m&m's at a Premium

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April 6, 2018

4 Min Read

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In a marketplace bursting with consumer packaged goods companies trying to find the next avenue for growth, M&M/Mars stands out as a company positioned as a compelling lifestyle brand that crosses product categories and age demographics. i1_477.jpg

That breadth of product is best represented at three M&M's World stores located in Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas; and in New York's Times Square. The Las Vegas store was the first to open 11 years ago and is the largest at 28,000 square feet spread out across four levels. The Times Square location, at 25,000 square feet over three floors, is the newest, having opened in December 2006.

Sales at the Vegas location really began to build momentum fours years ago under the direction of Blair Ford, vice president of the Mars retail group, who implemented a plan that focused on the retail experience and expanded category offerings. During that time, annual sales grew 40% and dollar transactions grew substantially. The nearly two-year-old New York store is performing well, reporting double-digit sales increases over 2007.

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Are there more retail stores ahead—possibly, according to Lanita Isler, M&M's World marketing director. "We are always looking to expand as long as the city fits the brand and we can leverage the iconography of a city. We had a lot of fun playing off things like Lady Liberty in New York," says Isler.

The three stores are often test grounds for product that subsequently will roll out to other channels. A new line of licensed M&M bedroom décor, developed with partner Summit Resources, made its debut at the Times Square store in August, offering not only the standard sheets and comforters but also an assortment of accessories including alarm clocks and bookends. i3_115.jpg

Not surprisingly, the biggest-selling category at the stores is candy, followed by adult apparel. In early summer, two SKUs of t-shirts made from recycled materials rolled out to stores.

The company intends to build on that sense of good corporate citizenship. "We are passionate about giving back. It's not just take, take, take, but rather fostering social responsibility and sustainability," says Isler. i4_81.jpg

Currently, there are special-edition M&Ms packaged in a tin depicting the M&M characters enjoying a horse and buggy ride in Central Park. Proceeds from their sale go to the Central Park Conservancy. Sales from high-end handbags and clutches made from recycled candy wrappers benefit the Mexican community that manufactures the line via school and social projects. A deal has just been signed that will benefit New York firefighters, and last month Mars/M&M agreed to donate at least $1 million to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

As is the case for many retail entertainment stores, the product mix ranges from the basic kids' candy items for under $10 to limited-edition electric guitars for $275 to accessories encrusted with Swarovski crystals and hand-made leather jackets that can cost up to $3,000. i5_65.jpg

"We have something that translates into all age categories—not a lot of companies have that luxury," says Isler. Having a strong selection of items at a lower price point also helps during a difficult economy.

In response to a growing market trends, Mars introduced in August a new line of premium dark chocolate M&M's forgoing the traditional candy shell and incorporating new flavors such as raspberry almond and mint chocolate.

The Mars retail group also is adding new categories including crafting and publishing with future plans including cookbooks and coffee table books. The group is rolling out new programs across retail channels that include themed holiday gift baskets and novelty collectibles such as dry erase message boards and self-inking stampers. Avon will feature an M&M character watch on the cover of its holiday catalog. Avon also will carry M&M slippers, holiday ornaments, blankets, apparel and home décor. And M&M is planning a new Wii volleyball game for holiday.

Square footage in stores is being dedicated to "personalization" stations where customers can get anything from their name to their favorite sports team logo imprinted on items from candies to mugs.

In addition to expanding in-store offerings, the company is looking to extend its global reach, with Mexico and Canada under consideration.

"We are looking to do business with strong partners who have international presence with other properties in Canada and Mexico. It's more of a partnership than a license. We start with people that we are comfortable with and who already have the international reach in other programs they do," says Isler. "All these people at mass are looking for new innovative ideas, and now we have licensees to go along with all this great fun packaging and the great new product the brand team comes out with.

"We live and breathe this together. It's important to grow together. You can't just slap your name on something. We have so much invested in our brand that really being a partner is so important to us."

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