GREENACRES, Wash. -- Tidyman's here got its perishables managers revved up for the holidays with "Christmas in October," at one of its stores where -- among other things -- it showcased a new line of upscaled deli salads that will get top billing as the season gets underway.
The merchandising event involved a "show-and-tell" store, where the company, assisted by some vendors, showed store directors and department managers from all the chain's stores how to make the most of the holidays in their departments.
"It's to show them how they can step out and above last year. The products themselves have already been ordered, but we're giving our people ideas on how they can present the products to the consumer in the best or most appropriate way," said Jim Begler, vice president of operations for the company, which operates 12 stores under the Tidyman's banner, one IGA, and eight County Market stores.
The extent to which Tidyman's goes to visually dramatize the instruction is unusual, Begler said. While most retailers keep their holiday pep rallies to a classroom or conference room setting, Tidyman's uses one of its stores, completely decked out with Christmas decorations. Each department is set as the retailer expects departments to look in each store come Thanksgiving.
"In this dolled-up store, we show them in real life how their department should look for the holidays vs. giving them a lot of bulletins and newsletters to read. They walk through here, taking pictures. What's important is that they see it in play and some vendors are there standing by their products, too," Begler said.
For example, the deli salad vendor was there to assist deli-bakery director Warren Marigny in his presentation of a new line of salads and a whole new merchandising technique for them in the service deli case.
Taking their place as the next in a growing variety of signature products at Tidyman's, the salads are several rungs up the quality scale and have a homemade look to them, said Marigny. A Greek salad made from a fresh-component kit and a chicken radiatori salad made from scratch are examples.
The number of varieties displayed in the service case has been cut back, from 18 to 20 varieties, to 12 to 14 in order to create both a more dramatic display and to make serving the customer more efficient, Marigny noted.
For example, each variety will be displayed on two crockery platters, one in front of the other.
"There will be two tiers of each salad, instead of having so many different ones in the case. The front one will be garnished and signed, and the associate will serve from the one behind it. Instead of having 20 salads merchandised all over the place, we'll have about 10, merchandised better," said Marigny.
A salad of the week will be featured in a larger bowl in the center of the case, and will be heavily promoted. It will have a top spot, for instance, in the retailer's weekly ad and will be aggressively sampled, the deli-bakery director added.
"Anytime anyone orders anything in the deli, like a pound of roast beef, they'll automatically be given a sample cup of the salad of the week, and will be asked what they think of it."
During the holidays, the featured salad might be cranberry-orange relish or a fresh fruit salad or pumpkin mousse, Marigny said.
The defining factor is that any salad in the service case will be upscale, either made from scratch, a kit supplied by the vendor or at least have a home-made look to it, he explained. The more traditional salads, such as the potato and macaroni, are now newly merchandised in a self-service case in four different sized containers.
Marigny explained how the Greek salad is assembled from a kit the supplier puts together.
"The vegetables come to us already chopped and packaged, in the right proportion, along with the dressing in another package. All we have to do is put it together, add feta cheese, and mix it up."
The new salads and the new case set are expected to boost sales and margins significantly, Marigny said.
"Right now salads make up 11% of our deli sales and I'd like to raise that to 15%," he said, adding that since the new salads have a higher retail, the margins will increase as well.
Indeed, Marigny hopes that in a year, the salad margin -- taking service and self-service both into account -- will have been boosted by at least two percent.
Right now, the average retail price for a salad in a Tidyman's deli is $1.99; that average will rise above $3 with the new varieties in place, Marigny said.
Gift cheese items were featured at "Christmas in October" in the deli and other departments, too, showed off gift ideas. One vendor in produce showed customers as well as Tidyman's managers how gift baskets are put together in three different sizes.
"Customers really get excited about the show store. They love it that we're already decorated for Christmas and you'd be amazed at what they're buying already. You wouldn't expect to sell a Christmas-decorated house plant at this time of year, but we did," said Begler.
"The Christmas in October show-and-tell, which we've done for a few years, is primarily to us ready for the holidays, but the customers get into it also," he said.