Leading the Charge in General Merchandise

Grocery Headquarters’ General Merchandise Trailblazer Awards recognize the best the segment has to offer.
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It is a tale as old as time. General merchandise does not sell well at grocery. Fortunately, there are manufacturers intent on rewriting that story by providing retailers with high-end products and marketing support, among other tricks of the trade.    

Grocery Headquarters has searched far and wide looking for the companies that have excelled in the GM category so we could bestow upon them our coveted Trailblazer Award. 

With help from the Grocery Headquarters Board of Retailers, the following companies have been deemed worthy of a Grocery Headquarters General Merchandise Trailblazer Award: 

American Greetings

This year marks 111 years of business for American Greetings. The Cleveland-based company is a leader in the social expressions industry through a deep understanding of consumers; a comprehensive portfolio of brands, content partners and licenses; visionary innovation; and superior productivity that helps consumers of all ages create meaningful connections and helps retailers drive sales.

The company’s major greeting card lines are: American Greetings, Carlton Cards, Gibson, Recycled Paper Greetings and Papyrus; other paper product offerings include DesignWare party goods and American Greetings and Plus Mark gift-wrap and boxed cards. In addition to its product lines, American Greetings also creates and licenses popular character brands through the AG Entertainment group. 

“At American Greetings, we don’t refer to ourselves simply as ‘a greeting card company,’ we are a leader in meaningful connections, with a purpose to make the world a more thoughtful and caring place,” says Megan Baucco, associate manager, marketing communications. “It’s important to show that difference to our retail partners and consumers, and one of the many ways we do this is through marketing.”

Recent marketing campaigns have earned American Greetings several industry awards, including a North American Grand Effie, a Cannes Silver Lion and SABRE Awards, among others. “Our activation at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January and our new ‘Give Meaning’ campaign are two examples of marketing efforts that illustrate how and why the greeting card category remains relevant in our increasingly-digital world.”

Bradshaw International

Bradshaw International has its roots in a family-owned honey business that its founder, Buzz Bradshaw, started more than 100 years ago. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based company has kept alive the entrepreneurial spirit that places customer service and product innovation above all else, in order to stay a step ahead of its competitors. As an industry leading housewares supplier today, Bradshaw markets kitchen tools and gadgets, bakeware, cookware, barware, coffee products, food storage and cleaning supplies under a number of household brands. 

Global resources and state-of-the-art operations have allowed Bradshaw to produce inventive products that reward consumers with multiple features and benefits, contemporary design and timely market need. With the popularity of hydration products surging, for example, Bradshaw has the scope and ability to enter the business with a full complement of more than 20 SKUs, covering the range from plastic sports drink bottles to stainless steel thermal insulated styles. This extensive program gives the company the advantage of being able to offer retail customers a flexible choice, and convenient one-stop shopping. 

“Being able to build products from the ground up stimulates the creative process and we can follow the best practices in quality control,” says Tom Barber, senior vice president of product development at Bradshaw. “When we’re able to do this over an entire line of products like our new GoBottle hydration program, the results are pretty impressive.” 

He adds that the commitment to consistently stay on top of consumer demand, while being responsive to the needs of its retail partners, is the key to Bradshaw International’s success in the housewares industry.

Butler Home Products

Butler Home Products started as a small local manufacturer of a single mop in Cambridge, Mass. in 1947. Over the years, the company grew to add more mopping products using innovative materials turning out high quality products. Butler is most known for innovative products that make cleaning easier—products like the Magic Eraser Mops, the STEP-ON-IT dustpan, the Neat Sweep broom and dustpan set, as well as many others. 

“We were the first company to bring a major CPG brand to cleaning tools and one of the pioneers of category management in a non-food category,” says   Michael Silverman, senior vice president of the Hudson, Mass-based company. 

This passion and entrepreneurship has allowed Butler to continuously reinvent itself, expanding product lines and product categories. Today the company is a major source, for not only cleaning tools, but also household gloves, household sponges, lint and laundry accessories. “Our products are all there to solve consumer problems and make their lives easier,” says Silverman.

In addition to its business dealings, Butler is concerned about the communities in which it operates. With support for Pet Adoptions, the Wounded Warrior Project, the National Breast Cancer Foundation and others, Butler and its employees are committed to making all aspects of people’s lives better in many different ways.  

“To help fuel our growth, we continue to reach out to consumers in order to get the most up-to-date and relevant information on our products and how we merchandise them on shelf,” says Silverman. “What we have learned from consumers recently, is that they are looking to make their own purchasing decisions. Gone are the days of buying what’s on the shelf—they want choice and if they do not find choice on the shelf, they will go elsewhere to find what they want.”  

Calico Brands

Calico Brands, a family of recognizable lighter brands, Scripto and Calico, is a leading supplier of lighters in the U.S. The Scripto brand has been a household name for more than 90 years and has been among the most trusted names in pocket lighters since 1955. “The Scripto brand has grown and developed over the years, offering the widest assortment of lighter products in the industry today,” say officials for the Ontario, Calif.-based company.  

The multi-purpose lighters are marketed under the leading brand names Scripto Aim ‘n Flame II, Scripto Torch Flame Wind Resistant, Scripto Flex, Scripto Xtra Long, Scripto Folding, Scripto EZ-Squeeze, Calico Hot Shot, Calico Hot Shot Wind Resistant, Calico Flex, Calico XL and Calico Candle Lighter. 

