NONFOODS: GM Sales & Profits: Cool GM for a Hot Clime

Consumers living within the trade area of Bristol Farms' newest store in Palm Desert, Calif. could be a general merchandise buyer's dream. According to Spectra demographic data, the average annual income is just under $82,000, 66 percent don't work -- many are retired, as more than 50 percent are over the age of 65 -- and a whopping 91.6 percent don't have children in the household to spend that income on.

It's a consumer base that has plenty of time -- and plenty of disposable income -- to seek out the finer things in life, including ornate wooden salad bowls, handmade gift baskets, and $700 fountains.

Yes, $700 fountains. Just to the right of the store's entrance, and adjacent to the floral department, is an array of fountains with styles ranging from meditating Buddhist figures to kneeling fairies to a large stone known simply as the "Big Fountain," the last of which retails for $699.99.

"Our stores are in communities where more than 20 percent of the household income is over $100,000," says Kevin Davis, Bristol Farms' president, chairman, and c.e.o. "That's the kind of demographic we're looking at. Our customers skew toward a higher education and income than average.

"We're a destination store, where people come -- not every day necessarily -- but for special occasions, for fresh food, and for products they can't find every day. Specialty items."

The housewares category is a good example of a product mix geared to this specialized and lucrative market.

"In this store, we have a desert theme on some of the wooden tableware," says store director Tito Feliciano. "You'll see it across many products. All of our general merchandise and HBC items are selected specifically for the local market. We picked the best, the top-of-the line products in each category. We may not have all the SKUs, like some stores do, but we have the best ones."

Wining and dining in style

Adjacent to the wooden tableware is the greeting card section, supplied by upscale card manufacturer Papyrus. The set includes a range of individual cards, boxed sets, wrapping paper, scrapbooking materials, and handmade gift baskets. "Gifts are big business from Thanksgiving to New Year's," says Feliciano. "The gift baskets that we make range from $49 to more than $200."

A standalone wire display features a variety of silverware that would make any butler proud, including bowls, serving trays, mixing and serving spoons.

But housewares at Bristol Farms aren't limited to the general merchandise section. Indeed, products are cross-merchandised throughout the store. But it's in the wine and spirits department where the complementary nonfood merchandising is most prominent.

In the department, which is designed as a store within a store and sits right in the center of the market, Bristol Farms sells more than 3,000 varieties of wine, much of it from California's vineyards, but also imported from France, Chile, Australia, and other countries. It additionally specializes in hard-to-find spirits, some which sell at upwards of $1,600. So it's no surprise that the retailer offers a large assortment of related GM products to accent the section's extensive offerings.

Lining the shelves on the outside perimeter of the wine section are accessories to make the most of the vintage varietals and spirits offered within. Lined up are several sizes of picnic backpacks with insulated storage spaces for a wine bottle, as well as room for a corkscrew and two plastic wine glasses, which are included. There are also elegant flasks, ice buckets, glasses, candle holders, along with books to help the novice learn the basics or the connoisseur match the best wine to a planned meal.

Catering to the Palm Desert market means equipping residents for poolside entertainment, too -- and Bristol Farms accommodates with a relatively low-price solution. A line of plastic glasses is ideal for pool parties, where glassware would pose too many risks of breakage and injury.

The plastic drinkware is offered in several shapes and sizes, from beverage tumblers to stemmed wine glasses. But don't let the $2 price tag fool you -- the products look so much like glass, shoppers still flinch when they knock the occasional piece off the shelf.

With Easter just around the corner at the time of a recent store visit, the seasonal displays at the front of the store were filled with traditional chocolates and candies, and the GM side featured baskets handmade in the floral department, plush Easter bunnies, and Easter-themed knickknacks.

In fact, the folks at Bristol Farms are so good at creating such attractive seasonal displays that they have to keep replacing the exquisite floral arrangement that crowns this year's Easter display. "It was purely intended just for decoration, and contains artichokes -- our logo -- in the clear glass vase," says Feliciano. "We've already sold three since Easter merchandising began."
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