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Storm Cells


Batteries and flashlights are some of the first items consumers look for when they prepare for weather-related power outages.

“Even minor storms lead to a bump in battery sales, and major storms can quickly wipe retailers out of stock,” says Ann Rule, senior director of marketing at Rayovac, part of Middleton, Wis.-based Spectrum Brands. Since weather and power outages occur throughout the year, storm prep can be a year-round category at many chains.

“Battery companies have stressed to consumers the importance of being prepared during the power outages brought about by extreme weather conditions,” says Nick Cunningham, an analyst with The Freedonia Group Inc., in Cleveland. Duracell’s biggest push for emergency preparedness has historically been in the spring and summer, targeted to help consumers gear up for the summer hurricane season. But winter storms in the Northeast and Midwest can also create power disruptions, making winter another key selling season.

To promote emergency preparedness last year, Duracell significantly expanded its Power Forward program. “The program is designed to provide power relief to those who are without power due to natural disasters,” explains Win Sakdinan, a spokesman for Duracell, a brand of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. “Our five Power Forward trucks are positioned throughout the country, enabling them to get to any disaster location with free batteries and charging stations within 24 hours.”

Since 2011, the brand has deployed the trucks 18 times throughout North America. “We’ve donated over 380,000 batteries and provided thousands of people with mobile device charging from our trucks,” Sakdinan says. “With the help of our retail partners, we also use the trucks to help spread a message of storm preparation, so families can be prepared for the next big storm.”

Selling Preparedness

According to Rule, Rayovac’s internal forecasting team communicates weather reports to account managers, who then help retailers get needed supplies on the selling floor before a storm hits. “We had a 200 percent lift in sales during Hurricane Sandy,” she says. “It’s important for retailers to have the product in the store not only from a sales perspective, but as a public service.”

This past winter was a rough one in New England. At Springfield, Mass.-based Big Y Foods Inc., batteries are merchandised regularly on floor stands throughout the year, but when it comes to storm prep merchandising, the chain uses tables to maximize display.

“We place them in high-traffic locations near the front door or at the checkout,” says Scott Brackney, Big Y’s general merchandise sales manager. “The stores get creative, merchandising candles, can openers and other storm-related SKUs all together. It’s a one-stop shop that fills a customer’s need.”

Brackney continues: “It really comes down to opportunity merchandising, having the right product in store, in the right place, at the right time. It’s something our customers have really come to expect and appreciate from Big Y. In this situation, it’s so much more than just selling product. These items now become a necessity, a public service.”

Weather emergencies are a year-round threat in the Texas markets in which Brookshire Grocery Co. operates. “Customers in our market areas have to be prepared to deal with extremes in weather, from thunderstorms and flash foods to tornadoes and hurricanes, during the spring, summer and fall, along with snow and ice in the winter,” points out Steve Delello, category manager of general merchandise/seasonal categories at the Tyler, Texas-based chain.

To help customers prepare for inclement weather, the Brookshire’s seasonal display plans always include batteries and flashlights. “We maintain a preloaded battery clip-strip inventory in our warehouse that is ready to ship at a moment’s notice,” says Delello. The chain also developed lane closure displays on wheels to bolster stores’ in-stock position and capture last-minute buys at the front of the store.

“We have developed storm-specific displays for all of our retailers that feature one of our Duracell Power Forward trucks,” notes Duracell’s Sakdinan. “This display encourages consumers to stock up prior to the storm. We also are prepared from a supply chain perspective to ship product to our retail partners ahead of significant storms or immediately following to help replenish their inventory as quickly as possible.”

Rayovac helps retailers prepare for storm seasons with flexible and easy-to-assemble displays for its Rayovac branded batteries. “The correct product mix and secondary locations are key to the success of a retailer’s emergency operations center,” says Rule. “AA, C, D and 6-volt batteries and value-priced flashlights have the highest lift during storms, so it’s important that retailers get enough product on the floor to meet consumer needs.”

While the basic battery and flashlight products are a crucial part of the mix, manufacturers have introduced new products that are good additions to an emergency operations center. Long-lasting batteries are becoming a bigger part of the category, for instance. “With our Duracell with Duralock technology, our batteries last up to 10 years in storage, so there is no downside on purchase if the storm doesn’t hit,” says Sakdinan. “While all battery sizes are important, we see a significant increase in demand for C and D batteries during storms, as those are used in many flashlights and lanterns.”

For its part, St. Louis-based Energizer recently launched Fusion, a value-priced high-drain battery positioned against Energizer Max and Duracell with Duralock.

Portable power packs that can recharge with AA batteries are another important part of the category; Rayovac’s 7 Hour Power is a strong seller in this segment. In July, the brand will launch a StormPrep line of lanterns and flashlights featuring NiteGlow locator technology. All products feature a glowing on/off button powered by a long-life lithium battery that makes them easy to locate in the dark.

Energizer promotes its WeatherReady flashlights during storm season. “Our WeatherReady line of flashlights is perfect for emergency situations because of critical benefits of long runtimes, area lighting and water resistance,” notes Nguyen Violette, Energizer’s director of marketing.

Beacon for Shoppers

Promotional activity for flashlights peaks in October and November in tandem with hurricane season, and then again in November through January, timed to the winter storm season in many parts of the country. Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer promoted the category most heavily in the supermarket channel for the year ending Feb. 21, 2015, according to Solon, Ohio-based ECRM, which also found that Energizer was the leading branded flashlight promoter in the category, with 17 percent of promotional activity linked to the brand, while Rayovac accounted for 5 percent of category promotions.

Manufacturers also advertise their battery brands during storm seasons. Duracell was the most frequently promoted brand, with 24 percent of all battery ads promoting it, ECRM found. P&G also marketed the Duracell Coppertop brand heavily, with nearly 12 percent of category promotion devoted to it.

Energizer Holdings ran 18 percent of category ads for its flagship Energizer brand. Ads for the company’s Energizer Max brand accounted for nearly 12 percent of category advertising, and Advanced Lithium and Advanced Ultimate Lithium brands accounted for a combined share of 2 percent of category ad spending.

More than 75 percent of promotions in the battery category were price-point driven, according to ECRM. Promotional support spikes from the end of November to mid-January are targeted to the holiday selling season. Kroger, Safeway and H-E-B were the most frequent promoters of the battery category in the supermarket channel.

“It really comes down to opportunity merchandising, having the right product in store, in the right place, at the right time. … It’s so much more than just selling product. These items now become a necessity, a public service.”
—Scott Brackney, Big Y Foods

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