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Style Checks expands offerings with new ‘Grease’-themed products

BY Anna Mcgrath

JOPPA, Md. Styles Checks announced the release of its personal checks, self-adhesive address labels, personal contact cards and checkbook cover featuring the “Pink Ladies” of the feature film “Grease.”

The personal checks offer four rotating scenes that feature photos of the Pink Ladies. A pink-and-yellow color scheme sets the backdrop for the photos, and such movie quotes as Rizzo’s famous line “Eat your heart out” are emblazoned on the checks.

The recent “Grease” addition allows Style Checks to appeal to the preferences and collections of even more customers. With hundreds of assorted designs for every collector, Style Checks continues to expand and incorporate more designs to appeal to the many tastes of its consumers, according to the company.

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Walmart’s remodeling effort makes notable Q1 impact

BY Mike Troy

BENTONVILLE, Ark. —Project Impact is proving to be an appropriate code name to describe the reinvention of how Walmart goes to market in an increasing number of stores, judging from the limited details the company has provided about improved results attributable to the massive remodeling effort.

“From our early read of Project Impact remodels and new stores, we are pleased with what we see,” said Eduardo Castro-Wright, Walmart U.S. vice chairman, last month following the release of first-quarter results. “Sales are exceeding our expectations and outperforming the respective control groups. Customer experience scores in the converted stores are growing at twice the rate of those at control stores, and inventory improvements are five-to-six times higher in Project Impact stores.”

There are several aspects that quickly distinguish a Project Impact store visually from a conventional Walmart. The most noticeable is the elimination of feature displays from the main aisles of stores, which Walmart refers to as “action alley.” The removal of off-shelf displays was part of a broader effort to get rid of clutter, so Project Impact stores feature reduced but more impactful department and category level signage that, combined with lower overall fixture heights and reduced inventory, improves navigation.

Such key departments as pharmacy, health and beauty, home, apparel, electronics and fresh also received a make-over. In about 20% of the 500 to 600 stores that will be remodeled to the Project Impact format this year, the pharmacy will be relocated adjacent to the food and consumables side of the store to increase customer convenience. The change is dramatic, as the pharmacy is positioned in the center of the store, with health and beauty products presented with flair on angle fixtures directly across from the heavily trafficked fresh department.

Even in those stores where the pharmacy isn’t being relocated, the department will get a redesign to create a more open and inviting layout so the pharmacy isn’t hidden behind tall fixtures with excess inventory on top. The pharmacy and adjacent departments also are included in Walmart’s reconfigured Smart Network, which features a large vertical screen near the pharmacy and two smaller screens on endcaps that display promotional messages for featured products.

From Walmart’s perspective, Project Impact is about creating a more female-friendly shopping experience that is fast, clean and friendly, while emphasizing those categories with the greatest growth potential. So, in addition to removing clutter and such distractions as excessive signage, that means pulling together all the home-related categories into one area, openly displaying products on the top of low-rise fixtures and introducing such new private brands as Canopy, Your Zone and Better Homes & Gardens.

Overall, Project Impact stores feature a vibrant new color scheme inside, with yellow, blue, green and orange dominant, coupled with new “Walmart” signage and the distinctive Spark logo added to building exteriors.

While the host of changes Walmart has made in recent years to its operations, marketing and merchandising strategies tend to be lumped together under the Project Impact umbrella, the first stores designated as such didn’t hit the street until last fall when Walmart formally unveiled two Project Impact remodels in northwest Arkansas. Those stores have received a lot of attention and are serving as a blueprint for the most ambitious remodeling effort in the company’s history.

As the pace of Walmart’s domestic new store expansion has slowed, remodeling activity has picked up, with plans calling for 500 to 600 stores to be remodeled annually and all new and relocated stores to open under the Project Impact design. The goal is to have the entire U.S. store base operating under a single format within five years.

Expectations are high for Project Impact, but it is too early at this point to credit the company’s strong financial performance to the approximately 300 stores believed to be operating under the full Project Impact design. Walmart produced a 3.6% same-store sales increase during the first quarter, and while the company doesn’t dispute the fact that it has benefited from the weak economy making consumers more price sensitive, it also believes the wide range of merchandising, marketing and operational changes across the entire store base have played a key role.

