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Theme concept boosts publications in Chicago.

At 91, the Chas. Levy Distributing Co. of Chicago may be one of the oldest magazine wholesalers around, but is youthful in dynamic merchandising of publications. The dynamics come from necessity

In today's economic climate, says General Manager Paul Davidson, "you can't just put new titles out there and expect to get full potential. You have to sell them to the consumer."

Supermarkets, which account for about 20% of the 2,600 retailers the company services, are special, Davidson says. He says that unlike bookstore customers, who have to be enticed inside the store by window displays, "supermarket customers have entered the store prepared to spend." He sees this as an opportunity to use promotional activities to attract interest in publications.

Long established promotional programs such as best seller endcaps and in-and-out paperback floorstands have been supplemented by a half-dozen newer merchandising programs. Prominent among these is a "theme" magazine promotional rack that has enjoyed success in many Chicago area supers.

The promotional fixture measures 54 inches high, 18 inches deep and 34 inches wide and displays eight magazines, four on each of the two upper shelves, and newspapers and other publications on the two lower shelves. Usually mounted in the checkout area, it is provided without charge and is variable in many colors, although most store managers prefer a brass finish.

What makes the rack "special" is that the theme can change monthly to a related selection of magazines. Carol Kloster, Levy's director of Magazine merchandising, says the growth in specialty magazines was the compelling factor behind the rack's introduction about two years ago. The variety and popularity of specialty magazines has moved this segment forward in consumer interest, she says, but few specialty titles win checkout pockets and their impact is diffused in the mainline fixture.

"We were looking for a forceful way to bring new titles to the forefront of consumer attention," Kloster says, "and a permanent promotional rack, displayed in the front-end area and highlighting selected subjects, seemed the best vehicle. We're also trying to boost everyday sales. Once customers become aware of titles that caught their attention in the new rack, they many become regular buyers."

In addition, Kloster says, the rack provides a good home for newspapers, which have become a tidy source of revenue for many supermarkets.

Key elements in the rack's success are the change in themes and publications each month and the colorful header signs that are perched on a riser shelf and carry snappy selling messages. On Its Own Track

The Magazines are shipped to the stores in a special distribution in a clearly marked box and, once there, Levy field people assist in putting up the order. (The signs are hand delivered.) Throughout the month more current issues of publications with covers or articles related to the theme may be added to the fixture, replacing the original titles.

Pam Lassers, advertising and promotional manager, designs the signs along with Kloster. She says it's no problem to come up with good themes and signs every month because she usually works with a preplanned schedule. However, title selection sometimes changes at the last minute, depending in part on whether the latest magazines have cover features suited to a given theme. "We want to take advantage of what the publications are doing," she says.

Female oriented themes focusing on such topics as spring and fall fashions are the most successful. These themes often group regular checkout titles, such as Glamour, Mademoiselle, Vogue and Seventeen, in displays titled: "Step Up to Fall Fashions."

Other promotions have included: "Baseball Fever...Catch It," featuring various titles with baseball covers related to spring training; "Shape Up for Summer," with such titles as Self, Shape, Fit, New Body and Cosmo's Diet & Exercise book; "Can You Make It for Christmas? You Sure Can!," with how-to ideas on holiday food preparation, entertaining decorating from Christmas craft specials, Better Homes & Gardens, Woman's Day and Family Circle; "Read a Movie"; and "Money-Saving Tax Tips."

Some other themes and their signs were: "Can't Win at Video Games? Find the Winning Answers Here!" and "What's New in Home Computers? Find Out Here!" Subjects from bridal fashions to outdoor sports have also seen used.

According to Lassers, the more than 100 supermarkets participating in the program have been selling an average of 75 copies a month of publications with retail prices around $2.50 and $3. And, she says, they have been improving the sale of featured titles by 10% throughout the year.

Many supermarkets served by Levy have been cross-merchandising publications with related store products. The publications used in these promotions include paperbacks, some hardcovers and oversized, softcover trade books. All carry fairly high retails and excellent percent margins. The program includes inline stepups for cookbooks in the baking aisle and the testing of extenders for publications in the wine and automotive sections. Cooking Up a Storm

Some 60 stores are using the cookbook display, which consists of 4 or 8 feet of painted wooden inserts with six shelves. To sustain interest in the books, new titles are shipped in frequently and major changes in the selection are made quarterly. Co-op advertising is provided for stores featuring cookbook titles in their grocery ads.

Perhaps the most exciting event in the brief history of the in-line section was when a publisher's $7.95 cookbook was backed by a $1-off coupon. Lassers says the coupon was a "tremendous success," leading to a 24-unit floorstand that achieved a 90% sell-through in the 250 supermarkets that carried it.

Mary Donnellon, Levy's sales director, is not surprised at how cookbooks sell year after year. "A supermarket cookbook display reaches shoppers who are thinking about food preparation. It's the ideal environment to develop impulse sales--and it likely spurs cooking at home, which supermarkets want to encourage."

