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    The Wild and Tricky World of Selling GM

    Keeping it interesting is key when it comes to novelties, seasonal items and HBC.

    JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Don't let the name fool you. "General merchandise" is not as mundane for convenience stores as it sounds. In fact, the secret to channel success seems to be based on quite the opposite tactic -- keep it interesting, stay ahead of the seasonal curve and don't be afraid to get a little wild and crazy with it.

    According to convenience retailers that recently spoke with CSNews Online, general merchandise (GM) can run the gamut from toys and trinkets and holiday gifts, to seasonal impulse items or diesel oil, to oil paintings. The assortment seems to be limited only to a retailer's gambling instinct because while the margin rewards can be great (typically 30 to 60 percent), the same is true of the risk.

    Consider some of the general merchandise items that have recently made their way into c-stores:

    Silly Bandz -- Distributed by BCP Imports, these bands made of silicone rubber formed into shapes including animals, objects, numbers and letters are normally worn as bracelets. They retail in themed packages, with a pack of 24 selling for about $5 and packets of 12 for about $2.50.

    Wawa is one c-store that capitalized on the "silly" trend last May, according to Brian Adams, assortment manager. The key to its success was getting in and getting out fairly quickly, he said. "I've learned by wins and losses in this category. It's a balancing act of staying on top of trends so you can catch it early, then having a planned exit strategy."

    Pepper spray -- Geo. H. Green Oil Co. in Fairburn, Ga. sold pepper spray from the Sabre Co. in a small black key ring canister "with limited success" awhile back, according to Jim Callahan, director of marketing. "Several years ago, they came out with the same item in a pink canister with donations being made to breast cancer and they flew off the shelves," he relayed. "More recently, they have come out with pink and red lipstick-type canisters that do very well also."

    Apparently, the right general merchandise is a magnet for not only kids, but women shopping in c-stores.

    Purses -- And speaking of targeting the feminine set, "we sell a fair amount of purses in our stores, mostly between $29 and $59," offered Mark Jackson, a buyer for Kolkhorst Petroleum in Novasota, Texas.

    The secret to this type of merchandise is "switching out the assortment frequently," according to Jackson. "We use comparative market data and try to apply it to our stores. It doesn't always work, but it's a starting point. It's all about the styles and keeping them fresh."

    While the chain used to use a DSD vendor that "for the most part, picked the styles for us," according to Jackson, he is in the process of switching to another vendor with a "faster turnaround time, so we may start getting more involved with the selection process."

    Big Valentine's cards -- When it's time to say "I love you" in February, Kolkhorst Petroleum sets up displays of oversized Valentine cards -- the cards are two feet by three feet -- in its stores, supplied by a DSD vendor. "The biggest factor for success with it and other seasonal items is to be up early -- well within 30 days of the holiday or event," said Jackson.

    Tape and batteries -- While these might not be the most exciting general merchandise items, they are brilliant impulse offerings at holiday time, as Phyllis Simpler, operations manager at Medford, Ore.-based Minute Market, has learned.

    "You want the battery sizes for the most popular toys out for the holidays, so you have to do your homework," she stated. Scotch tape displays are another no-brainer sale for the season. "Some wholesalers are very good at getting these but you have to pursue it--don't let it be an afterthought, plan ahead."

    For more innovative ideas around general merchandise, see the September 5 issue of Convenience Store News.

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