The combination of those forces has enabled Walmart to attract new customers, and so far the insight offered by the company as to the magnitude of the increase has been limited to one intriguing nugget. Castro-Wright noted during the first-quarter conference call that 17% of the measurable growth in store traffic the company experienced during February came from new customers, and their average transaction size was 40% higher than the company average. Walmart doesn’t want to see those customers leave when economic conditions improve and has asserted that it will be able to retain them.

For now, though, Walmart is in the midst of what is likely to be its most difficult quarter of the year. The company is up against challenging comparisons from a year ago when it was the major beneficiary of economic stimulus checks, rising commodity prices that led to food inflation and higher fuel costs, which caused consumers to consolidate trips. The result was a stunning 4.6% same-store sales increase at Walmart’s U.S. stores in second quarter 2008. Walmart has said it expects same-store sales in the second quarter of this year to be somewhere between flat and up 3%, with the impact of last year’s stimulus checks causing a 100- to 200-basis-point drag.

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Changing times change retail clinic roles

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK —Questions on whether acetaminophen is safe or not. Concerns over the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Uncertainty around the safety and efficacy of pediatric cough-cold medicines. Add to that list increasing anxiety over healthcare costs in a recession economy and you have a not-near-comprehensive list of issues nurse practitioners and physician assistants practicing in a retail clinic setting face on a daily basis.

All of this means NPs and PAs are quickly joining their pharmacist cousins as the most-accessible healthcare professionals with whom consumers can consult.

According to several retail clinic senior executives, their nurse practitioners are advising consumers around the use of over-the-counter medications, when appropriate, in more than half of their patient visits. “It’s probably 75% of the time or more,” Sandra Ryan, Take Care Clinic chief nurse practitioner officer, told Drug Store News. “The nurse practitioners are really great about going out into the store, looking at what products are available, looking at the combination products to see what’s in there [and] talking with the pharmacist so that they can gain a better understanding around [OTCs].”

“Normally [that OTC discussion] is part of the treatment protocol,” Lori Knowles, RediClinic COO, noted. “We make sure our patients are educated thoroughly,” she said, arming those patients with directions in writing or appropriate dosing charts before they leave the clinic.

Most of those OTC discussions occur around the acute conditions that clinics are designed to treat—making skin rashes, cough-cold and allergy, and pain relief three of the most discussed categories. “[Nurse practitioners] are always trying to educate patients around over-the-counter products in their total assessment of the patient and whether or not they need something over the counter,” Ryan said. “As a nurse practitioner working in [a retail] setting, not only do you need to understand the [OTC] product, but you need to look at the components, the Drug Facts, and then relate that back to the age of your patient, whether it’s an elderly person or a child. Being in a retail setting and having a pharmacist colleague right there is incredibly powerful from a patient safety perspective.”

“One of the ways to assist people in their wise self-management of their illnesses…is to help them to remember to follow the labeling instructions,” Trish Hughes, VP clinical quality with MinuteClinic, added.

Another popular OTC category included in NP-patient discussions is pediatric ear care—addressing self-care solutions around remedying an ear infection during the 48 hours to 72 hours before a practitioner will prescribe an antibiotic. “We track and trend a lot of measures to make sure that we are being very appropriate in our prescribing of antibiotics,” Ryan said.

But NPs and PAs are speaking to patients around the use of nonprescription medicines more often than just during a patient visit. In fact, whenever concerns over the use of OTC medicines become topical, patients seek out NPs and PAs for answers. “By and large, we have a savvy group of customers,” Hughes said. “Anything that hits the Internet and is talked about, they’re aware.”

Concerns over the economy may be increasing consumer interest in OTC solutions as well, the retail executives noted. “We actually are hearing some of that in many locations,” Knowles said. “We are very careful to prescribe [for our patients] the most low-cost, appropriate [solutions],” she added.

“People are very cost-conscious about the cost of health care, and we do have a large percentage of patients who don’t have insurance,” Ryan said. That being the case, NPs have always been price sensitive, be it an appropriate OTC solution or a generic equivalent to a prescription remedy. “Historically for us, 30% of the patients do not have insurance,” Ryan noted, “so [nurse practitioners] have always done a great job in giving the right recommendations to patients.”

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