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West Serves as Lab for Eastern Stores.

CAMP HILL, Pa. -- The Rite Aid stow is in a sense a tale of two regions.

The chain originated in the East as an operator of bantam stores, but with its acquisition of Thrifty PayLess Inc. it became the possessor of more than 1,000 Western outlets, many as large as 30,000 square feet, some even as large as 50,000 square feet.

Financial difficulties in the late 1990s led the retailer to consider downsizing outlets in the West, but with Jim Mastrian leading its merchandising efforts, Rite Aid opted to stay with its store sizes, but fit its assortments to its bicoastal character.

The larger boxes needed more general merchandise, says Mastrian, to take full advantage of' their traffic. And seasonal goods had historically sold well in the Western units, but reduced inventory had led to a loss of market share.

The East Coast also offered an opportunity for increased seasonal sales as the chain rolled out its enlarged, freestanding prototype.

Extensive change guided by Mastrian in the category management department prepared Rite Aid to remerchandise stores on both coasts, he says. When new chairman and chief executive officer Bob Miller and president and chief operating officer Mary Sammons endorsed the changes, Mastrian's team was ready to act.

"We were in a good position to effect change, because we had gone through a replanogramming process. That was critical," he comments.

While naysayers have questioned the feasibility of operating disparate stores, Mastrian says the West has turned out to be an invaluable laboratory for the East. The bigger boxes offer the space for the chain to try out an array of everyday or in-and-out promotions and then bring the best of them to the East. The symbiosis has proved especially beneficial in the seasonal category, with such segments as outdoor lighting, home decor, trim-a-tree, animated figures and prelit trees proving their value out West and then repeating it in the East.

"Western sales successes have given us a model for stretching our Eastern assortments," according to Mastrian. "We've found a lot of key items that have really driven volume on the West Coast that we've purchased for Eastern stores and been very successful with. It's taken us above and beyond the competition."

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Title Annotation:Rite Aid Corp. merchandising
Publication:MMR
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 20, 2001
Words:373
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