ORLANDO, Fla. -- More so than in most nonfood categories, aggressive promotions are the key to a successful book program.
Paperbacks will sell consistently alongside magazines, but major new book releases can drive traffic and create excitement in the store. They also engage the retailer's personnel to a greater degree, as most chains are content to leave the book aisle up to the direct-store delivery and in-store service provided by periodical distributors.
While shippers of the latest paperback releases will draw attention, this is nothing compared to a hot new title that is in stores for the first time. Retailers interviewed during the recent General Merchandise Marketing Conference here of the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., cited last year, when Hillary Clinton's "Living History" and J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" came out in quick succession, as a prime example.
"You just can't get your hands on enough of books like that," said Bryon Roberts, vice president of general merchandise, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. "We could have sold four times as many of Harry Potter if we had the books."
Last week's release of Bill Clinton's "My Life" should bring more customers into stores. Meanwhile, children's books are a long-time staple, while inspirational books have become a more important part of the mix since 9/11, retailers told SN.
The book business is highly promotional and trendy, said Charles Yahn, vice president of merchandising at Associated Wholesalers Inc., York, Pa. "The key to making money in that business is knowing when to get in and when to get out," he said.
"Promotions help sell books," said David Lowe, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va. "We discount books every day in our stores, and have two shippers at a time on the floor." These will be appropriate to current interests, such as low-carb diets, holiday baking, or a new release.
"If Danielle Steele's new book releases on Tuesday, we have it on display on Tuesday and we advertise in our newspaper that it will be available in our stores on Tuesday," Lowe said.
Some retailers, like Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., have stores in metropolitan areas attractive to hosting book signings by major authors, like one featuring Nora Roberts, which was recognized during the Retail Best Practice awards at the recent Retail Conference of the Magazine Publishers of America, New York.
Others like Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., promote books heavily, but don't have store locations that lend themselves to book signings, noted Tony Pooler, director of GM/HBC.
"We usually have four to eight feet of paperbacks in most stores. That's the bread and butter of the business. We have hardcovers in some of our larger stores with extra space. That is turning out to be a nice second business, but not nearly as big as the paperbacks. However, when we promote hardcovers, it calls a lot of attention to the category," Pooler said.
"We schedule book promotions on a regular basis. We're promoting something in that category every other week," Pooler said. Some examples include new releases by well-known authors, books like dictionaries and thesauruses for back to school, and bargain books "greatly" reduced in price. "We try to keep the publication activity going pretty regularly," he said.
"Because of the traffic that the supermarkets generate, there is a good opportunity for book sales. You have a lot of shoppers in there and if you assort to your demographic and their interests, and offer a value every now and again, people will pick up a book," Pooler said.
"I think more people are going to hardcover books so they can read them earlier rather than waiting for the paperbacks to come out," said a nonfood executive with an east Texas retailer who asked not to be identified. The retailer is starting a book-of-the-month club where it will offer best-selling books at or below cost, and heavily promote them, he said. "If you don't have what is hot out there at the time it is hot, you are not going to sell it," he said.
The retailer discounts paperback books 20% every day to keep customers from going to the mass merchants, and will put up two shippers a month of whatever is popular, such as diet books, he said.
"Reading is not a seasonal activity," said Bill Mansfield, vice president of GM/HBC, Pueblo International, San Juan, Puerto Rico. "It's year round across America and even in Puerto Rico where I currently live. Promotional activity on an everyday purchased category always drives sales. It's a category that will attract some loyalty with a consumer if your variety is good. If your promotions are aggressive, then the customer will come back time and again to review your whole presentation of books. So we love book promotions," he said
"If a grocer wanted to get into the book business and do it right and have the selection -- the current titles and the pricing -- they could be extremely successful," said Jeff Manning, managing partner, F&M Merchant Group, Lewisville, Texas.
"The hardcover new releases really drive business, but if they just want to get into it for convenience and to pick up a few extra sales, they're better off staying in the paperbacks," he said. "Supermarkets seem to do a better job in paperbacks now. However, they need to get a little bit more competitive on price to really get the sales up," Manning said.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The children's book segment is a past, present and future success story in supermarkets.
Whether value-priced books, higher-end interactive books, or that old standby, the coloring book, children will always be a focus for supermarket book categories, retailers told SN during the recent General Merchandise Marketing Conference here of the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo.
"The biggest trend we've seen, and that we're taking advantage of, is there are a lot more children's educational books," said Rex Harcourt, president, Carter's Food Centers, Charlotte, Mich. These books are interactive, allowing children to play along while the book talks to them. "That's where we're seeing a lot of our sales growth," he said.
Retailer customers of Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, Calif., are responding to offers of children's books priced under $2, said Larry Ishii, general manager, GM/HBC. "Their customers don't want to go to the grocery store and spend $4 or $5 for a book for their child, especially if it is something like a coloring book, which is basically a consumable item."
Also, many independent retailers don't have the space for an extensive children's book section, he said. "Whether it is in-and-out promotions or an everyday offering, we're starting to get more aggressive with those suppliers that have the value-type product available," Ishii said.
Hot and trendy licensed titles, like SpongeBob SquarePants, do well for Valu Merchandisers Co., Kansas City, Mo., said Bill Dunkle, category manager, general merchandise. "It's basically in and out. We treat it like a normal display, and we do well with those," he said.
Children's books are trendy, noted Charles Yahn, vice president of merchandising at Associated Wholesalers Inc., York, Pa. "A mom will buy these for her kids. Since 70% of our shoppers are female, kids' books do very well in a supermarket," he said.
"Children's books work well in the supermarket channel because, more often than not, the consumer is female and takes the opportunity to buy some kids' books for her family," said Bill Mansfield, vice president of GM/HBC, Pueblo International, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Keeping up with a pervasive cultural trend, retailers are stocking and selling more inspirational books.
"A lot of our stores are carrying quite a bit of inspirational books, and we're seeing quite a few here at the show," said Gordon Thompson, general merchandise and HABA buyer/merchandiser, Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash. Interviewed during the recent General Merchandise Marketing Conference here of the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., Thompson said Rosauers displays the books on spinner racks. "
A lot of our stores are family-oriented, so these books are a big hit," he said. Thompson said consumer interest in inspirational books is the result of current events and cultural changes. "I think a lot of things have happened in the past few years that have really changed the way people look at their family time," he said.
"We have inspirational books in 35 out of 74 stores, in the ones that make sense," said a nonfood executive with an east Texas retailer who asked not to be identified.
"We may have seen a slight increase after 9/11, but we've always done well with them just because we're in the Bible Belt."
Charles Yahn, vice president of merchandising at Associated Wholesalers Inc., York, Pa., attributed the increase in inspirational book sales to 9/11, but linked these products to educational books. "I think they go together," he said.
"Inspirational books is a very active category for us, both in the States and in the Caribbean," said Bill Mansfield, vice president of GM/HBC, Pueblo International, San Juan, Puerto Rico. "It's been very successful."