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    The Not-so Usual Suspects

    Out-of-the-ordinary general merchandise products produce high margins and quick sales.

    By Mehgan Belanger

    While not as flashy as foodservice and not as controversial as tobacco, general merchandise can be an exciting section inside convenience stores, provided category managers think outside the box when it comes to product assortment.

    The Canastota, N.Y.-based Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes convenience store chain did just that following the 2008 holiday season, when Snuggies -- fleece apparel that is half blanket, half robe -- captured the attention of consumers nationwide. The director of category management for the 82-unit chain, Jared Sturtevant, told Convenience Store News bringing the loungewear into stores was a "no brainer" considering all the advertising behind it at the time, including "As Seen on TV" infomercials.

    In February, he sent six units each to two stores as a test, and within minutes of putting Snuggies on the sales floor, the stores sold out. Sturtevant then ordered Snuggies for all the chain's stores, and to meet demand, later ordered floor displays.

    They were "one of the fastest-selling and most fun-to-sell items we had in a long time," he said, noting customers and some sales associates discovered the product in stores and bought them as gifts. And at $14.99 each, Snuggies generated a margin of 41 percent for stores.

    While Nice N Easy's supply of Snuggies was cut off for the summer, Snuggies are back this fall, along with the new Snuglette -- a child-sized Snuggie -- which hit stores in August 2009.

    All Star Marketing, a regional distributor of "As Seen on TV" products, supplied Snuggies to Nice N Easy. Through the firm, the convenience chain also stocks the Topsy Turvy upside-down tomato planter and the Big City Slider Station, a mini hamburger cooker.

    Other surprisingly successful general merchandise items in Nice N Easy convenience stores are logo items such as Corona flip-flops and inflatable rafts, along with apparel sporting professional sports team logos, said Jennifer Warner, director of marketing for the convenience store retailer.

    This holiday season, Nice N Easy stores will bring in Giftables by Totes, which includes a selection of 10 pre-wrapped gift items for less than $10 each. A book light, alarm clock, flameless candle and a golfer's tool kit are some of the items available. Warner explained these items are ideal for last minute holiday gifts for co-workers and Secret Santa occasions.

    The Cup Runs Over
    Giving a shot to a new general merchandise item called Pong Star -- an all-in-one kit for beer pong, a drinking game popular in colleges -- has been profitable for Empire Gas Plus Group, operating five c-stores in the capital New York area.

    Empire Gas general manager, Eduardo Herrmann, brought the product into stores more than four months ago after being approached by the company. Supplied through a secondary vendor, the product generates approximately 35 percent margin, or 40 percent direct from the company, he said. The retail price for a Pong Star kit is also below the retail cost of its items if purchased separately, according to the manufacturer.

    "We go through a case a week of the product. Some locations sell two cases a week," Herrmann said. "[Pong Star] is laid out properly, it has the right cup size, the right ball and includes a mat so the cups don't slide." He added: "The mat is the secret" to the kit's success.

    Empire Gas stores are located in residential areas, and Pong Star is bought by consumers in their 20s, as well as people in their late 30s and early 40s who Herrmann said are "trying to recapture their youth."

    Pong Star also addresses shifting consumer habits, where people opt to stay at home and drink rather than go out to bars or restaurants. "It's a cheap night in," he said.

    By Mehgan Belanger
    • About Mehgan Belanger

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