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  • Cecile Corral

Meijer Champions Green Goods

On the heels of its Cannon Classic and Cannon Royal Family bedding and bath launch five months ago, 181-unit supercenter chain Meijer this month "revitalized" its soft home department with its new-and-improved At Home private label program — and is also introducing the new Organics bedding and bath offerings of eco-friendly sheets, towels and pillows.

Robert Atteberry, vp of home and electronics, told HTT that the introduction of the Cannon programs represented privately held Meijer's "first step toward revitalizing our home business, and it did what it was supposed to do. Cannon was positioned to launch our new soft home and hard home strategy, and it accomplished that."

Now, the grocery and general merchandise pioneer is making a bigger statement in soft home categories with its own private label, trend-right basics under the existing but improved-upon At Home with Meijer brand. (Meijer's other soft home private label brand, Innovations, has been eliminated from the selling floor to make room for the new presentations.)

Where the Cannon bedding and bath assortment occupies 150 linear feet of floor space, the At Home with Meijer program — comprised not just of bedding and bath products but also kitchen textiles, rugs and soft window treatments — resides in more than double that size of selling floor, or "well over" 300 linear feet.

That space does not include an offshoot of the program, Meijer's new eco-friendly line of 100% SKAL-certified organic cotton sheets and bath towels, plus its bamboo pillow under the At Home with Meijer Organics private label, which take up two four-foot sections, or eight linear feet.

Meijer, which had overall 2007 sales of more than $14 billion, added the organic, eco-friendly lines in home in response to customers' avid response to Earth-friendly goods on the store's grocery side.

"We've seen success with organic products across the store, and we thought our shoppers would respond well to organic sheets and towels, as well," Atteberry said.

He explained that the Cannon line and the At Home offerings are positioned to create balance among the home assortments. "These are meant to complement each other, and they do not cross over each other on the floor from a look-and-feel standpoint," he explained. "Cannon is crisper and cleaner, and At Home has trend elements we can easily transition over the different seasons."

A sampling of the At Home program and its display shows: percale printed bed-in-a-bag sets on 20 linear feet; lightly embellished comforter sets on 16 linear feet; Egyptian cotton bath towels on 20 linear feet; "Ultra Super-sized" bath towels that are made of 100% ring-spun cotton on 20 linear feet; and a four-foot micro-fiber kitchen textile program.

The existing soft window treatments and accent/area rug assortment have been enhanced with the addition of new patterns and colors.

The Organics line, which rolled out with At Home but was advertised separately in Meijer's Sunday circular on March 9, includes: 275 thread-count sheet sets in five solid colors; bath towels available in four solid colors and four white grounds with coordinating stripes to the solid varieties; and a sleep pillow with a 100% bamboo cover and recycled fiber fill.

Some of Meijer's private-label home goods are sourced directly; others are procured from suppliers, he said.

Soft home price points sit on the fence with Meijer's "good" and "better" brackets, Atteberry said, but send a more fashion-forward, higher quality message than the retailer's earlier home offerings.

"With At Home, we're offering our customers great quality and design-correct basics," he added.

The regular At Home spans good and better price points; At Home Organics leans more to the better side. By comparison, Cannon Classics products sell at good price levels and Cannon Royal is on the better side.

More specifically, the Organics products would retail regularly for $29.99 for sheets and $8.99 for bath towels, but during a white sale would be reduced to $19.99 for sheets and $6.99 for bath towels.

Meijer's home department uses "pretty widespread" signage presentations — rather than display beds — to spotlight its branded and private-label home programs. "And we advertise it differently to call out to quality levels," he added.

Atteberry, who originally joined Meijer in August 2004 as vp of hard lines after eight years at Kmart, was promoted in January 2007 to his current post, as part of the retailer's interest in re-energizing its home business.

"We needed something to re-emphasize home, so in January 2007 we decided to focus on bed, bath and hard kitchen areas," he said, "and that's where our emphasis has been."

For Meijer's strategy, Atteberry and his team initially outlined six basic principals to launch the new home:

  • New branding, which would be based on Meijer's own private-label offerings coupled with a major brand, like Cannon or others;

  • New product introductions, supported by "bigger marketing events" surrounding the launch of different programs. Examples include white sales, the Cannon debut and special media events;

  • Control of markdowns, meaning "keeping freshness on our floor while moving through clearance very quickly;"

  • Concentration on basics, or "having the best white towel and sheet on our floor;"

  • Enhancing design elements by "remaining current on trends, colors and specs;"

  • Improved quality, offering customers "not only what they expect but what they are satisfied with," on both basic and fashion goods.

"So that built the base, and we started making decisions from there on what we wanted to bring in," Atteberry concluded.

A white sale event had not occurred at Meijer "for quite a few years," so in October the retailer brought it back — "successfully," Atteberry added — to inaugurate its Cannon programs.

A small white sale took place again in January, and then again Meijer hosted a third white sale earlier this month — this past one poised as the spring event — to launch its At Home and At Home Organics brands.

While Atteberry would not comment on the effects of the slumped economy on Meijer's new home business, he did say, "We're definitely establishing the base of a go-forward strategy … And we've been real happy so far."

Hardlines will also be part of Meijer's new home mix. Come March 23, the chain will add its new Grand Gourmet program of small kitchen appliances — including bakeware, cookware, gadgets and cutlery. "This is a good quality [and price] level, private-label brand centered on the cooking and baking needs of our customers," he said.

Like Cannon, At Home with Meijer and At Home with Meijer Organics have rolled out to all of the 74-year-old, retailer's 181 supercenters in five states — Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Grand Gourmet will also be featured in all Meijer units later this month.

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