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REX Awards 2019: General Merchandise


Figuring out the ideal assortment for any category is part science and part intuition, with a healthy dose of flexibility thrown in. As a result, products and categories that once were overlooked within some retail formats now are being considered as vehicles to drive growth.

When it comes to general merchandise, some would have retailers believe such complex tools as sophisticated algorithms are the single best way to determine your customer-driven strategy. Others said the best assortments come when retailers know that consumers want products to make their lives and daily tasks easier and more enjoyable — as well as a little more efficient.

This month, DSN recognizes the general merchandise companies that have taken consumers’ needs to heart. In addition to launching on-trend products, these companies are among those that understand how to best work with their retail partners to differentiate themselves from other merchants.

Here are DSN’s Retail Excellence Awards – General Merchandise winners:

American Greetings
Becoming one of the top greeting card companies requires an industry-leading portfolio, with a blend of deep consumer insights, diverse cultural messaging and an understanding of cross-generational sending — something American Greetings knows well.

Officials at American Greetings consider themselves experts in meaningful connections. By differentiating their products from the competition, they said, the company continues to earn high marks for its quality, comprehensive offering and top-level retail partnerships. “By applying our consumer insights into our brand portfolio, we’ve continued to unlock the preferences of each generation and serve the increasingly complex needs of today’s diverse and modern consumer base,” Steve Laserson, senior vice president of North American sales at the Cleveland-based company, said.

A number of ways that American Greetings is winning at retail starts with attracting shoppers to the greeting card aisle. The company’s research showed that 77% of impulse purchases are triggered by seeing the card department. To address this, American Greetings continues to create distinctive products, as well as help retailers develop well-positioned, prominent departments and easy-to-find cards, all of which is resulting in more consumers shopping the card aisle.

“Those same consumers are looking for the opportunity to acknowledge diversity and individuality to empower the card recipient, so we’re responding with fun yet innovative cards that celebrate what makes each of us unique, Laserson said.

This spring, American Greetings released Music + Motion + More!, a card line that pairs bold audio with the latest motion technology for a new card experience that captures the element of surprise. “In an effort to provide new-to-the-world innovation to cards, American Greetings continues to develop fun and exciting products that deliver on engagement while generating productivity,” Laserson said.

Calico Brands
Ontario, Calif.-based Calico Brands is best known for its array of lighter products offered in a range of designs, colors and styles. The company’s Scripto brand includes innovative multipurpose lighters with a variety of features, including squeeze grip ignition, adjustable flame, wind-resistant torch flame, flexible nozzle, and a refillable, folding mechanism. Calico Brands also has a wide variety of sparkwheel and electronic disposable pocket lighters.

The company’s product innovation and technological advancements can be seen in its new Scripto Ultima pocket lighter. Offered in a number of colors and wrap designs, Ultima has up to 3,000 lights on full-size lighters, greater fuel capacity compared with the leading brand, a premium sparkwheel design that allows for comfortable ignition, visible fuel supply, adjustable flame, and is made with polycarbonate material able to withstand impact and high heat, company officials said.

The company also has launched its Scripto EZ-Squeeze multipurpose lighter line, the first squeeze grip ignition lighter that features new adult friendly squeeze technology and a refillable tank. In addition to these features, its torch flame model stays lit in windy conditions.

Chase Products
Founded in 1927, Chase Products produces a variety of products, ranging from household to personal care, but it is perhaps most known for its full range of private label and branded cleaning products. Armed with more than 90 years of experience and knowledge, the company’s products were created to meet retailers’ and consumers’ ever-changing needs.

The privately held company focuses on sustainability and constantly refines its formulas, propellants, packaging and procedures with this in mind. It also is vertically integrated, which officials said allows it to handle every aspect of manufacturing to insure its mission of producing cost-effective, quality-driven products always is met.

Among the products the Broadview, Ill.-based company offers are a line of green cleaners sold under its Champion Sprayon Green World N label. The line includes a glass cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, stainless steel cleaner and polish, bathroom and tile cleaner, furniture cleaner and polish, as well as a dust and mop treatment. All meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for Safer Choice labeling, are made from biodegradable ingredients, were not tested on animals, and are in recyclable containers. They are free of harsh chemicals and leave no residue or fumes.

“Champion Sprayon Green World N products are the first full line of Safer Choice-labeled green cleaners and polishes with a continuous spray system. These green products use natural nitrogen propellant, and the Safer Choice label means that every ingredient in the product has been reviewed by EPA scientists,” Anthony Albazi, corporate sales director, said.

Designer Greetings
Designer Greetings, a family-owned and -operated company founded in 1982, produces one of the most extensive greeting card lines in the industry. The Edison, N.J.-based company’s card lines include more than 22,000 designs in a range of styles from traditional and humorous to sympathy.

Designer Greetings’ new line, called “A Little Salty,” is designed to meet a perennially high demand for humorous cards with edgy, topical, political and trendy humor. Each card comes with a matching signature envelope that adds a playful finishing touch, company officials said.

Designer Greetings also offers a gift wrap line, Glitterwrap, which includes gift bags, roll wrap, flat wrap, bows, ribbon and stickers. The company also produces packaged invitations and thank you notes, as well as boxed notes.

Later this year, the company will be releasing a new line of stationery products, including journals and datebooks inspired by Designer Greetings’ 2018 acquisition of Madison Park Greetings.

“Data has shown that these tactile products are a favorite among the millennial group of purchasers, which is contrary to their thirst for technology,” CFO Dawn Garvey said. In addition to Madison Park Greetings, Designer Greetings has made other strategic business acquisitions with well-known international brands Palm Press and Northern Exposure. Both of these are leaders in the photographic line of greeting cards.

