SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. -- Trader Joe here has upgraded its general-merchandise offering by regularly stocking imported items at higher price points. The move is being made to better complement the retailer's specialty-food business.
The 113-store chain plans to widen its tabletop accessories to include imported leaded crystalware, as well as hand-painted fruit- and flower-pattern ceramic serving platters and bowls, said Annette Davidson, senior buyer.
Previously, the chain merchandised imported ceramicware as a two-week, in-and-out promotion. But demand has warranted stocking the imports on a regular basis. "People started coming in looking for the next pattern and asking: 'Is it here yet?,' " commented Davidson.
"The beauty of this is that you don't need a designated space because it can be merchandised anywhere in the store," she added. General-merchandise volume has grown steadily in the past year since the imports were introduced. Sales in the first quarter of this year jumped 100% from those a year ago, according to Davidson.
Davidson described the merchandise offering as "better quality items with good values at retails between $6.99 to $24.99. This merchandise would regularly sell for double our price points at stores like Williams Sonoma, Macy's or Crate and Barrel."
Although general-merchandise variety at Trader Joe is limited, the imported selections "have doubled from the previous year," she added.
The retailer began buying imports for a shopper profile that is "well traveled, better educated, and interested in good values in both food and nonfood categories," said Davidson.
The ceramicware, imported from Italy in large 10,000-piece containers, are packed in corrugated floor displays. The containers are delivered to Trader Joe's central distribution center in Chino before they are opened. Two or three displayers are then shipped to each of the chain's 8,000 to 10,000-square-foot stores.
During the past several months, customer response to the product assortments has been highly positive. "Sales have been outstanding. The shippers usually sell down in 10 to 14 days, and the excitement they generate carries over until the next shipment of ceramics arrives from Italy," Davidson said.
Trader Joe stores carry a limited product assortment of some 2,000 items, with 98% of the mix devoted to food. The balance is in general merchandise, which is J-hooked, shelved or presented in cut-cases.
Davidson said general-merchandise sales peak fastest when about three shippers of ceramicware or crystalware in different patterns are arranged at the front end.
During a spring promotion Trader Joe featured some of its priciest general merchandise -- retails ran as high as $33.99 for 24% heavy-leaded cut-crystal bowls and vases from Schott Zwiefel, a German manufacturer.
These products "are very upscale and formal. They are displayed in gift boxes near fresh-cut flowers and greeting cards. Sales have been great," said Davidson. Each store displays one of the vases with cut flowers in it.
Candles also were added last year, with shelf prices up to $20. Displayed in about 3 square feet of selling space, Trader Joe candles are priced 20% to 50% lower than at other area retailers, Davidson said. The mix will be expanded with scented and aromatherapy varieties this fall, said Davidson.
Trader Joe operates primarily in California, Arizona, Washington and Nevada. It has expanded into the East with about 15 stores in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. The retailer plans "another 100 stores in the East over the next several years," said Davidson.
For Memorial Day the chain will cross-merchandise barbecue tool sets with red, white and blue displays of potato chips.