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NONFOODS: Destination: Nonfoods

Nonfoods play a large role in the third iteration of Stop & Shop's current prototype superstore -- a dramatic difference from the first prototype, which opened its doors in 1982. In those days the Quincy, Mass.-based, Ahold-owned retailer considered devoting several hundred feet to nonfood products too risky. Unsure of the department's ability to draw traffic, the store planners also gave it all the directed traffic pattern assistance they could, positioning it between grocery edibles and nonedibles to make it impossible to miss.

The plan worked, and while the 350-store chain has made many changes in merchandise and merchandising over time, the basic nonfood setup has stayed the same for 23 years.

That was then. Now, however, the department stands on its own as a multifaceted destination.

"We felt that we had accumulated sufficient merchandising know-how to take a strong position in locating the department," says Stop & Shop president Marc Smith. "We believe that the consumer, too, has come to accept, and want to buy, general merchandise and health and beauty care in their supermarket, and doesn't really need traffic departments to attract them there."

Even if the shoppers were primed for it, however, it would take a substantial investment in space, fixturing, and staffing to transform the GM/HBC section of the store into a destination. But the effort has apparently paid off in spades: The 1,400-linear-foot department accounts for more than 10 percent of total store sales, which is a substantial improvement over previous iterations, according to Peter Hettinger, who until last month was Stop & Shop's v.p. of nonfoods. (Hettinger has since resigned to take an executive position with Meijer, the mass merchandiser based in Grand Rapids, Mich.)

A cluster of offerings

A prime example of the new layout is the Richmond Avenue Super Stop & Shop, a 24/7 operation that opened April 25 in the New York City borough of Staten Island. The store has one of the most progressive nonfood configurations in the chain, in essence a cluster of major categories -- home entertainment, HBC, cosmetics, party goods, toys, and school and home office supplies -- grouped together as a unit, with polished wood floor tiles differentiating it from the rest of the store.

Each category within this cluster is highlighted by illuminated valences. The most prominent of these are the concave graphics attached to the tops of the shelving, which show lifestyle photographs—many humorous -- enhanced by well-aimed track lighting. End caps abound in the store's nonfood section; there are 30 in all. Aisles are eight feet wide, leaving plenty of breathing room for strategically placed shippers and allowing for a more leisurely shopping experience.

The home entertainment section is labeled Best Sellers! and encompasses books, magazines, CDs, videos, and computer games. This section occupies 1,000 square feet, and is open in the center to accommodate shippers and freestanding shelving. On each side is wall shelving for magazines and assorted entertainment media. Children's books and videos/DVDs are among the top sellers in the section.

HBC, with a total of 400 linear feet of shelving and peg displays, offers thousands of SKUs, in an assortment that the retailer claims would match, if not rival, most drug store offerings.

Cosmetics and nail care run 64 linear feet and feature all the top mass market brands. A mix of standard and low-profile shelving encompasses the remaining HBC merchandise. High-end skin care products are highlighted on upscale fixtures that include sleek shelving and art, rather than photos, for the graphics.

The HBC section receives top billing in signage at the storefront, as does the exhortation "Relax. Renew. Revive," borrowed from an Oil of Olay promotional campaign and intended to foster the impression that the skin care products there are high-quality. As in most Super Stop & Shop units, a strong pharmacy is adjacent to HBC.

A toy story

The store's toy section has been greatly expanded over previous models. Following an unsuccessful partnership with Toys R Us, Stop & Shop has created its own toy section, the "Toy Zone," on a much larger scale than in previous store designs. "We thought then and still do, that our primary customer is Mom with kids," says Hettinger. "If you have kids of your own, you know that if they have just an ordinary number of friends, that a birthday party a week -- sometimes two -- is not unusual. And that means bringing gifts, which usually means toys.

"The operative method centers on asking what makes sense for our customer, primarily moms," explains Hettinger. "And from that premise, and the idea of party gifts, it just made sense for the GM department to get into toys with more than a superficial 'shut up' section."

