General Merchandise: Lipstick and Hoops

How Nice N Easy differentiated its GM set

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, general merchandise should hit on consumer trends that are just beginning their upward trajectory.

Matthew Paduano, vice president of category management for the 78-store Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, Canastota, N.Y., understands this. “We want to realize the potential of this category and the profitability of items,” he says. The general-merchandise (GM) department in his stores averages 160 linear feet, plus some other freestanding displays for hot items. “If you can’t eat it, drink it, smoke it or chew it, it goes into GM.”

One unique GM niche Paduano has hit upon has been sports apparel. 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, but he could not 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.

Nice N Easy has sold thousands of the shirts, which are placed on fold-up tables by the entrance. “If you put it in line, it becomes furniture,” Paduano says. And even though college basketball isn’t played year-round, some rabid fans scoop up new shirts no matter the season.

Another GM win for the chain has come from catering to female shoppers. Nice N Easy conducted small focus groups to determine what might attract more women. Among the discoveries was that women wanted the chain to carry more makeup. At the time, Nice N Easy carried an 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.

A visit to a New York trade show put Nice N Easy in touch with e.l.f. cosmetics (which stands for eyes, lips, face), a popular brand less than half the price of many other names.

Today, cosmetics are a niche destination for the chain. A two-sided spinner vends a wide variety of products, giving customers the choice they voiced in focus groups. Most items are priced at two for $3 or one for $1.99. “We’re not gouging customers, but we are able to still make a good margin of 60% at this price,” Paduano says. Even though the cosmetics are a very small percentage of sales of the entire GM department, the value is in the line’s reinforcement of the chain’s image as a female-friendly retailer.