SCENE: A supermarket where a shopper can't find a favorite brand of cigarette.
Shopper: I'm looking for a pack of Smokeys.
Clerk: Would that be filter or non-filter?
Clerk: Do you like menthol or regular?
Clerk: In a box or softpack?
Clerk: Regular, king or 100 millimeter?
Clerk: In the 20-pack or the 25-pack?
Shopper: Oh, never mind. Just give me this brand over here that's two-for-one this week.
While this dialogue admittedly never took place, any warehouse buyer who's trying to orchestrate the purchase, stocking and distribution to stores of over 200 available packings can appreciate its ironies.
A tide of "launches' of cigarette items continues to beat against the warehouse door--including genuinely new brands, as well as extensions (which can bring the variations of a single brand as high as nine) and relaunches.
Not that all this activity is necessarily regarded by the buyers as bad news. In their wake, these launches bring a heavy cargo of allowances and payments. "We'll take any of the new brands into our warehouse,' says Robert Everett, who oversees the cigarette category for Hamady Brothers Food Markets Inc., (Flint, Mich.), "for their special discounts and display payments.'
But the Hamady warehouses, like most, doesn't have rubber walls that can make room for an infinite number of items in any product category. Everett checks sales of the new item after 90 days to ascertain whether its movement earns it a permanent space among the 109 packings he stocks. If not, the antidote is not necessarily banishment from his stores.
"Some of our customers may be buying the brand, so it wouldn't be fair to just pull it out from under them because we don't have room for it in the warehouse,' Everett reasons. "So we let the stores order it from King, our tobacco distributor.'
The function of a tobacco distributor in this kind of setup, where the grocery warehouse restricts its cigarette inventory to an elite core of heavy hitters, is called "fill-in.'
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