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NONFOODS: Here today, gone tomorrow

"Show me everything." That's what Denis Oldani, director of video for St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets, Inc. tells the salespeople who call on him. "Things can change in a day," he explains. "The worst thing a salesman can do is not show me everything he has. If I never tell you 'no,' then you're not a good salesman. You can show me something 20 times in a row and get turned down, but then by the 21st time, something has changed and I tell you 'yes.'"

Indeed, just as it's often difficult to predict which movie will be a blockbuster and which will die at the box office, buyers must remain loose and be ready to pounce at a moment's notice when it comes to in-and-out video programs. "What we look for is different as we go along," says Oldani. "What we need now may not be what we will be looking for in six months."

The decreasing retail cost of videos and the increase in the number of households with DVD players has created a great opportunity for sell-through video, particularly with in-and-out programs. The key is finding the right programs at the right time. That's why Oldani takes on all comers.

He also works with the studios, and his distributor, La Vergne, Tenn.-based Ingram Entertainment. The latter offers a variety of low-priced programs featuring public domain materials, such as TV shows that are no longer in syndication.

When that great in-and-out program does come along, the stores have to be ready for it, and sometimes this requires a merchandiser to be flexible and creative. All of the Schnucks locations that sell video have two standard fixtures: one for DVDs and another for VHS. The DVD fixture is a two-sided, A-framed, 20-foot-long rack. VHS is displayed on a four-sided rack that measures two feet by four feet. These fixtures are exclusively used for catalog titles, since new releases almost always come with some kind of floor stand or merchandising vehicle.

Often Oldani finds that he has to be very resourceful when searching for the appropriate fixtures he needs to display his video finds.

Improvise and adapt

"It all depends on what is available, how it's available, and how it comes," explains Oldani. "Sometimes I'll use those little cardboard dump bins, about two by three by four foot deep, with an adjustable bottom. You can put videos in those, and shoppers dive after them. We often use these bins for closeouts from the studios. A lot of studios are getting rid of their VHS inventory. None of it is previously viewed, though; it's all new from the studio."

Oldani is finding that studios and distributors are making an increasing amount of low-end DVDs available, solid programs he wants to run while they're hot. To take advantage of this, he has to make space in his stores. This holiday season, for example, he found Christmas DVDs, retailing at three for $4, that he's merchandising in the seasonal department.

"There is a lot of that kind of stuff out there, and we dabble in all of it," says Oldani. "It's just lower-tier stuff; it doesn't have a permanent home, so you merchandise it wherever you can find the space, in whatever vehicle they give you. And if they don't give you one, you make something up."

Occasionally Oldani has found himself stuck with no fixtures at all. It was during these times he learned to improvise with what was already on hand. "If there are no fixtures, I'd use the shelf in the seasonal aisle, or else an end cap," he says. "I'd slant the shelves and put a fence on the front of it."

A unique source of Schnucks' in-and-out programs is the chain itself. Oldani sources previously viewed video from Schnucks rental departments to offer as sell-through at a discounted rate. These are the only previously owned videos he'll buy.

"Our rental video is a different department from sell-through," he says. "The rental department sells the previously viewed videos to my general merchandise department. The rental department gets credited, and the GM department gets charged a cost, and then I sell the videos to the consumer at a real good price. And I sell a ton of my own previously viewed video, because I have 60 [rental] departments."

The previously viewed videos are sold both inside and outside the video department. Some stores without rental departments offer them, as well, adds Oldani.

It's these types of programs that keep the video selection fresh and offer something for every Schnucks shopper. "Do we have a specific video customer?" muses Oldani. "I view anyone who walks into the store as a potential video customer. If you are a consumer of entertainment, you are a potential [video] customer."
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