When consumers think of stopping at a convenience store, health and beauty aids (HBA) and personal care items probably don’t rank high on the list of reasons. At least, not until that customer finds herself with a headache and no pain reliever or forgets to put on deodorant that morning.
That’s when this often-overlooked category is very top of mind. Jodi Leibowitz, category manager for Rotten Robbie’s 35 stores in Northern California, said that while it’s a lower volume area of the store, for customers those become “need to have” items.
“There’s probably only 10-15 SKUs that are really highly productive,” said Leibowitz. “The rest were just put in there because we think we have to have them.”
While the health and beauty category’s convenience channel sales were flat for the 52-week period ending July 31, according to NielsenIQ data, there were some big swings among the category’s segments.
First aid products rose 37.6% for the year, medical accessories — which includes masks — were up 35.3%, travel sets grew 28.4%, and cosmetics and nail grooming saw an uptick of 14%.
Among the products that were down, the bath and shower segment dropped a hefty 43.6% followed by facial and skin care (19.6%), upper respiratory (15.8%), adult incontinence (15.2%) and sleeping and alertness aids (11%).
Navigating Pandemic Shifts
Pandemic lockdowns are likely to have influenced many of these segment shifts. That certainly applies to hand sanitizer, a strong seller during the past year. That’s now changed somewhat.
Rotten Robbie carries two sizes of hand sanitizer in its HBA set: a 2.5-ounce and a four-ounce size. With the surge in the COVID-19 Delta variant, Leibowitz observed that demand for sanitizer seems to vary according to the different areas of the country. Where Rotten Robbie stores are located, it’s top of mind. “I think on the West Coast and probably urban areas — New York; Austin, Texas; probably the Bay Area — you’ll see a bigger tick up in masks and sanitizer,” she said.
When it comes to masks, Rotten Robbie is carrying just the disposable type. By now, Leibowitz said, most customers already have their own non-disposable masks that they prefer.
Leibowitz said that she’s assessing how much space to devote to Rotten Robbie’s HBA set and where in each store to place it. That can be a challenge. Every inch of display space is valuable. In addition to its standard convenience store, Rotten Robbie also has what Leibowitz called smaller “snack” stores that feature 10 cooler doors of beverages and 15 feet of gondola space for snacks and HBA.
“Maybe (HBA) goes just to some type of different rack rather than being in set,” she explained. “Maybe it goes to a wall fixture or something like that. Those are the things we’re actually exploring. And I’ve done that in two stores (that are) smaller snack stores. I cut down, and I just put what the essentials were on the wall, and we sell out all the time because it’s the best assortment of all the SKUs we offer.”
Rotten Robbie also uses the checkout area for some items. “I do some different things,” Leibowitz said. “Liquid NyQuil last year had the one-shots available. So rather than putting it in the set, they did these great little counter unit displays. We put that up by the register, and it sold out immediately.”
Leibowitz said that checkout positioning is always good for “as needed” items. The checkout counter is also a good place to test new personal care products. “We try to look for little things like that to put on the counter units. …” she said. “And it’s a good way for c-stores to test to see, ‘Does that deserve a place in the HBA set?’”
Product research at other outlets is a must. Leibowitz asks herself, “What does the customer really, actually need from us?” And then she’ll follow up by spending time at larger pharmacy or big box stores to see what items they’re carrying that her customers may want.
As consumers grapple with a feeling of pandemic relief due to increasing vaccination rates darkened by the specter of the Delta variant, the size of the HBA set could go either way.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what other people do with HBA,” said Leibowitz. “It’ll be interesting to see … if it grows or not.”