Having your finger on the pulse of what consumers want is one of many reasons Hallmark continues to thrive in an ever-shifting market. Consistently, the company has achieved high scores from U.S. consumers for its on-trend and cutting-edge products.

Its portfolio is one of the largest of any card manufacturer. Each year, Hallmark puts out nearly 10,000 new and redesigned greeting cards. Hallmark cards are sold in more than 40,000 retail outlets nationwide, including food, drug, mass, discount and grocery stores. Globally, its cards are available in more than 30 languages and more than 100 countries.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based company was recently named Greeting Card Brand of the Year in Harris Poll’s 2019 EquiTrend Study, making it the ninth consecutive year the company achieved this honor. “In today’s increasingly divisive society, people are looking for ways to inject more caring and positivity into the world than ever before,” Amy McAnarney, vice president and general manager, key accounts and business development, said.

The breadth of its assortment is another reason Hallmark products are sought out. The company constantly strives to rethink the greeting card format, in part by creating value-add appeal. For example, in May, Hallmark had more than 1,200 Mother’s Day cards to choose from, including an expanded selection of Paper Wonder pop-up cards. This line of intricate, artistic cards looks to add a new dimension and unique storytelling through memorable paper craft artwork in 35 different designs that doubles as a keepsake for mom.

Multipet International
Lamb Chop, Globlet the Polka Dot Pig and Loofa Dog are just a few of the pet toys Multipet International has become synonymous with over the years. In addition to producing these popular favorites, the company’s range of products includes a large assortment of plush and latex toys, as well as grooming and catnip items. Additionally, with its recently launched Komoto division, the company now offers products for reptiles, as well.

Leslie Yellin, executive vice president of the East Rutherford, N.J.-based company, said of all the products the company produces, Lamb Chop stands out as a consumer favorite. “Pet parents are attracted to nostalgic toys, so we designed this one to represent the original Lamb Chop, but adjusted some of the materials and added squeakers to make it appealing to pets,” Yellin said. “Although the original Lamb Chop debuted in 1960, its loyalty extends to all generations.” Multipet designed Lamb Chop in a variety of sizes so it could be selected for any dog.

Ontel Products
Ontel Products is among a select group of companies producing “As Seen On TV” products. Its lines cross more than a dozen general merchandise and personal care categories. Recognizing this is very much a wants- and needs-driven category, the company invests large amounts of time and capital in search of the next great hit.

Much of the inspiration for its innovation comes from consumer research and internal product development.

Aside from research, the key to Ontel’s success, according to officials, is its investment in consumer education through direct-to-consumer TV, websites and social media.

This strategy enables the company to distinguish its brands from similar products in the market. Ontel achieves this by giving consumers a clear understanding of a product’s features and benefits via a short three-minute segment and a longer 30-minute one.

Craig Jordan, senior vice president of sales and customer solutions for the Fairfield, N.J. company, said Ontel is able to remain competitive because its products are made to the highest standards possible, and every step is taken to ensure they deliver products that will receive a 4.5-to-5 star rating from consumers.

Ontel’s latest launches include Pillow Pad, a media device support accessory; Huggle Pets, a stuffed pet that unfolds into a fleece play character hoodie; Mighty Sight, magnification eyewear with built-in rechargeable LED lights; and Handy Bright, a handheld LED magnetic work light.

Redbarn Pet Products
Family-owned Redbarn Pet Products is best known for its Chewy Louie line of dog treats and chews. While Redbarn’s product assortment includes many proprietary products and processes, what truly sets it apart is the company’s industry leading quality assurance programs. For more than 20 years, the Long Beach, Calif.-based company has invested both time and money hiring innovative scientists and product development teams, building two company owned and operated manufacturing plants and two quality assurance labs.

The company’s objective with Chewie Louie was to create a line that offered a range of flavors, shapes and sizes to appeal to a variety of dog needs.

Jeff Toy, the company’s vice president of sales, said Chewy Louie was designed for the on-the-go dog mom, who wants to bring home responsibly-sourced, nutritious, high-quality chews for her pets, but doesn’t have time for an additional stop at the local pet specialty store. “Simply put, Chewy Louie offers top value for dog parents — premium chews made in company-owned facilities with quality assurance programs that exceed industry standards,” Toy said. “Knowing every Chewy Louie product is carefully designed to be a safe chew, tested for quality, and beautifully packaged for a premium feel should not only bring peace of mind to on-the-go dog parents, but encourage repeat purchases.”

Select-A-Vision/SAV Eyewear has been providing consumers with nonprescription reading glasses and sunglasses for more than 30 years. Its collection of fashionable eyewear with multiple features and benefits — combined with its innovative display fixtures — sets SAV Eyewear apart from others offering similar products.

“While operating in a competitive market, we experience continued success with our reading glasses featuring antireflective coating, which eliminates glare, as well as our blue light protective lenses,” Janet Beckman, product manager at the Collegeville, Pa.-based company, said.

This year, the company introduced Tri-Focus Blue Light Readers, which offer the benefits of progressive readers with the added protection of filtering out blue light emitted by electronic devices, Beckman said. The glasses were introduced in response to several studies, which have shown that extended exposure to blue light can have detrimental effects, causing your eyes to struggle to focus, which can lead to headaches, eye fatigue and insomnia. These same studies show long-term exposure can lead to more serious conditions, such as macular degeneration and vision loss. “We are constantly striving to not only improve the quality and features of our products, but to provide fashion-forward options for our customers,” Beckman said.

Additionally, later this year, the company is launching Cosmopolitan Blue Light Readers. Given the success of its other Blue Light Readers, Beckman said it seemed only natural to introduce a fashion line with trending frame shapes and colors offering the same benefits. “Creating innovative eyewear allows us to stay ahead of the competition and differentiate ourselves, while keeping up with the current fashion trends,” she said.


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