Sunday, July 20, 2003

Big Lots builds on success with thrifty in mind

The Indianapolis Star

Cash is tight, but Big Lots knows how to lure it out of customers' wallets - with low prices, brand names and remodeled stores.

For the past year, Big Lots and the entire closeout retail industry have commanded more success than the rest of the retail market, said Jeff Stein, retail analyst and managing director at McDonald Investments.

Big Lots has moved ahead, in part, because of the economic slowdown. Americans have less money, so they often spend it at discount stores, Stein said.

Net sales have risen 32 percent over the past four years, allowing the national chain to pour more money into advertising. This year, Big Lots spent $50 million on its first national advertising campaign, featuring actor Jerry Van Dyke, according to public relations spokeswoman Pat Zeigler.

A national renovation program in which 212 of the company's 1,400 stores have been remodeled is addressing key concerns of two observers. Jim Lowry of Ball State University and Richard Feinberg of Purdue University said they consider Big Lots less organized and less "bright and modern" than other discount stores.

Despite the criticism, both see great potential in the Columbus, Ohio-based chain.

"It's certainly one of the strongest (closeout retailers) - the strongest one in the country today," said Lowry, a marketing professor. "I think they have staying power."

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