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Underwear, fresh seafood, soon at your hardware store!

In this uncertain economy, market research analysts like myself recommend innovative revenue-enhancing strategies for our nation’s retailers. Like staying open longer. Also, obliterate your products’ sell-by dates.

(Just kidding.)

My cutting-edge path to riches, however, comes down to a singe word: “plastics.” No! That’s been done. Make that “diversify.”

You may have heard the recent news about my drugstore chain clients blossoming out with sushi bars. Also with fresh food sections offering such delectables as octopus salad. And most recently, a shoe-shining service! (I made that up.) Plus non-stick frying pans — that’s right, it’s all in your drug store, from pots to potting soil. I call this smorgasbord retailing.

Before I’m done, there will be no more having to go to one place for your beef jerky and another for your dry cleaning. I’m looking forward to when I can say to Sweetie Pie, “While you’re at Staples, pick me up some arch supports and a sticky bun.”

I say everybody should sell everything. You’ll see signs on Fillmore Street like “Lester’s Tire Warehouse, Cold Remedies, and Family Planning.” And “Oswald’s Fine Furniture, Wiper Blades, and Designer Jeans.” Call me a visionary, but kick-starting this economy is about retail diversification. Think “Hallmark’s House of Cards, Draperies, Goldfish, and Jockstraps.”

My clarion call to retailers: broaden your line! No matter what your line is. If you’re a wine shop, add vacuum sweepers! We on-the-go shoppers expect gourmet fare and underwear at our shoe store and a fresh seafood section at Home Depot.

We can be thankful that our drugstores are leading the way, that we now can walk in to what once was a pharmacy and pick up motor oil and a quiche for lunch. Imagine pulling into Midas for a muffler replacement and also picking up your wrinkle cream, some broccoli, and even a new toilet seat!

This makes our retailers more relevant. Today you have to have something in your shop for everybody. The new definition of “full line” is a pizza parlor where you can pick up steel-toed work boots (and get your car keys duplicated). Between us, while other businesses are still trying to figure this out, I’ve finished my situation analysis and am about to announce my new Chestnut Street business: “Fred’s Party Favors, Underwear, and Wealth Management, Inc.”

But there’s an art to proper retail evolvement. You don’t just start on Monday selling support hose at your bakery, and then on Tuesday expand into bird feeders. No. According to my studies of buyer behavior, to succeed, you have to first alter your customers’ expectations. The key here is patience. You start by sticking just one pair of support hose in the showcase alongside the cornbread muffins. This is the adjustment period. Allow the customer time to feel comfortable with the newcomer.

Next you put a bird feeder on the counter among the Kaiser rolls. You’ll see some quizzical expressions, but be patient. Soon they’re checking the price tag. Then, alongside the bird feeder, you put a few tubes of hair styling gel. Do you see what’s going on here? Diversification! Which begets one-stop shopping. And you’ve now targeted a specific market — the support hose/cornbread muffin/bird feeder/Kaiser roll/styling gel crowd! This is Step One of your positioning strategy.

Step Two is more of Step One. What segment of your customer mix still is missing? Senior citizens. You add ear horns and metal detectors.

Step Three: You stock women’s shoes. The average woman prepares for every upcoming event in her life, including dental appointments, by buying new shoes.

Then, voila! You now have relevance! You’ve extended your product array. You’ve changed shoppers’ expectations. Your store is a destination! Now, to maximize your opportunity, you open your drive-thru, with sliding glass doors for the larger items — railroad ties, base fiddles, kitchen sinks, and Harley-Davidsons.

Fred Gehrung is a freelance writer who lives in the Marina. Fred has written features and humor for newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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