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'New products critical in trend-driven market'.

NEW YORK -- For chain drug retailers the emphasis in housewares is squarely on the "h," for health. While small in absolute sales numbers, housewares is an important category for chain drug stores because of the role it plays in helping them merchandise to the critical baby boomer market.

"Personal care appliances are the backbone of our housewares merchandising efforts," says Bob Berman, vice president of buying and merchandising at May's Drug Stores. "We have separate planograms for hair care and for health, with the latter including such products as foot baths, scales and massagers."

As baby boomers age, they are focusing more and more on products and services related to health and wellness, and May's is using personal care appliances to leverage that trend in its favor. The chain employs an aggressive pricing and promotion strategy and carries a broader, deeper mix than some of its larger competitors, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Among the best-sellers in the category at May's recently have been HoMedics Inc.'s Envirascape water fountains and sound machines, heating pads, vibrating neck massagers and such hair-trimming appliances as a chrome 20-piece haircut kit from Conair Corp.

"Oral care is always a steady performer for us, but hair dryers are very effective promotional items when priced under $10," Berman notes.

May's merchandises dryers and other hair care personal appliances in the hair care section, and it tries to locate health and wellness products such as massagers and fountains near the pharmacy and the analgesic section in most stores. Berman is pleased with the category's overall performance and would like the opportunity to do even more with it.

"One of the challenges I think the personal care appliance industry needs to meet is getting products to retailers earlier in the year," Berman says. "Traditionally, this has been treated as a fourth quarter category, but it is actually a good category for us all year long. I would like to see manufacturers coming out with new products in January so we could sell them throughout the year. The consumer demand is there. As it is now, we are lucky to get them in August."

Happy Harry's Inc., which recently opened its 72nd store, uses housewares as a merchandising draw to build customer traffic, notes Jon Rudden, vice president of merchandising. The bulk of its mix in personal care appliances is displayed in or near the beauty care section, but it also merchandises the category in other departments, such as general merchandise, when appropriate.

"We are looking for new products from manufacturers that are exciting and will get consumers into our stores," Rudden says. "This is a trend-driven category, so new products are critical, but the price points have to fit into our discount strategy. We are looking to see what comes out of the [International Home & Housewares] show along those lines."

The personal care segment of the housewares category responds well to television advertisements targeted to the products' primary purchasers, women, who buy the items as replacements, as gifts and for improved product benefits, Rudden adds. Happy Harry's also features them at aggressive prices among its weekly specials; a recent circular listed a Conair Cordless Curling Iron at $6 and a Vicks Vaporizer at $11.

In-store merchandising strategies are also effective in this category, retailers report, and suppliers are working with individual chains to develop marketing and merchandising programs specific to their needs. Power wings, end-caps and other off-shelf display tactics are particularly effective when used in conjunction with product placement in a promotional circular. Co-op advertising money from suppliers helps support that strategy.

Large drug chains also team up with suppliers in the housewares category to maximize the impact of their marketing and merchandising efforts. Rite Aid Corp., for example, features a number of personal care and small household appliances in its single-check-rebate promotion and its weekly circulars, sometimes doubling the rebate on items featured in the circular.

The chain's single-check-rebate offerings for March include hair care appliances from Conair and Revlon and irons, coffeemakers, mixers and other small appliances from Black & Decker and Rival. Double rebates are offered on such items as the Conair Ion Shine hair dryer and the Black & Decker auto-off iron.

Eckerd Corp. regularly features housewares products, especially personal care appliances, in its monthly coupon books. The chain's offering for March features a Conair straightening brush for $4.99, Colgate Bionicals or Looney Tunes power toothbrushes for $5.99 and a Crest Spinbrush Pro power toothbrush or a two-pack of replacement heads for $5.99.
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Title Annotation:Housewares: "personal care appliances are the backbone of our merchandising efforts"
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 15, 2004
Words:752
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