Even during the busiest time in the stationery aisle—the back-to-school period from August until the end of September—many supermarket shoppers bypass the shelves and endcaps overflowing with paper, pens and notebooks, electing instead to purchase these essentials at mass merchandisers or specialty stores.
With this in mind, observers say grocers need to find ways to establish themselves as reliable and affordable purveyors of these products—as well as the most convenient place to purchase them.
Andrew Kingery, manager of sales and marketing integration for Elmer’s Products, based in Columbus, Ohio, says some grocers are hurting themselves by limiting their assortments in this area. “The current assortment of office supplies in the grocery channel predominately excludes a branded assortment, for example, in sharpeners, trimmers and punches,” he says. “As a result, grocers are not capturing shoppers who want quality branded office products. These shoppers appear to be going to the mass or office stores, where the branded products exist and do very well, as evidenced by our X-ACTO brand performance and market share in these channels.”
Kingery suggests that grocers develop a strategy that includes a wide assortment of branded office supplies. This, he says, helps ensure they do well when the “moment of truth” occurs at the shelf. “Such a strategy can help build trust with the shopper so the grocer benefits during the other ‘moment of truth’—when the shopper chooses a retailer. Given the lack of quality branded options in the office set, shoppers appear to be trusting office and mass retailers more with these items,” Kingery says.
He says there is a significant opportunity for grocers to pull buyers into this category on a regular basis, as well as to facilitate combined shopping trips, by offering more branded items on the aisle. “Grocers can facilitate more trip combinations by convincing their shoppers that their offerings can be trusted,” he says.
FOCUS ON HOT PRODUCTS
Generally, grocery stores cannot compete in terms of price in the school and office supply category. They can, however, compete when it comes to product selection.
Cheryl Severini, senior marketing and corporate communications manager for Fair Lawn, N.J.-headquartered Maxell Corp. of America, says, “Since grocers will not be able to compete on price in many of the school and office product categories, they need to offer a unique assortment, whether that be with color, design or pack size. They need an assortment that cannot be compared to the national office superstore and mass merchandisers.”
Not only does the assortment need to be unique, according to Tim Koletsos, director of stationery marketing for Shelton, Conn.-based BIC Consumer Products USA, it needs to include the hottest items on the market. “Grocery stores need to carry the top-selling products in each segment and introduce new products into the set to provide excitement for the shopper looking for the new and different,” he says. “Consumers need to know that grocers carry the products they enjoy.”
Retailers looking to keep their stationery sets fresh may want to consider stocking what Elmer’s Kingery says represents the company’s “biggest innovation for 2010”—its Glue-All white glue. “We are focused more than ever on delivering new innovations to this category that will drive performance at retail,” he says.
From Severini’s perspective, USB flash drives represent one of the hottest trends in this category and grocers easily can stock this item in business or student-friendly models. “Maxell has currently introduced a comprehensive line of USB flash and SD/micro SD cards. One of the unique products that we have introduced is the Maxell USB+. This unit incorporates a high speed USB flash drive with micro SD card technology. The micro SD card fits right into the USB flash drive, which then works as a card reader, also providing easy access storage,” she says. “These types of innovations will continue to evolve in flash media, and help to sustain the growth of the category.”
Grocers also can stock the school and office supply shelves with convenience items shoppers may need. This includes both essential and non-essential household, office and school items. And retailers shouldn’t forget about popular items that consumers tend to look for in other retail venues.
“Grocers can help time-crunched moms make their lives a little easier,” says Bob Friend, national account team leader for Easton, Pa.-based Crayola. “With consumers focusing on essentials, and continuing to visit the grocery store while cutting back on trips to other outlets, finding new ways to offer high-value products where moms shop offers strong opportunities for growth. When moms need a gift for a birthday party or supplies for a child’s school project, being able to pick up high-quality products like Crayola at the supermarket can be a lifesaver.”
Since this aisle contains some consumer electronics accessories as well—discs, thumb drives, headsets, etc.—grocers can capture the mom shopping for her family who also needs office supplies. “Consumer electronics accessories sales will come from impulse in the grocery market, but consumers will still need to see product differentiation from their local mass merchandiser in order to drive the sale,” says Maxell’s Severini.
After August and September, grocers can focus on promoting items used all year round or that become popular seasonally. Elmer’s Kingery points out that grocers can promote instant glues and non-school glue. “Our research indicates off-shelf placement of Krazy Glue can generate 10% to 34% growth and lift the entire category several points,” he says.
“The shopping behavior for this product combined with our TV advertising make Krazy Glue off-shelf promotions a successful way to increase basket purchases outside of the back-to-school season. Price doesn’t need to change,” he adds. “It simply needs to get off-shelf placement to maximize buying decisions.”
Seasonal merchandising offers additional promotional and sales opportunities. “Grocery stores have a great opportunity to capitalize on the various micro seasons of back-to-school,” says Crayola’s Friend. “In addition to the back to school list-driven purchase, there are also opportunities for the out-of-school and the out-of-home travel season.”
Moms are looking for activities kids can do after school or when school isn’t in session. Travel season can also provide a boost to the category. He says Crayola Outdoor 3D Sidewalk Chalk, Glow Station On the Go, and Color Wonder Travel Tote are a few examples of products tailored for these seasons that sell well in grocery stores.
Gifts are another opportunity for growth, Friend says. “Including products like ours in the grocery store offers parents a convenient way to pick up gifts for birthday parties, rewarding accomplishments or simply treating their children with a good-for-them present,” he says.
BEYOND THE BASICS
Since consumers need school and office supplies all year long, grocers need to go beyond the basics to be successful, experts note. “With consumers focusing on essentials and continuing to visit the grocery store while cutting back on trips to other outlets, finding new ways to offer high-value products where moms shop offers strong opportunities for growth,” says Friend. He says retailers should consider stocking items such as upscale journals or pens that can serve as gifts as well as high-quality envelopes and thumb drives to meet business needs.
Friend says appealing to a wide range of consumers also helps grow sales. Retailers want mothers, business people and general shoppers to wheel their baskets down the school and office supply aisle looking to fill their everyday needs during their grocery shopping trip.
Yet, if customers can’t find the products easily, that serves as a deterrent. Thus, retail grocers must keep an eye on product placement when it comes to this category in particular, experts note. Highly visible school and office supply promotions need to be placed in store not only during the late summer and early fall, says Severini.
“Most grocers stock their seasonal aisle with school products for the back-to-school period, and once that time has passed the products disappear into a less-frequently shopped aisle of the store.” Consider displaying the products at other times of the year as well to increase consumer awareness of what the store offers in this category.
Manufacturers such as Elmer’s and Crayola heavily promote their seasonal products, which is a boon for retailers.
“Crayola continues to introduce products every season, and we support these new items with extensive advertising to increase consumer awareness,” Friend says. “Retailers can help grow their category sales and profits by leveraging Crayola’s advertising and utilizing seasonal merchandising displays.” Other manufactures offer promotions at different times of the year, including during the back-to-school period, that grocers can utilize in conjunction with their own circulars and in-store promotions.
By looking beyond the back-to-school season, grocers can make this aisle an exciting shopping experience for their customers, experts say. In the process, they’ll develop steady flow of traffic down their school and office supply aisle.