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    Taking the Seasons by Storm

    Seasonal items are the standout segment in the general merchandise category

    It?s hurricane season. Do you know where your flashlights, duct tape and batteries are? More importantly, do your customers know?

    In areas of the United States located in hurricane zones, such as the Gulf Coast or Eastern Seaboard, convenience stores have an enormous opportunity to sell weather-related general merchandise when hurricane season hits. Keeping up with the current weather status and having backstock or secondary displays ready to go on items such as flashlights, batteries and even candles will result in greater incremental sales, according to Kirk Bailey, merchandising manager at wholesaler McLane Co. Inc.

    ?With the continued blurring of the channels, c-stores must include a plethora of seasonal items to compete,? Bailey said, citing sun care and insect repellants during the spring and summer, and hunting accessories during the fall. ?More c-stores are looking for in/out seasonal item opportunities to drive sales.?

    Items that are attached to new movie releases, such as cups, mugs, caps/hats, flatware or plush toys, are also worthwhile seasonal options to drive sales and create excitement in-store, according to McLane?s merchandising manager. The same holds true for items with local collegiate logos, including caps, visors, keychains, etc., particularly in the fall during back-to-school time and in the winter during the holiday season.

    From the retailer perspective, Phyllis Simpler, operations manager at the 13-store Minute Market chain in Medford, Ore., confirms that she has been staying on top of seasonal merchandise ?add-ons? thanks to fierce and growing competition from all angles ? Walmart?s downsized stores to dollar stores to drugstores and even the liquor store down the street.

    ?We know our customers have choices and we know the No. 1 reason they come to us is based on our customer service, but we also know they don?t want to see the same things every day, and seasonal general merchandise is our ticket to variety and excitement,? Simpler said.

    Indeed, when it comes to general merchandise, seasonal is where it?s at for c-stores right now. While the overall category eked out a 0.6-percent increase in per-store sales last year, seasonal items posted a stellar 17.6-percent sales increase, according to the Convenience Store News 2014 Industry Report, released in June. As a result, distributors and retailers in the convenience channel are gearing up for more strategic seasonal sales.

    ?There are opportunities to increase general merchandise sales by developing a merchandising calendar for seasonal items ? for example, licensed NFL products in the fall and cold-weather gloves in the winter,? advised John Roach, vice president of merchandising for distributor Eby-Brown Co. LLC ?Since many of these ?in-and-out? items are ordered well in advance, it is important to plan ahead.?

    It is critical that the product is in the store at the very beginning of the season, Roach stated. However, it is also important for retailers to start getting out of that product before the season is over so that a proper sell-through can be achieved.

    Pine State Trading Co., another convenience wholesaler, likewise stresses the importance of ?pre-planning? and says it is the key to seasonal general merchandise success.

    ?We present c-stores with seasonal offerings to pre-order months in advance ? from BIC limited-edition trays, to Novelty Inc. floor displays, to fishing and hunting merchandise,? explained Dan Goulette, category analyst for the distributor.

    Recent seasonal items that have sold well in Minute Market locations include warm-weather apparel such as ?popcorn? tops that stretch to fit many sizes; greeting cards and gift wrap at key holiday times such as Christmas and Valentine?s Day; little toys for children and dogs at Christmas time; and Halloween earrings and novelty jewelry that Simpler sells from a little round basket at each store?s checkout area.

    As for the proper merchandising of these and other seasonal items, Eby-Brown?s Roach advises c-store retailers to maximize awareness and increase impulse opportunities through a variety of vehicles, such as counter displays, endcaps, inline presentations and freestanding displays. ?Keep in mind that the front door and the cash wrap area are not the only areas to catch the attention of the customer. There are many high-traffic areas that can be considered,? he added.

    When c-stores keep core seasonal display locations maintained, customers become accustomed to seeing the items in the same locations. Then, seasonal needs and seasonal planning can be strategized accordingly, ideally utilizing a single source, Roach explained.

    ?By working with Eby-Brown on the core general merchandise items, which we deliver weekly along with all the other categories, our retailers are able to improve operational efficiencies and maintain proper inventory positions, which they are typically unable to achieve using a group of DSD [direct-store delivery] suppliers,? he said.

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