Today's Retail Shelf Wars Favor Unique New Items

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Today's retail shelf wars favor unique new items

Even with the tremendous pressures associated with picking new items, there's still room for the small vendor.

That finding comes from a survey of top retail executives representing more than 2,500 units. Together, they produce close to $5 billion in sales. The results were presented by Theodore L. Peterson, v.p.-trade relations, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, during a recent meeting in New York City of the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association.

Today, according to Peterson, there are more than 12,000 new products unveiled yearly, an increase of 350% from 1980. "At the same time," he said, "space in retail stores has increased less than 10%. With the high failure rate, it's no surprise retailers have to be picky." (For a report on the high cost of introducing new products, see "The Front End," page 81.)

The flip side, he added, is the need for new products. "Even in today's world of product proliferation, new sizzles," Peterson noted. "But how do you get a retailer to give your item a shot, especially when you're stacked up against the marketing muscle of a Procter & Gamble or a Johnson & Johnson? There is hope. After all, as one retailer said, this is America."

Executives responding to the NACDS survey of chain buying practices said they are seeking products that are truly new -- not just "me-toos" that will cannibalize from existing merchandise. Among others, they cited Columbia Laboratories' Replens, Eucalyptamint (Ciba), and Combe Inc.'s Just for Men.

"If we did individual case studies of these items, we'd see that each is truly unique. Some addressed an evolving demographic group, and some zeroed in on consumers' changing tastes, such as an interest in natural items," explained Peterson. If the positioning is right, hefty advertising budgets are not always necessary, he added.

There are other options, according to executives polled. Several singled out Eucalyptamint as an item that reached the shelves because company executives made personal headquarters visits when launching it. Trade advertising was a catalyst in several chains' seeking information about Replens, said Peterson.

Retailers told Peterson they understand small firms can't spend the huge promotional dollars allocated for major launches. However, one point they made clear was that vendors must at least spend what's promised. …