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Center store: Drawing in customers; Fixtures are beginning to carry the banner of grocery aisle merchandising as retailers attempt to recapture excitement and sales in the center of the store. (Equipment & Design).

We all know that sales in the traditional grocery aisles have been leaving the supermarkets in favor of other retail channels, especially the mass discounters. It's also no surprise that center store merchandising is generally boring at best. Supermarket operators have spent most of their energy and money trying to make their perimeter perishables departments stand out, often at the expense of the grocery aisles.

The old train of thought was a box of cereal was just a box of cereal and there wasn't much one could do to sell more product, besides lowering its price. Certainly, price is very important, as is selection in the grocery aisle, but consumers will never know the merchandise mix or price points if they do not first look down the grocery aisle.

Retailers can observe consumer shopping patterns by watching average shoppers push their carts around the perimeter of a supermarket. They'll stop at the end of a grocery aisle, look at the first few products in the aisle or gaze up at the aisle markers. If they don't need anything in that aisle, they walk on. Few shoppers have the time for aisle-browsing anymore.

In the battle for center store sales, merchandising is becoming an all-important weapon. Fixtures are quickly becoming the primary mechanism that allows aggressive retailers to present the same old boxes and cans in more exciting ways.

"The goal is to make certain sections [of the aisle run] stand out," says Jerry Mark, national sales manager for Nexel Industries, based in Port Washington, N.Y. "It's all about drawing the attention of the shopper to something that is being merchandised differently. I think that the fixtures play a fairly large role in successful merchandising."

The goal of creative merchandising within the center store is to give shoppers something interesting to look at when they take that brief gaze down the aisles. Creating a focal point makes them stop, look at a fixed point and become curious about that point. Instead of skimming over a blur of products blending into one another, the skillful use of fixtures stops the eye.

One way of creating a focal point is to deviate from the standard shelving pattern of placing a fixture in the middle of the aisle run. For instance, if a 60-foot aisle is set up with traditional 6-foot high, four-shelf gondolas, the operator can interrupt that straight run at some point with a 6-foot section of wire chrome shelving that's only 5-foot high. The first thing that the shopper is going to see and focus on when she looks down that aisle is the chrome fixture and its products.

"There's a number of ways to create the focal points," says Kent Williams, store planning services manager for Omaha-Neb.-based Lozier. "We can change the height, change the color or use a curved-front shelf so it'll bump out a little bit. Retailers will also use what we call upscale looks where it has more of a custom appearance."

Lozier has developed a number of new fixtures that are designed to change the look of an aisle while giving the retailer more flexibility in merchandising. For example, the company has introduced a new pet aisle merchandiser, which is designed to take away the cluttered, sloppy look that besets so many supermarket pet food sections. The merchandiser features a curved radius front to slightly bump it out and give it a more sophisticated look, which is more in line with today's premium dog and cat foods. The unit also uses gravity feed to make the products easier to handle. The versatility of Lozier's pet merchandiser allows retailers to have three vertical rows of shelving within each 4-foot section, where shelves can be staggered to accommodate different sizes of bagged and boxed products.

The store-within-a-store concept has become one of the most popular and overused terms in supermarket design. It usually applies to setting up a produce department as if it were a separate farmer's market, or the deli as if it were a freestanding delicatessen. However, retailers can also set off a section of their grocery department by using unique fixtures.

"We get a lot of play on that store-within-a-store concept with rows of our differentiated shelving, such as the Quick Slot or Drop Back Shelf," says Rob Kaluzavich, segment manager of merchandising, Metro Industries, based in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "In a row of pasta, for example, these shelves may be a gourmet brand or a homemade brand as opposed to your standard boxed pasta. Typically our shelf system may be the one used to highlight those products apart from the rest."

Metro's Quick Slot gives the operator the ability to add or take away a shelf at will, allowing retailers to cater their fixtures to product needs. The company's Drop Back Shelf has a 1-inch ledge, which contains the product and allows for increased density within the same footprint.

"We're seeing more supermarkets going to high-tech wire shelving as opposed to gondola type shelving," says Mark, whose company recently developed chrome cradle wine shelving. "It's [wire shelving] giving them more of a high-tech, modem look than the old-style supermarket shelving."

Today, consumers are looking for meal solutions when they walk into the supermarket. Retailers have responded by putting together cross-merchandised meal displays, such as by moving dry grocery products over to the meat case. While this approach promotes meal solutions, it does little to emphasize the grocery aisles. However, operators can now create meal ideas and increase cross-merchandised sales by bringing perishables directly into the grocery aisle through the use of small in-line refrigerated cases.

"Nowadays people are more time starved and on the go," says Jim Huebner, marketing director for Zero Zone, based in North Prairie, Wis. "When they go through the store, it's nice to be able to make it easier for the customer to get their things without going all around the different sections of the store to get a meal."

An in-line refrigerated case does two things for the grocery aisle. First, it creates cross-merchandised impulse sales for the complementary products in the case and on the shelves. For instance, using an in-line case, retailers can cross-merchandise cheese in the pasta section with the spaghetti and sauce. Secondly, by creating an interesting departure for the aisle, because the in-line cases usually have better lighting and signage, shoppers might proceed down the aisle and pick up other items along the way. "It definitely creates a little more excitement in that area," says Huebner. "Otherwise, you're used to seeing a boring area. By having the refrigerated case and dry area together, it creates more interest, and I would think it creates impulse sales."

Zero Zone's in-line merchandising case is a 4-foot, 14.7-cubic foot capacity case that is self-contained. All that is required for its operation is an electric outlet. What is unique about the Zero Zone in-line offering is that it can hold product at a temperature well below 40 F, which means that it can be used with products such as red meat. This allows the retailer to truly cross-merchandise all the necessary ingredients for a meal.

Lights and signage are other ways in which retailers can enhance the appearance of their center store aisles. Often these elements can be incorporated directly into the fixtures, improving product presentation and providing much-needed information without all the clutter.

"No matter what you do with the shelving," says Williams, "it still comes down to how you merchandise it and how you do the facings--that's still the key. We just try and make it easier for them [retailers] to do it."
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Author:Litwak, David
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:1268
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