First-quarter sell-through is likely to get off to a quiet start in January but will build to a crescendo by Easter.
Easter falls on March 30 next year, which is just within the first quarter and a week earlier than the previous year.
The first quarter is typically the softest for just about every category, including video, and that is not expected to be different this year, said Robin Carey, video merchandiser at Glen's Markets, Gaylord, Mich.
"Easter will help. It always does when it comes early. Manufacturer tie-ins will also help," said Carey.
Key titles expected to be released for sell-through in the first quarter include "Alaska" (Columbia Tristar Home Video) in January; "Harriet the Spy" (Paramount), "Fly Away Home" (Columbia Tristar Home Video) and the re-release of Disney's classic "Bambi" in February; and Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" along with the direct-to-video "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves" in March.
Brad Ufer, video merchandiser, Coborn's, St. Cloud, Minn., who oversees 22 video departments, said first-quarter sales will depend upon how much each chain can develop its own program. "As supermarkets learn how to merchandise and market themselves better for sell-through, their numbers will grow," said Ufer.
He predicted that "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" would be the strongest seller for his chain because it is a Disney release and the supermarket's clientele is mostly families.
"We tend to do better with family videos priced for selling," he said.
Having Easter fall in the first quarter should definitely help sales, he added.
A number of retailers said they were considering video promotions for Easter, in spite of the holiday not being a strong sales period for video in the past.
Ufer of Coborn's said he has not done Easter video promotions, but is thinking about doing something this year. "We have not made any concrete plans on when they would run. We would feature more traditional Easter stuff with a religious theme or something for children. They would be available on an in-and-out basis on shippers,"he said.
Angeli Foods Co., Iron River, Mich., will probably do a video promotion for Easter, said Maria Boye, team leader for video.
"Videos are not usually Easter basket-stuffers. But with Easter falling early this year and the kids off school, it will be a big rental period, especially for "Bambi" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Those titles might even succeed at getting into Easter baskets," she said.
"We just ended a promotion featuring discounted movie rental tickets. The customer buys a 20-pack of movie tickets for rental videos and gets a coupon or certificate good for a free video. For this promotion, the free video was the customer's choice of "Mission Impossible," "Independence Day" or "Pinocchio." We have done this promotion before and it has always done well for us. If we do it for Easter, we may not offer a new video, but one that was previously viewed," Boye said.
The key to selling video for Easter is to make it visible and display it with other Easter-related merchandise, such as candy, said Carey of Glen's Markets.
"There is usually a video in my child's Easter basket every year," she said.
Past video promotions for Easter at Steele's Markets, Fort Collins, Colo., have focused on lower-priced children's stories, such as "Peter Cottontail," said Trish Smilie, customer service manager, at the company's Foothills Parkway store.
"I don't know if people buy videos for Easter baskets. Maybe "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" will do well for Easter. Easter has not been a big deal for video in the past. General merchandise and HBA tend to do more Easter merchandising than the video department," she said.
Some of the stores operated by Jitney Jungle Stores of America, Jackson, Miss., have suggested videos as Easter basket-stuffers in past years, said Cindy Seale, general manager, video operations.
"If you can keep the price point down in the $8.99 to $9.99 range, that may work. You can't promote a $30 video for Easter baskets. For us, Easter is usually just business as usual. Candy is still the big item," Seale said.
Despite of its best efforts, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb., has not been able to turn Easter into a really important holiday for video, according to Bob Gettner, video buyer/coordinator.
"We have tried to push video as a good Easter present. We have done ads, but they never seem to have much impact. For example, last year we did an ad suggesting to Moms and Dads that they buy their children a video instead of all that candy. A video is healthier. So far we have not had much luck. We haven't made plans yet for this Easter. Video has not been an important factor for Easter," Gettner said.
Mathew Bethel, coordinator of merchandising services for Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio, said Easter is not likely to be a big sales period for video, much like Halloween tends to be a nonevent.
"I don't remember doing anything special with video for Easter," Bethel said. "We tend to stick with monthly promotions. Lately, we have been trying to make our video departments more exciting in terms of decor. We have done some resets, added gumball machines, and developed new category signs. We are trying to create an atmosphere where the customers will want to buy."
The early releases of "Matilda" and "Independence Day," originally slated for the first quarter, but bumped up to the fourth quarter for sell-through, is expected to benefit the holiday selling season, said Seale of Jitney Jungle.
"It looks like our sales will slow down in the first quarter. It will depend on what other big titles are announced for release before Easter," she said.
Other retailers supported the early release.
"The early releases of 'Independence Day' and 'Matilda' just impacts our fourth quarter. It does not impact our first quarter. I would rather have more titles come out in the fourth quarter. That is the more traditional selling time for videos as gifts," said Ufer of Coborn's.
"I would probably rather have them released now than in the first quarter. September and October are slower months. We did some pre-selling of 'Independence Day'. That helps sales," said Boye of Angeli's.
"It was smart to bump those titles into the fourth quarter. It helps to release the video for sell-through close to its theatrical release, so people can remember if they liked it or not. If they really liked the movie, they are more likely to buy it," said Smilie of Steele's Markets.
Gettner of B&R Stores said first-quarter video sales could be a little softer than originally expected because of the bombardment of titles available in the fourth quarter.
He predicted success for the two Disney releases, particularly the re-release of "Bambi," a title which has not been available for the last six or more years.
"Fly Away Home" had a very limited theatrical release, but could be a sleeper hit for video sales. "Alaska" looked like a good story, but I don't know how well it will sell," he said.
B&R has run a "five-five-five" video promotion that has yielded good results and could help boost sales in the first quarter, Gettner said.
Customers can rent five videos for five days for $5. It increases rental business and generates greater awareness of the whole video department, he said.
"From what I have seen, the fourth quarter is big and the first quarter drops off. We expect to really see some sales right at the end of the year. The Disney videos will be our best sellers because that is more our market. We serve a lot of families. The marketing and toys help sales also. We generally do well with family and children's titles, whether or not they are Disney," said Bethel of Seaway Food Town.