General Merchandise: Nice and General

By riding trend waves carefully, Nice N Easy finds GM balance

By
D. Gail Fleenor, Freelance writer

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A shelf or two of automotive fluids. Perhaps a spinner of smartphone supplies. Maybe some pens and notepads for that desperate student, or an inexpensive toy for that toddler tugging on your customer’s coat.

For many, this is not a category; rather, it’s a hodgepodge of miscellaneous items that do not fit easy categorization and thus are classified as general merchandise (GM).

For the few, the invested, general merchandise is an asset, a niche segment and market-basket contributor that might not define a store but does round it out. Instead of piles of static items, GM hits on trends and the under-$5 purchase.

Matthew Paduano, vice president of category management for the 78-store Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, Canastota, N.Y., tracks what’s trending and is sensitive to the importance of catching a trend on its upward trajectory.

“We want to realize the potential of this category and the profitability of items,” he says. The GM department in his stores averages 160 linear feet, including 6 to 8 feet of automotive supplies, 2 square feet of cosmetics, pallets of firewood and coal outside the store, and tables for T-shirts just inside the door. “If you can’t eat it, drink it, smoke it or chew it, it goes into GM.”

Of course, a local angle doesn’t hurt. Syracuse University basketball is hugely popular in Nice N Easy’s trade area. Paduano knew if his stores offered university T-shirts, they would sell; however, he couldn’t purchase such a localized product from his wholesaler. So he contracted a local vendor to print Syracuse University T-shirts with constantly changing slogans ranging from a regular university imprint to time-sensitive messages such as “Beat Duke” at Thanksgiving 2013.

“When we get these T-shirts, they are still warm from the press, like a loaf of bread,” Paduano says. Shirts are unpacked and repacked by Paduano and his staff according to projected sales for specific stores. Nice N Easy has sold thousands of the shirts. Even though college basketball isn’t played year round, he says, some rabid fans scoop up new shirts no matter the season.

Shirts and other hot GM items are not placed on in-line shelves. “A lot of our GM products are placed on freestanding displays,” Paduano says. “If you put it in line, it becomes furniture.” Items are placed “front and center,” he says, where customers can see, touch, feel and buy. Shirts are placed on folding tables by the entrance, so customers see them as they enter the store.

Helping the offering is social media. Information and photos of the T-shirts are posted on Facebook and Twitter. Customers even call stores to inquire about sizes.

Challenge and Reward

What can make GM daunting is the necessary labor involved. For customized products, Nice N Easy staff must not only work closely with a local distributor but also package the item themselves for each store.

That’s the hard work. The reward is that customers take notice.

Take female shoppers: Nice N Easy conducted small focus groups to determine what might attract more of them. Among the discoveries was that women wanted the chain to carry more makeup. At the time, Nice N Easy carried a SKU or two, but the fear was obvious: Makeup is generally an expensive product and could be susceptible to shrink or gathering dust on shelves.

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