AVON, Mass. -- Consumers want to buy baby accessories at supermarkets. However, do supermarkets carry the items consumers want to buy?
That's not often the case, according to executives with The First Years here. Supermarkets, they said, need to shake up their planograms more often by bringing in newer, higher-priced and more innovative items to get the most out of their baby accessory sales -- even if it's only on a temporary, promotional basis.
"We did some proprietary research, talking with quite a few focus groups. And the overwhelming feeling was that moms of children in the newborn, infant and toddler stages would prefer to shop in supermarkets for a great deal of their infant and toddler products," said David Zapcic, director of marketing services at The First Years.
"They find the convenience and the one-stop shopping opportunity to be quite good. But they would prefer to see a wider range of products at the supermarket level -- a range much like they see at the mass merchants and the Toys 'R' Us [stores] of the world," he said.
"People don't see a supermarket as a place to go shopping for baby items; they think they can only get essentials such as nipples or diapers. But, if they know they can get a variety of products normally found in mass merchandisers or Toys 'R' Us, they'll shop at supermarkets," said Adrian Roche, vice president of worldwide marketing for The First Years.
"A lot of supermarkets underestimate the potential of this area," said Roche. "They tend to only concentrate on the commodity items like bottles, nipples and pacifiers. The very nature of those items tends to offer lower margins. So, I think the key is for supermarkets to be a bit more adventurous and mix in some of the higher-margin items like toys, rattles, cups and feeding articles. They would get a much better mix and return from that space.
"Some of these items, such as electronic toys, take up exactly the same space as a nipple or a pacifier, yet they may retail around $6.99 -- which is a lot higher than the traditional items in those areas," Roche added. "And they show a similar rate of sales. So, immediately you're greatly increasing both your cash and margin pictures."
The problem, he continued, is that many supermarket chains change their planograms infrequently, some waiting two years before revamping their baby accessory set.
"Mass merchandisers and Toys 'R' Us rely on a big change. They turn over their products and stockkeeping units a lot," said Roche. "They rely heavily on the vendors themselves to do that category management for them. It's not within our interest to have items on the shelf that aren't selling. If we think something's not selling, we'll go in, take it out and put something else in, close it out or drop the price."
Roche said supermarkets should take advantage of the impulsive nature of the category's shoppers.
"If you can position your accessories line between diapers and formula -- which are necessities -- customers will buy several [accessory products]," he said.
Roche added that aside from reworking the planogram more often, supermarkets could benefit from more promotional opportunities with the higher-margin baby accessories.
"They should look at doing sidecap promotions and pallet panel promotions on some of the more promotional type items. There are things like baby listening monitors, which are small boxes with a high price, and are ideal for in-and-out-type promotions."
Many mass merchandisers and Toys 'R' Us also have created a store-within-a-store concept or a baby boutique. "Caldor, for instance, has a very successful baby area. Then, look at places like Toys 'R' Us, which now has fixed signage. They've created an area where the mother can get everything she needs; it's all there," said Roche.
The First Years has experienced double-digit growth in each of the last five years, according to Zapcic. The company attributes this growth to innovation and keeping up with what parents want. Indeed, the company develops its products with the aid of a council of 500 mothers across the country.
New to its expanding line of products is its Sure pacifier, which has a unibody, seamless design so it won't come apart, and The Choice bottle system that features a standard and disposable version, both of which accept standard nipples.