An array of toys occupies 44 feet of shelving and peg displays. Each four-foot section is labeled, with subcategories -- action toys, board games, puzzles, and so on -- to make the department more shoppable.

The toy presentation contributes to a larger goal, that of making the supermarket itself a party destination incorporating many food and nonfood needs. A typical market basket for party planners will include custom cakes, ice cream, snacks, soft drinks, paper goods, balloons, party favors, greeting cards, and toys.

An 88-foot party goods aisle rounds out the party offerings with festive paper plates, matching cups, napkins, party favors, and serving supplies. Piñatas, available in a variety of designs and colors, are particularly strong sellers for children's parties. The most unusual feature is a 16-foot section selling Lindt chocolates, costume jewelry, oversize plush toys, and other upscale gift items in a special display unit with glass shelves.

The party and gift fare merchandising extend even further, thanks to an adjacent 132-foot Hallmark greeting card and gift section, which features its own branded party goods on an end cap, as well as a wide selection of greeting cards, gift wrap and supplies, candles, and novelty and gift items.

Food and Staples

A Staples-branded school and home office supply section is a true store-within-a-store, occupying both sides of a 44-foot aisle, with heavy signage leveraging the Staples brand. Popular items include printing paper and ink cartridges.

The department has been such a success that all Stop & Shop stores have now converted to the new extended Staples sales program, relocating adjacent categories when necessary.

"Staples has excellent brand-name recognition and offered us an exclusive in our trading area," says Hettinger. "They have also developed private label items for us. They know their business and are learning ours.

"Most supers do a poor job with computer items in terms of pricing and assortment," he continues. "That will not be the case for Stop & Shop. Plus most of our stores run 24 hours, so if customers or students run out of paper or ink late at night, they can buy the needed items at our place."

'Tis the seasonal

The Super Stop & Shop stores have always been generous in allocating space to seasonal goods and promotions, and this store continues the tradition. In-and-out programs are especially important, as well as being helpful in closing out surplus general merchandise.

Besides some 1,000 square feet of open space, the seasonal section boasts 132 running feet of gondola shelving and two end caps, which make for voluminous merchandising. In late summer, for example, a three-sided seasonal display featured dorm-room and back-to-school supplies, along with seasonal toys and games. A nearby end cap display was home to attractive home/office storage baskets, which were tied to a current continuity program.

Some Stop & Shop customers at the Staten Island store liken the housewares section, "For Your Home & Kitchen," to a Bed Bath & Beyond. Comprising 132 feet of gondola display, its merchandise includes extensive assortments of plastic containers, upscale kitchenware, cookware, bedding, and towels.

Meanwhile, in the new store, the offering for conventional film and single-use cameras is substantial -- six feet of up-and-down peg display. Adjacent are picture frames and albums, followed by batteries. Disposable cameras using conventional film are selling well nationally. At the Staten Island store this upside trend is assisted by extra placements for impulse sales in the baby and pet departments, as well as in party goods and greeting cards.

Share and share alike

While the nonfood strategy relies a lot on the department's ability to stand on its own, a strengthening of interdepartmental efforts has also led to an integrated cross-merchandising program between grocery and nonfoods, spawning several nonfood cross-merchandising displays in grocery.

Just above the 20-foot bottled water section, for example, shoppers will find Brita and Culligan products. Bar soap is displayed in HBC, but rung as grocery. Baby food, beverages, and other baby items are located in the nonfood cluster, as part of a baby department, with toys and accessories. The nonfood department manages all confections: checkout, in-line, and seasonal. Stop & Shop's natural food section, in turn, was removed from GM/HBC and given to grocery to manage.

Of course, there's the occasional gripe over turf, but in general a team mentality has developed. "We all work for the same company," says nonfood specialist Bart Bednaiz. "The top priority is to do what's best for the customer and the overall store."

Glenn Snyder, a one-time Progressive Grocer senior editor/nonfoods, now heads up Mamaroneck, N.Y.-based Snyder Consulting. Photographs and editorial assistance are by Mary Ann Linsen Snyder, also a former Progressive Grocer editor.
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