A supermarket isn't typically associated with high-profile appearances from Broadway performers, celebrity chefs and television stars. Yet that's exactly what's happening as some retailers expand on traditional forms of "retailtainment" with more glitzy events. Retail entertainment is any in-store activity that draws attention to a store, spurs incremental sales, or creates an added-value shopping experience. Wal-Mart Stores, which coined the "retailtainment" term, is certainly a leading practitioner. Now plenty of other retailers are making the concept their own through in-store book signings, celebrity visits, musical performances and other impressive in-store events aimed at catering to existing customers and attracting new ones.
Take Stew Leonard's, Norwalk, Conn., a three-store operator dubbed the "Disneyland of Dairy Stores" due to its own milk-processing plant, costumed characters, scheduled entertainment, petting zoo and animatronics throughout the store.
The retailer went above and beyond last month when it partnered with the Broadway show "Little Shop of Horrors." Stew Leonard's welcomed two stars from the play -- Audrey II, a giant six-foot plant; and Seymour (Jonathan Rayson) -- to its Yonkers, N.Y., store. The actors performed the song "Git It" from the show. More than 100 people attended.
"These types of events take the drudgery out of shopping," Tom Arthur, president of Stew Leonard's Yonkers store, told SN.
The "Little Shop of Horrors" performance was tied to an in-store promotion running all this month. The character Audrey II is being featured on the side panels of about 400,000 Stew Leonard's low-fat milk cartons for a promotion called "Tuesdays are Stew Leonard's Kids Nights." By providing a special code found on the side panel of the milk carton, parents can get a complimentary ticket to the show for their child (five to 18 years old) with every adult ticket purchased. The offer is valid for select performances.
Twenty-eight tickets were sold, and milk sales increased 1% during the first week of the event, according to Meghan Flynn, vice president, public relations, Stew Leonard's.
Stew Leonard's partnered with "Little Shop of Horrors" because it's a family show and is a great fit with its customers, said Arthur.
"We're a very kids-oriented retailer, so this was right down our alley," he stated.
The genesis for the event came after a December promotion during which Stew Leonard's raffled off a pair of tickets to the show. Response was so favorable that Stew Leonard's decided to partner with the show again in a more elaborate way, Flynn said.
The excerpt from the show was one of many in-store treats Stew Leonard's gives its shoppers. Throughout the year, the retailer provides in-store excitement in many other ways, including Christmas tree lightings, Halloween hayrides, and bag pipe bands for St Patrick's Day.
"There's always something fun going on in our stores," Flynn said.
There was a time when manufacturers spearheaded retailtainment events at supermarkets. However, that's no longer the case, said Paul Kramer, president, Ryan Partnership, Wilton, Conn., a marketing services firm. Many retailers are now hiring savvy marketers and creating their own promotional calendars, Kramer noted.
"Retailers are putting together their own programs," he said.
The reason for this is that consumers today have more retail choices than ever, whether it's a traditional supermarket, club store, mass merchandiser or dollar store. Retailtainment helps supermarkets fight back by creating a more rewarding shopping experience.
Some retailers accomplish this with elaborate samplings and demonstrations. Others, though, seek out events that more actively engage the customer, such as in-store meet-and-greets with authors and other celebrities.
That was the case at Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, which recently hosted in-store appearances by Andrew Firestone from Firestone Vineyard, Los Olivos, Calif. Firestone became a popular media figure after appearing on the reality television show "The Bachelor" last year.
During in-store visits, Firestone signed bottles of Firestone wine and talked about his experiences on the show. Nearly 250 people turned out for Firestone's visit to the chain's Upper Arlington, Ohio, store.
"Andrew's visit created a tremendous amount of in-store excitement," said Howard Argue, the store's wine steward.
Firestone fans arrived about 90 minutes in advance, and happily waited an hour longer when it was announced that Firestone would be late about an hour due to a flight delay.
"People couldn't wait to see him," said Argue.
Giant Eagle worked for weeks in advance to make sure the Firestone visit went off without a hitch.
"Everything was planned right down to the last detail," said Argue.
This kind of planning is becoming increasingly necessary for retailers. Since virtually no retailer can beat Wal-Mart in terms of pricing, supermarkets need to compete in other ways, said Spencer Hapoienu, president, Insight Out of Chaos, New York, a marketing management firm.
"One of the only ways to increase share is to create more compelling reasons for customers to shop at one store over another," Hapoienu said.
In-store book signings are a retailtainment tactic being used to create such reasons. Just last month, Wegmans' Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., hosted a free book signing with Phyllis Glazer, author of the cookbook "The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking: 200 Seasonal Recipes and their Traditions." One of Israel's top food personalities, Glazer is said to be the only American-born food writer who writes in both the Hebrew and English languages.
Glazer appeared at Wegmans' Bridgewater, N.J., store to discuss the book and hand out samples of select recipes.
"The appealing, clearly written recipes include her own family recipes, like Bubby Rose's Old World Cabbage Borscht; beloved classics like The Ultimate Chicken Soup; even a section on long-forgotten traditional shapes for holiday challah breads," Wegmans wrote in a promotional e-mail blast for the event.
Likewise, Stew Leonard's planned to welcome restaurateur and celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich to its Norwalk, Conn., store last Saturday. Bastianich is chef and owner of Felidia and Becco restaurants in New York and the star of the PBS television show "Lidia's Italian American Kitchen." Bastianich's marinara sauce has become so popular that it's now sold at retail, including at Stew Leonard's.
At the event, Bastianich was to autograph copies of the book, which retailed at Stew Leonard's for $19.99, down from $35.
Hapoienu of Insight Out of Chaos, said one-time events like these can be extremely successful in attracting new customers to the store. However, Hapoienu favors more continuity, saying a series of common retailtainment events should be offered at least monthly. Such events typically replicate those offered at big department stores, such as in-store appearances by beauty care professionals who conduct demonstrations and answer questions.
Creating a promotional calendar in this way gives customers a reason to come back to the store again and again, according to Hapoienu.
"Giving the customer the ability to get information and ask questions builds a stronger bond with the store," he said.