Bargain in turkeys has Leedmark flying Store strains to keep ahead of huge demand.

November 21, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

Undaunted by the fact that they're frozen and wrapped in plastic, the turkeys are flying at Leedmark.

Thousands of the Thanksgiving Day gobblers are exiting the Glen Burnie store, a huge retail operation known as a hypermarket. To attract customers, Leedmark has been offering turkeys at 28 cents a pound since Friday.

That's $5.60 for a 20-pound specimen. On average, Baltimore-area consumers can expect to spend between $9 and $17 for a frozen turkey and much more for a fresh one.

Lydia Butler, a Glen Burnie resident who bought her turkey at Leedmark yesterday, likened the sale to a silver lining around the dark clouds of a depressed economy.

"It's wonderful," she said. "It makes you think there really isn't a recession and things are just like they were when I was a little girl, and you could get turkeys at prices like these."

Butler said a neighbor called her on Tuesday to tell her about the sale. "I said I better scoot on up here today."

She did, and so have thousands of others.

Yesterday morning, about 200 shoppers stood outside Leedmark waiting for the doors to open at 9 a.m. Tickets for the turkeys were handed out at the door to anyone who requested one. The tickets can be exchanged at the back of the store for a turkey, which can then be purchased in the front.

By noon, hundreds more bargain shoppers stood two abreast in lines that stretched across the back of the store. The lines led to a storeroom where workers unloaded turkeys from large barrels and placed them directly in shoppers' carts.

Store officials expected the number of turkeys sold as of yesterday to exceed 35,000. On Tuesday alone, 10,500 of the birds were carted away.

An average of two tractor-trailer trucks a day have been hauling the turkeys to Leedmark since the promotion began, said Edward Segal, a company spokesman. Eighteen people have been hired to handle the distribution of tickets and turkeys at the store. Additional workers have been brought in to keep the store's 30 cash registers open full time.

Still, Segal acknowledged Leedmark is having trouble keeping pace with the demand. Although he declined to discuss the number of customers who have been turned away daily when no more turkeys were available, the store yesterday issued a statement imploring customers to limit their purchase to only one turkey per family.

"The shortage was caused by people who were buying their one turkey and coming back again and again," Segal said. "It created the unfortunate situation where some people who were there to get their one turkey, couldn't."

Still, Leedmark is relying on an "honor system" whereby customers voluntarily limit their purchases, Segal said.

Industry observers say Leedmark may be making a mistake with its open-ended program, which the company has promised to continue through Tuesday if it doesn't run out of turkeys.

A mainstay of grocery store marketing, turkey markdowns produce large crowds and huge profit losses. Of course, if there aren't enough turkeys, they also can produce angry customers.

"Any time a grocer deals with an out-of-stock situation, he's violating one of the cardinal rules of retail," said Jeffrey W. Metzger, publisher of Food World, the trade journal in Columbia. "You anger customers if you don't have the merchandise in stock, particularly on a promotional item."

Valu Food President Louis Denrich, however, has learned from experience.

The Baltimore grocery chain has been offering promotional markdowns on turkeys for years at Thanksgiving. This year, frozen turkeys are going for 29 cents a pound.

But the offer is limited to those who buy a minimum of $50 worth of groceries. Also, only customers who have been mailed a special coupon can collect a turkey at the low price.

Even with restrictions, Denrich says, Valu Food lost $70,000 last year on some 50,000 turkeys that it sold during a similar promotion.

Segal declined to comment on what Leedmark expects to lose on its promotion.

Denrich says that for Valu Food, the loss is worth it to keep loyal customers happy.

But he questions whether Leedmark, which opened last May, isn't "creating a mob of unhappy customers" with its unrestricted program.

"They're doing it because they're new in the market," says Denrich. "I doubt they'll do it again next year."

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