Julie Phieffer, who as hardcover and trade buyer makes the cookbook selection, says the fixture's titles favor the needs of three increasingly important types of shoppers: working couples, young professionals and retired people. Each group has a certain amount of disposable income for convenience and lifestyle products," she says. "We find the best selling cookbooks in supermarkets are those that offer quick recipes for convenience appliances, healthful and nutritious meals and ideas for entertaining."

Child care books are being cross-merchandised in 22-inch-long wire shelf extenders in the baby needs aisle, often in front of disposable diapers. Most Levy-supplied supers now have the extenders, which carry about five titles, all priced from $2.95 to $4.95 and providing the basic book margin of 30%. Eight units a week are sold on the average, according to Lassers. This rate of sale undoubtedly reflects the fact that a new title prepack goes to the stores every other month.

Also, enjoying success in most of the stores where it's being tested is an extender for books on cats and dogs, says Lassers. "Not all store locations are doing outstanding, but where they're good, they can sell a ton of copies. Buyers tell me the pet food aisle is among the most heavily trafficked in the store, so our location is a natural." She says the problem is in finding enough good titles to ensure rotation and maintain interest. Frequent Rotation Needed

The selling of in-and-outs bargain books has come of age in supermarkets, says Fred Waleski, director of book merchandising. The books consist of publisher overstocks, reprints or closeouts that retail for a fraction of their original price. "They offer outstanding values to customers on first quality books in mint condition, while providing full book margins to retailers," he says. Promotions usually run three to four weeks.

The books carry bold price comparison tickets showing both the original price and the bargain price. Prices range from 99 cents to $9.99, with most books selling in the $1.99 to $3.99 range. Waleski, pointing out that the company has a full-time buyer on this program, says the wide variety and frequent stock rotation are needed because "supermarkets have many regular customers who visit the store at least once a week. They shouldn't be seeing the same book merchandise each time they come in."

Two merchandising vehicles are provided. While cardboard dumps are used by some smaller stores, collapsible metal tables are most popular. These tables are fitted with yellow vinyl table covers--proclaiming "Bargain Books" in bold blue type--that reach to the floor. The tables, which are 2 feet wide and 4 or 6 feet long, are placed in wide perimeter aisles in the checkout concourse or in the store's promotional area. An in-line display is being tested as an insert in the store's reading center.

One local chain has been featuring in-and-out bargain books on a quarterly basis.

Many independents are in the act, too. Frank Spallone of Frank's Finer Foods, a three-store firm, gives the promotion a two-week run three or four times a year. He's been pleased with the results. "The promotion sells well, requires no labor, doesn't take much room and doesn't cost anything--we're billed after the leftover merchandise has been taken back."

Levy is expanding the market for magazines and books by responding to demographic trends.

The selection of magazines, published in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain, include Spanish editions of Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Popular Mechanics, and a number of magazines not published in English. The magazines are featured as a category on a store's mainline magazine rack, highlighted by special signing.

Levy has long been a leader in product promotions by creating its own multipublisher displays, rather than relying on publisher offerings. This concept, plus Levy's commitment to provide retailers with a timely selection of seasonal merchandise, resulted in a display of publications covering the 1984 Olympics.

The display consisted of a cardboard shelf 30 inches wide, 13 inches deep and 12 inches high and sat on a counter, endcap or a base provided by Levy.

A similar shelf unit is being used to merchandise an assortment of books for back-to-school. "We felt that a shelf unit had the best chance of being incorporated into a store's school supplies section," Donnellon says. "That's the place to be when you're trying to sell dictionaries and other reference books."

The title selection there includes dictionaries from several different publishers offered in a price range from $2.50 to $3.95. Larger stores are using multiple displays to create an endcap of these books, while others are incorporating the shelf unit into off-shelf displays. Themes in the Mainline

Family reading centers--the mainline sections--are receiving a boost with a new 24-inch "Readers' Choice" square module that carries a monthly theme. The module consists of two 16-inch wire racks, one above the other for four paperbacks each, and a cardboard border surmounted by a framed sign.

Launched in 30 stores this past June, the initial presentation carried a sign saying: "Whodunit? Read These Great Mysteries and Find Out!" The wire racks contained a selection of paperback mysteries, Ellery Queen's Mysteries Magazine and the Alfred Hitchcock magazine to tie-in with the publication of the "$15,000 Prize Meets Murder" mystery.

July's presentation featured movie tieins, an assortment of all types of reading material on the big summer movies--Indiana Jones, Gremlines, Star Trek III and The Last Starfighter August had a selection of titles for back-to-school, including A+ Guides and ringbound dictionaries. This month's theme is parenting--books and magazines devoted to baby and child care. October's theme not determined as of this writing, will "probably" revolve around "scary" books for Halloween, says Lassers.
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Title Annotation:wholesaling publications to supermarkets
Author:Snyder, Glenn
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Sep 1, 1984
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