SAN ANTONIO -- In a major attempt to boost its periodicals volume, H-E-B Grocery Co. here will create book centers at some new and remodeled stores this year.
According to Bob Callahan, H-E-B's category manager for books, plans have not been completed as to when or how many of these sections will be added. But the chain has decided that it will stock a full variety of hard cover and paperback books, children's selections and magazines, he said. "We're now looking at a major commitment to do more with books every day in a distinctive setting with additional selling space," said Callahan. To date, H-E-B has limited its assortment of hard cover and paperback books mostly to a list of current best sellers merchandised in shippers, spinners and checkstand racks, he said.
The new department, however, will be in a separate area with ample browsing space apart from the mainstream traffic flow. Although the company is still investigating the best location for the reading centers, Callahan said, the strategy behind the permanent niche for books is to give the segment "some presence to grow, and once it is established, to advertise and promote it." Currently, the company merchandises its total periodicals in 16-foot to 30-foot linear sections, with books consuming about 25% of that space. "Our hard covers are sold at 25% off cover prices and limited to whatever's hot, like John Grisham or Stephen King, as well as some children's books," Callahan said. While the chain waits for its new periodicals sections to be installed, it is planning to repeat a successful hard-cover bargain
book promotion from last year. Last winter, and again at back-to-school time, the promotion, which highlighted older "New York Times" best sellers, returned a 55% profit margin and generated a 60% sell-through at 128 stores. The chain set up shippers of vintage titles by well-known writers, including Mary Higgins Clark, at high-traffic areas. Signs touted the authors' notoriety and the books' low retails. Higher-volume stores displayed 1,000 books during each three-week promotion, said Joe Healy, general manager of On Target, the bargain book division of E.T.D. Entertainment Distributing. The books were promoted at 99 cents to $5.99, or 70% to 80% off the $12 to $24.95 cover prices, he said.
"H-E-B handled the [promotion] as a bargain book event more so than as a routine in-and-out, to excite its store personnel," Healy added. H-E-B communicated the importance of those promotions with "a video, transmitted to stores through a satellite network, that explained the items it wanted to push. The video highlighted the full margins and the values to customers in bargain books, and furthered excitement about the upcoming event with a profit analysis by store, per week, based on selling $500 to $1,000 of books at each location," said the distributor.