Merchandising strips -- those space-saving displays that often dangle throughout retail -- are increasingly seen as a profit-building alternative to floor displays for general merchandise items.
The devices can effectively boost supermarket sales by spurring impulse buys of high-margin general merchandise items cross merchandised in other departments, say retailers, distributors and manufacturers.
"If you can get the product out of a shipper and onto clip strips or J-hooks in the right area, you'll move twice as many," said Kevin Simmons, health and beauty care supervisor, Bob's AG Markets, Jasper, Ark. "We use clip strips mostly to clean up shippers."
This is partly because shippers that aren't embraced by consumers become liabilities.
"In our area people just walk around them; they don't shop them," said Simmons. And without them "the floor traffic just seems to flow better."
Chris Frazier, seasonal supply buyer, Discount Distributors, Springdale, Ark., said it's easy to build up a lot of clutter in the aisles when several different departments have simultaneous deals on shippers. "We try to stay away from floor shippers as much as we can, but we still do some -- the things that are literally impossible to clip strip," he said.
Retailers are discovering ways to add new merchandising areas using the devices.
"We've been putting an item called a PowerStrip on freezer doors," said Sam Black, general merchandise specialist, Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "That's an aisle that really needs it because you don't have any other merchandising ploys there."
In this process retailers are assisted by manufacturers, who are continually taking new approaches to displays.
"We're always inventing new ways to skin a cat," said Tom Shea, president of strip-maker T.M. Shea Products, Troy, Mich. "We're developing new fixtures every month." His inventions include the aforementioned PowerStrip and the double-sided, swaying SwingStrip.
The merchandising strip has undergone extensive modification since it was first introduced 21 years ago.
"We've developed all kinds of adapters," Edward Spitaletta, president, Clip Strip Corp., Hackensack, N.J. "There's an adapter that fits into the shelf which will hold strips at a right angle to the shelf so you can hang merchandise on both sides and see items coming and going. We have strips in plastic and metal. We do injection-molded strips, die-cast strips and spring-loaded metal strips."
While retailers commonly refer to all such devices as "clip strips," the term is actually patented by Clip Strip Corp.
"Our competitors refer to them as impulse strips or merchandising strips," said Spitaletta.
Whatever they're called, the displays have definitely found their niche.
"They run the complete gamut of retail," said Spitaletta. "Little did we know what kind of impact we would have on the retail scene, but this has actually changed the face of off-shelf merchandising."
They've done so partly because they pose only minor problems in their use.
"Some top people at some chains don't want anything obstructing the shelf," said Spitaletta.
And some retailers find some strips expensive, said Shea, while also noting that on a strip with expanded capacity "you pay for the fixture in one week."
But these reservations are outweighed by the strip's effectiveness for many.
Shea's SwingStrip, for example, sells "five times greater than a J-hook," he said.
Many types of small items can be displayed on strips, but in practice some categories are more preponderant.
"Some stores have started putting beef jerky and similar products on clip strips by the potato chips, but most of the displays are GM cross merchandising with grocery," said Black of Harp's.
"General merchandise is the whole concept of these strips," said Spitaletta. "But you'll find quite a few health-and-beauty aids also."
And since many GM items can have gross profits of 50%, said Black, "clip strips are a money-making deal."
One reason for this is that "the majority of GM sales are impulse," said Frazier, "so the more product exposure you have throughout the store, the more it's going to sell."
Strips can help provide a complementary mix of high-margin GM items to go with low-margin grocery products.
"Grocery items can bring traffic volume into stores, but how you make the incremental gross-profit dollars is by having good impulse exposure on high-margin GM products," said Shea.
Some stores thus merchandise extensively with impulse strips, hanging them from shelves every five or six feet.
Simmons of Bob's AG Markets said one former chain for which he worked had a program in which it used strips every eight feet, staggered down each aisle. He estimated that Bob's AG Markets uses about 40 to 45 per store.
Harps' strips tend to feature lower-ticketed items.
"All of our strips are planogrammed and most carry merchandise at a $1 or $1.50 price point," Black said.
There is a wealth of product for the strips -- whether items are inserted in-store or before shipping.
"A lot of times the manufacturer will buy the fixture and then also pay promotional placement dollars on top of that," said Shea, whose company has worked with Gillette, Kodak, 3M, Goody and Duracell.
There is a bounty of marketing tactics as well.
"What's clipped changes a lot," said Simmons, "but there are certain things that we try to keep in certain places, like bamboo skewers down the barbecue sauce aisle, or Kodak film and disposable cameras up front."
"We like to pair things up, things that make sense, trying to suggest more to the customers than what they went in to buy," said Frazier, giving as examples "bottle caps with two-liter bottles, spaghetti scoops with spaghetti and straws with fruit juices."