Getting in the game

Many years ago I had the privilege of working as a press spokesman for a politician running for office in New York state. One day, as we traveled by minivan from one barbecue to the next, he took the time to explain his strategy on how to best capture the hearts and souls of the voting public.

The first thing you do, he said, was find a woman holding a baby, maybe six to nine months old, and go over and glow about the kid. If you can, he added, give the kid a kiss, though he cautioned that it was also important to make sure that you did nothing to upset the mother.

Then I watched him execute his plan. At every stop that day, he found a baby, held it up in the air, kissed it when he thought it was OK and told mom and dad how beautiful the kid was. He won the election in a landslide and, I believe, is still in office today.

That story should show just how important the baby care category is to mass retailers. No matter what else retailers do, with whatever category, they must remember that the baby care category must get preferential treatment in their stores in terms of space, assortment, cleanliness and convenience. Consumers—especially young moms—are looking for all of these things, plus having enough trust in the retailer to feel comfortable enough to purchase these items at their stores.

Of course, retailers must respond with a complete baby care section, offering a wide range of disposable diapers, bottles and accessories across various price points. They must also offer private label alternatives for those consumers looking to shop on price. Finally, they need to keep the nonfoods baby care segments near the baby food and cereal aisles to take advantage of all cross-merchandising possibilities and offer as much convenience as possible to shoppers.

Many grocery retailers are giving baby care more space. In addition, they are making it very well known that they are adding more SKUs, watching price points and simply making it easier for consumers to shop their baby care aisles.

Is it enough? With baby care, it is never enough.
Along a similar vein, Sears announced last month that it was going to place a greater emphasis on the toy business in the hopes that the category would attract more consumers into its stores.

Back in the day, and we are talking 40 years ago, Sears was a major player in the toy business. But poor merchandising moves by the company as well as the introduction of big box toys stores such Toys “R” Us and, of course, Wal-Mart, sent Sears’ market share in the category tumbling.

Now the struggling retailer is confident that it can win back that market share by placing a greater emphasis on the category.

Company officials should realize that it is not that easy. The toy business has changed dramatically in recent years. A large percentage of sales now comes from electronic games and, while a small number of SKUs make up the bulk of toy sales, consumers still want a large product selection. Also, as Toys “R” Us discovered a decade ago, selling toys successfully means having the right amount of in-store service to help shoppers find the item they are looking for.

Sears does not have too good of a track record of late and its ownership seems more intent on the real estate end of the business than the retailing segment. If this chain really wants to be a player in the toy business, it better be sending its buyers out now to find out what are the right products to carry at the right price points. Otherwise, Sears has little chance of winning at this game.  
Seth Mendelson can be reached at 212-979-4879 or at

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