Big Lots officials are hammering away at numerous changes that they hope will fatten the bottom line, company executives told investors at a recent conference.
They’re so confident, in fact, that they recently initiated a cash-dividend program for shareholders, a first for the company.
Many of the changes discussed at the conference are those that have been reported before: making furniture a key part of the business, becoming the Hostess snack-cake thrift outlet, and working harder to appeal to Big Lots’ target customer, nicknamed “Jennifer.”
But one change that’s underway might surprise the industry and customers alike: a long overdue improvement to the store’s electronic security systems.
“We might be the only retailer left in the free world that does not have EAS (electronic article surveillance) in all their stores,” said Andrew Stein, chief customer officer and chief marketing officer at Big Lots, echoing a quip by CEO David Campisi. “We will have EAS in all of our stores by the end of the year. That’s a big deal. That’s a big deal in a lot of ways.”
EAS systems have been in common use at retail stores and libraries for years. The relatively inexpensive systems — prices for one unit fall in the $2,000 to $3,000 range — use a special tag on merchandise that is removed or deactivated at a checkout counter. If a shoplifter attempts to leave the store without getting the tag deactivated, an alarm sounds at the exit.
Big Lots currently has EAS systems in about 200 or 300 of its 1,400-plus locations.
Big Lots “can’t roll that (EAS) out fast enough,” said retail analyst Chris Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies. “It’s going to pay for itself almost immediately. I’m very surprised they haven’t done it before. Campisi is taking them in the right direction. This is low-hanging fruit — that’s an easy one to resolve.”
Big Lots says among the stores that already have the security system, the loss or “shrinkage” rate has fallen by about 0.5 percent.
That might seem small, but it adds up: Big Lots last year reported $5.4 billion in revenue, Stein said.
With that kind of money in play, “you start to understand why we are excited about the opportunity in EAS and providing a safer environment for our associates and our customers,” Stein said.
Big Lots officials also said they are working to catch up with the rest of the retail world in another arena: online operations.
Until recently, Big Lots’ online presence was little more than a website featuring advertisements of current merchandise. Nothing was sold online.
Big Lots “has got to be one of the last large retailers to have e-commerce,” Boring said. “ Everybody’s going in that direction. That was the No. 1 trend in my list of hot trends for this year.”
Big Lots might be late to the game, but executives plan to catch up to and maybe surpass the leaders soon.
“We are looking at best-in-class software providers, best-in-class hardware providers,” Stein said. “We have the advantage of following everyone else, so we know the mistakes they’ve made. We’v e learned from them.”
His work was done
Among the questions left unanswered after the departure of Mike Trempe as president of Longaberger Co.: How goes the Newark-based basket company’s return to U.S.-made products?
Trempe was, after all, the president and chief operating officer who led that initiative.
The answer: rather well. Company officials said that almost three-quarters of the company’s current pottery line is made in America. Longaberger is still seriously looking at the possibility of manufacturing in Ohio.
Trempe is far from the only president of a retail company to depart recently.
Close to home, Thirty-One Gifts’ Andy Neri retired as president at the end of June. Among national retailers, the names of departing presidents include: Gregg Steinhafel, who stepped down as head of Target in May; Robert Hanson, who resigned as CEO of American Eagle Outfitters in January; Steve Birkhold, who resigned in June as head of Bebe stores; and the controversial Dov Charney, who was ousted by the board at American Apparel in June.
Ohio-made products from more than 80 local vendors will be on sale from noon to 6 p.m. today at Polaris Fashion Place. The Polaris show proceeds benefit Faithful Forgotten Best Friends, a nonprofit central Ohio organization that helps pets of the homeless.
A second Ohio-made sale will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 2 at Strongwater Food and Spirits, 401 W. Town St. More than 50 vendors will participate, including the Boutique Truck, the mobile women’s fashion truck. Proceeds from the second event will benefit Mid-Ohio Food Bank.
By Tim Feran - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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