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How Sun News brightens publications sales.

That most magazine wholesalers have little, if any, direct competition, would seem to be an enviable situation. But George Martin, sales manager at Sun News, Pinellas Park, Fla., sees another side.

When you don't have direct competition, he says, "you lose out on the spirit of creativity that competition inspires." This can result, he says, in an inability to reach full sales potential. So magazine wholesalers have to be "our own competition, to hype ourselves."

Martin says publications do have plenty of indirect competition in the supermarket for shelf and promotional space. "We've also fighting for our share of the consumer's disposable dollar, particularly for the entertainment dollar--movies, bowling and so on. We have a good supply of hard-core readers, but we need to broaden the market, attract those people who like to read or are so-so about reading, but never get around to it."

Marketing Coordinator Kevin O'Farrell sums up the situation: "We have to help sell product, not just deliver it."

The company, one of five Florida magazine wholesalers operated by Duval-Bibb Co. in Tampa, has developed a multi-faceted campaign to give publications an extra push in its St. Petersburg/Clearwater area.

One direction the company has taken is selling from usually vacant space. At the front end, a mobile 3 foot-wide wire rack display known as a "lane blocker" is used in about 90 of the 120 supermarkets Sun supplies. The display, containing individual pockets for about 10 publications, is rolled in front of the lanes when they are closed. Most stores have two to four of these merchandisers.

Besides using this otherwise vacant space, the displays are considered more attractive than the close-off bars or shopping carts that are often used to stop traffic through the lane. One of the chains Sun supplies uses its blockers to display selected checkout titles to pick up additional pocket allowances.

Most stores take another approach. They let Sun's service people select primarily non-checkout titles and paper-back books from the mainline rack to provide--what O'Farrell calls--"an extra point of interest" to the customer who may not have passed the mainline magazine fixture.

The salesmen are encouraged to use a theme approach in displays. A grouping of women's magazines, for example, forms a forceful selling package when back-to-school or spring fashions are the colorful cover story. Income tax time brings appropriate titles as does the opening of baseball and football seasons with sports books. O'Farrell says theme ideas are occasionally suggested to the route salesmen, but "generally we leave it up to them as a challenge to their imagination." He says the salesmen, spurred by their commission, have responded very well. Most stores will sell about 35 units a week, with average retail prices of $1.55, from each lane blocker. Themes for Endcaps

Another way Sun provides seasonal or thematic tie-ins is through endcap displays. These are for larger stores with endcaps available near the mainline fixture. The wooden, walnut-stained fixture has three shelves. It is 36 inches wide, stands 54 inches high and is 12 inches deep.

The wholesaler's distribution system provides for a separate monthly shipment of "theme" publications with a yellow bundle cover sheet imprinted with brief copy and headlined, "Special Magazine Promotion." Separate sales bulletins provide details on the featured publications.

Besides selling extra copies of magazines and books, the concept provides a "draw to the mainline rack," O'Farrell says. Illustrated homemade signs have been used to draw attention to appropriate publications grouped under themes such as "Vacation Planning Center," "Football Review," "Now Appearing--Your Favorite Movie & TV Publications" and "Treat Yourself to Your Favorite Magazine."

"We're just at the beginning stage in this," says O'Farrell. He says the signs will become more professional, but in the meantime "the covers speak for themselves." Also, more point-of-sale materials are coming from the publishers.

Sun has also tested various means of cross merchandising. Among the more successful is a white wire freestanding floorstand, two titles wide, located in or near the cosmetics display in larger stores. The floorstand has a permanent sign that reads: "Magazines to Make You and Your Life More Beautiful." A recent display featured Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Modern Bride, Teen and Feeling Great. Many Departments Involved

Other cross-merchandising racks, spinners or cardboard bins include a trade-book-sized paperback title for the cosmetics aisle and books of various kinds and sizes in service fish, deli and cheese. A spinner with 28 titles was located near the pharmacy and other books were located near plants in the produce department.

In grocery, tie-ins have worked best in wine (especially during the holidays), with cookbooks in various locations, baby books in baby foods and health books in health foods. In school and office supplies, peg-mounted pockets for six to 60 titles of dictionaries, school study guides and testing preparation books have also worked well.

Sun also does customized cross merchandising. At the request of a chain customer, the magazine distributor installed eye-level wire pockets on the ceiling support columns embedded inside the grocery gondolas. Now on what is usually wasted space are books of one to five titles related to adjacent grocery products, such as infant care with baby foods, cookbooks with cooking supplies. The wire pockets vary in arrangement, from one and two across to one to five in a vertical strip.

Sun's most spectacular campaign was run in March when 400 stores, including 45 supermarkets, sold approximately 36,000 best seller paperback books in campaigns running between two and four weeks. Radio commercials and giant displays by 23 Public outlets typing in a display contest reinforced the theme: "March Is Blooming With Best Sellers. Spring Into a Good Book."

Sales Manager Martin says the March operation was preceded by a kind of dry run the previous August.

"Our book buyer had reported that a lot of good titles were coming out at about the same time (for the August promotion), and we thought, why not put together a promotion and push the best in a single shot?"

Cardboard bins were obtained for each of 10 titles, some p-o-s materials were prepared and, for the first time involving Sun, advertisements were run in newspapers. The ads, which took about a fourth of a page in the Tampa Tribunehs and St. Petersburg's Times' best food day section, were headlined: "Add these to your shopping list." The ads reproduced the book covers, had short descriptions and concluded with the line: "August is sizzling with best sellers. Look for them in your favorite supermarket or drugstore."

In addition to the newspaper ads, some radio spots were prepared by a local agency. The 30-second commercials featured a narrator, with background music, extolling the featured books.

O'Farrell recalls that only about 30 supermarkets and a few drugstores participated. "It wasn't an easy sell," he recalls. "Despite the 35% margin on high retails and guaranteed sale, most retailers just couldn't see giving special display space for books." But the event was a success in the participating stores and that's what led to the bigger push the following March. For that promotion, Sun used the experience it gained to obtain promotional monies from the publishers.

"We paid for the ad ourselves," says O'Farrell, "hoping to get it back. We did recover some, but we ended up paying for most of it ourselves. Publishers aren't used to this kind of promotion, especially with food and drug stores involved, but we broke the ice and could show good sales results." Sun also paid about $700 for dindow posters.

Like the August before, the March promotion revolved around publisher supplied cardboard dumps. But instead of putting out a newspaper ad, Sun expanded the radio spot schedule, which included some trading-off of books as disk jockey prizes for radio time. Sixty-second spots were developed for five of the 12 titles, including: Pocketbooks' "Seeds of Yesterday"; Signet's "The Love You Make (An Insider's Story of the Beatles)" and "How To Live To Be 100 (or More)"; and Warner's "Ascent Into Hell."

Ads were run on three local stations for a total cost of around $7,000. Sun regained about half of that amount from the publishers.

"If we had more co-op monies from publishers," says Martin, "we could have had a newspaper ad and posters for the March push. We hope our next promotion wsill get more publisher support."

Meanwhile, he says, Sun is looking forward to the upcoming book sale in early November. "Backed by our last success, we're not worried about getting display space in the stores." The four titles, for which radio spots are being prepared, are: "Poland" by James Mitchner, "Changes" by Danielle Steele, "Pet Semetary" by Stephen King, and "Hearts of Fire" by Sylvia Savage.
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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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