CULVER CITY, Calif. -- The sell-through landscape has never looked better for supermarkets. There is an abundance of family and children's products coming from the studios, but the opportunities are also growing for supermarkets to merchandise a wider variety of other video titles, said Paul Culberg, executive vice president of Columbia TriStar Home Video here. "We believe there is enormous potential for video products in supermarkets, and that it goes well beyond the accepted perception that [the supermarket channel] is just for children's and family products. But, clearly, those products have been a big win for the supermarkets and for all the studios, including ourselves," he said. Columbia TriStar established a new Family Collection label with the release of "Indian in the Cupboard" last month. The line will be expanded March 12 when "The Baby-Sitters Club: The Movie" streets along with eight repackaged and repriced catalog titles, including "Ghostbusters," "Bye, Bye Birdie" and "My Girl." While the studio has long promoted catalog and repriced rental titles for the sell-through market, only now is it starting to emphasize so-called "event" sell-through titles, such as "Indian" and "Baby-Sitters." "We are bringing more products direct to sell-through than before because we see the ability of the marketplace to handle varied sell-through titles," he said. "For event sell-through titles, the landscape is a lot broader today than in the history of the business." "Indian" was the first title in the new Family Collection line. It was released Jan. 16 with a suggested retail price of $22.95. The title benefited from a release date when there was little competition in the market and when retailers were looking for something to promote and merchandise. "Supermarkets really did come to the table. The product has great positioning and it is selling incredibly well," said Culberg. "We are seeing reorders, and they are significant."
Special packaging that included a figurine of the title character and a shipper with blinking lights provided extra merchandising muscle, retailers told SN.
"We sold out the first day and then had to go back and buy more," said Gary Schloss, vice president of grocery and general merchandise at Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska.
Angeli Foods Co., Iron River, Mich., sold out a 48-unit shipper between the Tuesday release date and the weekend, said Steve Gretzinger, video coordinator. "The more creative the studios are in getting the kids and parents up to these shippers, the better off we are going to be," he said. Columbia TriStar's next big Family Collection release, "The Baby-Sitters Club: The Movie," also is primed for success in supermarkets. The title is based on a popular children's book series by Ann M. Martin aimed at girls ages nine to 14. The books are sold in many supermarkets. The title will street March 12 with a suggested retail of $19.95. Like "Indian," it will be available in both clamshell and slip-sleeve packaging. "This is an incredibly well-branded product. I don't think there is a mother or grandmother of a girl age nine to 14 who isn't familiar with the 'Baby-Sitters Club.' It has been the jewel in the Scholastic publishing crown for many years." But supermarkets need to move beyond just merchandising the hits, Culberg added. "It is important for the supermarket trade to understand the value of entertainment. It needs to be open to products other than family and children's," he said. Everybody shops at the supermarket, he noted. "There are people who like action-adventure, people who like drama, people who like foreign films," he said. Satisfying customers with a variety of entertainment products will result in more repeat visits.
"Any organization that maintains itself as only a hits business isn't taking full advantage of what is available to them," said Culberg. On the same date that Columbia TriStar releases "Baby-Sitters," it will add eight catalog titles to the Family Collection.
Repriced to a suggested retail of $14.95 will be "Willow," "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows," "The Bear," "Bye, Bye Birdie," "Ghostbusters," "Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," "Real Genius" and "My Girl." All will be available in clamshell packaging. "This whole strategy was designed with supermarkets in mind. Based on the demographics and traffic of the supermarket, it is important to be able to reinforce to the consumer that a product is OK for the whole family to watch," said Culberg. "It isn't so much a branding as it is a reinforcement. Over time, we would hope that it becomes a recognizable brand, but we have no expectation that that is going to happen in the first year," said Culberg. Columbia TriStar has a long history of supporting video in the supermarket trade, Culberg noted. "Our relationships with supermarkets go back many years. It started with the two distributors that pioneered supermarkets early on -- ETD and Sight & Sound. As a result of those activities, we established and maintained direct communication with many of the supermarkets," he said. "We continue to do that as supermarkets come to the table. Whether for rental or sell-through, or on a regular or opportunistic basis, we maintain communication," he said. Columbia TriStar is not selling any supermarket companies direct at this time, Culberg noted. "I see a continuing growth of the business. As long as our economy stays strong, it will be good for us as it will be for supermarkets," said Culberg. Although it has not emphasized direct-to-sell-through hits until now, Columbia TriStar has a solid track record in video sales. "We have very quietly sold an enormous number of cassettes from our very large library. But we have not had a steady flow of event sell-through titles. Part of that is because of the products available to us. For example, I just don't think that 'To Die For' is a sell-through title," he said. In the meantime, Columbia TriStar has excelled in repricing and repromoting rental titles, such as "Sleepless in Seattle," "Shawshank Redemption" and "Legends of the Fall." "We have had a great experience in maximizing the revenue" on these titles, he said. Rental exposure can help boost the sales of some titles, Culberg noted. Although the studio had considered bringing "Sleepless" out direct to sell-through, "rental got many more people to see it than saw it in the theater and that drove the sell-through number. We ended up setting the curve on dealing with repromote after rental," he said. That effect was even more pronounced on "Shawshank." "Not that many people saw it theatrically and the return on investment at rent-tail was so high that it just exploded when we offered it for sale," said Culberg. So far Columbia TriStar has not been heavily involved in cross-promotions with packaged goods companies for its Family Collection titles. A major challenge is the lead time involved in the marketing of a live-action theatrical release, said Culberg. Often, a studio cannot reach a decision on whether to bring a title out for rental or sell-through until well into its theatrical run, which can be only a few months before the video release. But packaged goods companies work a year or more out planning their products, noted Culberg. A current example is "Jumanji," starring Robin Williams, noted industry observers. Although the movie is targeted at family audiences and has so far done over $100 million at the box office, Columbia TriStar is undecided on whether to bring it out for rental or direct to sell-through, said Culberg. Industry sources project a June video release of "Jumanji." "We consider every film, we make an evaluation on every movie. Nothing is firm until we see the theatrical performance and until we read the marketplace," he said.