Monday, April 29, 2002

Closeout retailer testing cleaner look

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Big Lots hopes cutting out the clutter will bring out more customers.

        Some consumers have said its stores, which specialize in closeout merchandise, provide good value but appear too crowded and are hard to navigate because the aisles are too narrow.

        At its two newest central Ohio stores, the aisles are wider and product organization has been improved, and there is more emphasis on brand-name products.

        The stores, in suburban Dublin and the city of Delaware, also are in higher-income areas than most Big Lots outlets.

        “Customers are saying the prices are better and we have more brands. The truth is that nothing is changed. It just looks better,” said Big Lots Chairman Michael Potter.

        If the new stores prove successful, the changes will show up in other stores throughout the nation, said officials of the Columbus-based company.

        A new floor plan for the stores highlights their best deals near the entrance in an area with orange flooring. The wider aisles direct shoppers toward four categories of goods: clothing, food, housewares and furniture.

        Brighter lighting, a customer-information kiosk and upgraded display fixtures complete the package of improvements.

        “We wanted to heighten people's awareness that we do have brands,” said Kent Larsson, Big Lots executive vice president. “But we have not changed our direction in any way.”

        The 1,300-store chain spruced up its existing stores last year, improving lighting and store cleanliness. Customer counts and sales have increased for five consecutive months.


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