Smart & Final Finds Value In Higher Quality Products

by Deborah Belgum

Even Smart & Final Inc. is getting into the gourmet game. The City of Commerce-based grocery warehouse chain is rolling out new stores that not only have bulk items geared toward restaurants, small businesses, and Little League Moms and Dads, but a selection of upscale wines, cheeses, coffee, meats, and bottled water.

Much like Costco and Trader Joe's.

"It became clear to us that the consumer was looking for more variety and just a better shopping experience," said Ross Roeder, chairman and chief executive of the company founded in L.A. in 1871, when it supplied groceries and gunpowder to sailing ships.

It also is stocking its new stores with higher-grade cooking equipment that rivals much of what you will find at Williams-Sonoma Inc. One of the newest stores to incorporate this new concept opened this month in Pasadena.

"We don't ever want to destroy our strength of getting in and out of our stores easily in five minutes," said Roeder, who was in Paris meeting with the company's majority shareholder, French retailer Casino Guichard-Perrachon. "And we still cater to our customer who is a serious shopper who really wants value."

Revenues for 2000 were $1.86 billion. The company will exceed that figure in 2001, Roeder said.

Gift Slump

The number of exhibitors at the recent semi-annual California Gift Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center declined 10 percent to 12 percent. Attendance was about even with last January.

About 28,000 buyers representing retail establishments nationwide showed up for the five-day event that began on Jan. 19, said Dorothy Belshaw, vice president for new business development for George Little Management LLC, which organizes the gift show.

Many international manufacturers, particularly those in Malaysia and Indonesia, didn't show. Also, smaller manufacturers who were more apt to have cash-flow problems after Sept. 11 stayed away.

Despite the decline in exhibitors, they were fairly optimistic because sales were up slightly from last year. "Every indication is that buying is up and the gift industry is getting back on track. People are restocking their stores and seeking new merchandise," Belshaw said.

Some of the best selling items were personal care items, including anything to do with aromatherapy. Retailers were stocking these items because the price points are lower, and they are consumable goods that consumers restock.

Apparel Shift

Tarrant Apparel Group, one of Los Angeles' largest apparel manufacturers, announced that Chief Financial Officer Scott Briskie has left after two and a half years with the organization.

Briskie will remain as a consultant to company founder Gerard Guez to help with year-end reporting requirements.

Patrick Chow, the company's 48-year-old treasurer, was named chief financial officer of the clothing firm that specializes in making women's jeans and moderately priced casual wear for stores like Target, J.C. Penney and The Limited.

Briskie oversaw Tarrant's acquisition of several sewing factories in Mexico and the vertical integration of the $400-million company's manufacturing process there.

Briskie's departure comes after Guez stepped down last October as the company's chief executive.

Tarrant, like many clothing manufacturers, has had a tough time turning a profit. It reported a $2.5 million loss for the year ended Dec. 31, compared with a $12.9 million profit a year earlier.

Its stock has been on a roller coaster in recent years, trading as high as $48.63 in 1999. Its most recent price was around $5.35.

Staff reporter Deborah Belgum can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 228 or at

Shop L.A.

Local malls reported an increase in foot traffic and sales during the Shop L.A. County campaign, but it's not clear to what degree the minimally-funded effort, which ran Jan. 17 21 and coincided with the post-holiday sales season, contributed to the jump.

About 75 percent of the retailers surveyed at six participating malls owned by Macerich Co. said they believed sales increased during the five-day sale over the like period last year, said Paul Sabina, a senior marketing manager for the firm.

Additionally, Westfield America Inc.'s Fox Hills Mall in Culver City reported a 21 percent increase in foot traffic over the like period a year ago.

The program was supported by $3,000 contributions from the 19 participating malls and another $10,000 from American Express Corp. After administrative costs, production of posters, placards, decals, putting on a Jan. 10 press conference and a $10,000 donation to BookEnds, which purchases books for under-funded libraries, only $25,000 was left to buy advertising.

All told, 75, 10-second and 54, 60-second spots were purchased to run on three local radio stations. Several local stations ran the 10-second spots as public service announcements. But a number of shoppers interviewed at the Westside Pavilion last week said they were unaware of the Shop L.A. County campaign.

"You get what you pay for. ($25,000) is a drop in the bucket," said Scott Gilbert, chief executive of the L.A. office of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. "They didn't put enough money into it to really make an impact."

Richard Giss, a retail analyst and partner with Deloitte & Touche, said the campaign encouraged recreational shopping more than pulling people into malls with the intention of buying. "The best forms of advertising are when you advertise a specific product at a specific price," he said. "Then people know what they are getting and can be motivated to get out and acquire that product."

David Greenberg

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