonal purchases."
Felpausch starts planning its seasonal nonfood promotions for Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day and back-to-school in January. Weekly marketing meetings are held to "discuss promotional specifics, so we really stay on top of this business," she said.
"Spring and summer are the hardest to plan because sales levels are so dependent on seasonal conditions. Retailers got killed last year because the Midwest had such a wet and cool summer," said Quick.
Successful nonfood promotions at Felpausch involve all departments in the planning stage, said Quick, in order to take advantage of department synergies and cross-merchandising opportunities.
Examples of successful cross promotions that Felpausch has run include Rubbermaid coolers filled with a variety of items like snacks, sun care products, bakery items and citronella candles. A fall apple promotion included pie tins, crust and other bakery goods. A chili promotion included a chili stock pot and all the fixings, such as seasonings, onions, beans and taco shells. "This was a great promotion and we ran out of [the] pots too fast," she said.
Food chains "must realize that we are in the business of selling concepts, not just commodities. These creative promotions are another point of differentiation."
Although Quick said the big-format stores run value-added promotions, she believes grocery can execute them better.
Crucial elements for successful seasonal events range from keeping promotions fresh to getting active support from store operations. Pricing realistically, tracking promotion performance weekly and creating enthusiasm for the promotions by letting stores know well in advance about the programs also help guarantee a sell-through program.
She encouraged the GMDC attendees to conduct pricing checks with major competitors before putting a price on their promotional specials. "While we don't compete with Meijer or Wal-Mart on everyday prices, we will compete on promotional prices," she said.
Felpausch price checks the competition before deciding on the weekly hot promotional item featured in its ads.
"Coordination between departments should not be rocket science, either at retail or wholesale,"commented Dick Swain, president of Valu Merchandisers, the nonfood subsidiary of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan., also a panelist.
Interdepartmental cooperation on nonfood promotions is "a very personal matter of consistently going a little bit out of our way to be cooperative," he stated.