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    Tedeschi Food Shops Plays Its Cards Right

    Greeting cards deliver double-digit sales growth year after year.

    ROCKLAND, Mass. -- Tedeschi Food Shops Inc. is dealing a great hand in greeting cards.

    The Rockland-based operator of more than 190 convenience stores offered some selection of greeting cards for many years, but in the past five years, it has expanded and fine-tuned this often-overlooked category and it is paying off in spades.

    Every year since 2009, Tedeschi Food Shops has racked up double-digit sales growth in greeting cards — between 10 percent and 20 percent, according to Mike Turco, category manager. For 2013, he expects the category's growth to be "in the neighborhood" of 10 percent to 15 percent.

    "Frankly, there are not a lot of things we’ve done wrong here lately in this category. We have had good growth year over year for all five years," Turco told CSNews Online.

    While Tedeschi Food Shops has long been a purveyor of greeting cards, it recently realized a larger opportunity when a competitive channel retreated a bit.

    "Part of the reason we put a focus on this category is we saw what the drug chains were doing: focusing on being more like c-stores with drinks and snacks, and downscaling greeting cards," Turco explained. "We see greeting cards as a perfect match for us. As time goes by, people are more time-starved than ever and are open to buying what I call ‘urgent’ products, like greeting cards, where they can get them. We keep the racks close to the front of the store so that they know when they need a card, they can come to us and get one."

    The chain's best practices, however, go beyond merchandising the greeting cards in racks up front. Opting to partner with a direct-store delivery (DSD) greeting card supplier is another factor in its success.

    Tedeschi teams up with Tree-Free Greetings, based in Swanzey, N.H., specifically for its full service. "This service is very important to our success," Turco said. "They come in, put the cards on the racks, take the old ones out, check for those that are sun-worn or faded, and keep us current with the seasons and new styles."

    Utilizing this service through Tree-Free is the primary way the chain has fine-tuned its greeting cards category over the last five years after it had issues with former greeting card companies that did not provide DSD and showed up every three months or so. With Tree-Free, Tedeschi gets "freshening up" and stocking service every four to six weeks, according to Turco.

    Another best practice is banking more on blank cards. While Tedeschi's convenience stores, of course, offer cards for every season -- Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, graduation, etc. -- one of its faster growing segments lately is blank cards.

    "That solves all language barriers and they’re great for any occasion — Get Well, Birthday, Congratulations. They’re very versatile," Turco added.

    Tedeschi is devoting more pockets on its racks to blank cards. He estimates that blank cards now make up about a third of the assortment. This is up from about 10 percent to 15 percent, depending on the store, from when the chain first started selling greeting cards.

    "We continue to add blank cards in our stores, especially in neighborhoods where our customer base is driven by ethnicity. Our customers there really gravitate toward these because they can be written in their native language," he said.

    For more on Tedeschi Food Shops' greeting card strategy, look in the December issue of Convenience Store News.

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