“Calico Brands take pride in providing customers with the widest selection of colors, styles and products in the industry,” officials add. As a recognized market leader, the Scripto brand offers innovative multi-purpose lighters with a variety of features, such as an adjustable flame, torch flame wind resistant, flexible nozzle and a refillable, folding mechanism.”  In 2017 the company introduced new “squeeze technology” to its product line. The Scripto EZ-Squeeze multi-purpose lighter features a squeeze grip ignition for ease of use. The lighter includes a refillable tank, ergonomic design, visible fuel supply, angled nozzle for easy lighting and built in hook for storage. 

Cool Gear International

Cool Gear products are all about personality, says Maryann Stracuzzi, marketing manager for the Plymouth, Mass.-based company. “Since 2000, our creative team has continued to deliver high quality products that allow our consumers to show off their personal style while doing what they love,” she says. “We have a highly collaborative team of talented artists and designers that use their unmatched ability to tap into pop-culture, fashion, and color trends to develop a product offering that is vibrant, fun and a great value.” 

Beyond offering products with personality, Cool Gear is dedicated to being a positive influence through the message and functionality of its products. The company takes action to eliminate disposable plastic water bottle waste by bringing hydration stations to local and national events. “These hydration stations give event attendees access to fresh, filtered water at no cost; we also design custom water bottles to be refilled throughout the day,” says Stracuzzi.

Cool Gear also supports charitable organizations dealing with education, family, community and health. “To name a few, we support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Autism Speaks, The Roth Family Foundation, and The Dana Farber Foundation,” says Stracuzzi.

Design Design

Established in 1987, Design Design began with one mission in mind, to connect people to people. “We started by selling only 72 greeting cards and have since grown to be a single source provider in eight product categories: greeting cards, paper tableware, party goods, birthday candles, cocktailing, gift packaging, stationery gifts and home fragrance,” says Phil Cowley, chief marketing officer. 

This year, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company introduced two new product categories—party goods and home fragrance. The party goods line includes celebratory banners and tassels, cake toppers, party hats, cupcake liners and balloons. Also released was Essence-scents for your soul, a scented candle line, in the company’s home fragrance category. The line is available in 22 blended, custom fragrances and four fragrance families—fresh blends, garden bloom, artisan medley and world journey. “These candles flood any room with reflections of your soul,” says Cowley. “They create the ambiance for connecting people to people in both everyday life and special occasions—bringing the outdoors in, stimulating new culinary delights, and calling to mind favorite or far-away places.

Hallmark Cards

Hallmark Cards has an entire team devoted to proprietary and innovative capabilities and technology for greeting cards. This summer, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company will introduce innovative collections including Virtual Reality cards and Playlist cards. Virtual Reality cards, available for the first time at Father’s Day, offer an exhilarating adventure through one of today’s top tech trends. The cards feature a pop-up virtual reality (VR) viewer, and instructions for the recipient to access a 360 degree video corresponding to the adventure theme of the card. Playlist cards, also for Father’s Day, leverage Hallmark’s sound card capability offering exclusive access to a specially curated song playlist created just for dad on one of today’s hottest music platforms.

One of Hallmark’s most popular segments, Hallmark Signature, will be available in new ways in 2017—via hundreds of new card designs and a new premium Spanish collection, new captions, price points, materials, dimensional gift card holders for holiday and more gift wrap.

Changing social and cultural trends are influence greeting cards more acutely today than in the past, offering exciting opportunity for growth, says Stacey Howe, vice president/general manager of national accounts.

“For the greeting card industry, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Howe. “It’s important for grocery stores to provide a product offering that’s relevant across this evolving consumer landscape and reflective of each store’s individual demographics. Hallmark leverages our broad greetings portfolio with our industry-leading localization tools to give retailers personalized product assortments at a rooftop level, based on the unique shopper needs.”

​Ideavillage Products Corp.

Ideavillage Products Corp.products are innovative problem solvers, relevant to many consumers, says Ron Boger, president and COO of the Wayne, N.J.-based company. Our consumers immediately respond to our products as they resolve their everyday problems,” he adds. “Thus, our items are highly impulsive on the retail shelf.”

Ideavillage’s Copper Embedded compression sleeves, designed to enable consumers to experience pain relief and improved joint mobility and stability in their daily lives or during physical activities, will be a $400 million brand in 2018, according to Boger. Other popular products include the Finishing Touch Lumina hair trimmer, Micro Touch Max male hair trimmer, Micro Touch ToughBlade Shaver and the Finishing Touch Yes hair remover. 

“We are committed to taking care of the consumer,” says Boger. “Our entire organization—from sourcing and product development to marketing—has the mission of providing to our customers impeccable quality product with a great retail value.”


Founded in Colombia in 1934, IMUSA is a respected brand with more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. marketplace. In February of 2011, IMUSA joined Groupe SEB, a leader in product quality and innovation, composed of the strongest cookware brands in the world. Victoria Rodriguez, marketing director for the Doral, Fla.-based company, says IMUSA is most recognized for its reach in the Hispanic consumer market with key items including the cast aluminum caldero and the tamale steamer. IMUSA’s product expansion into other food cultures, such as the IMUSA wok used in Asian cooking, has increased the brand’s reach and crossover appeal. 

Today, IMUSA USA is a leading brand of Hispanic and International housewares, offering a complete assortment of ethnic cookware, small kitchen electrics, espresso, tools, gadgets and specialty items. “We provide our customers with quality products at a great value, keeping in mind authenticity and tradition,” says Rodriguez. “The brand invites its customers to keep tradition alive and to recreate family recipes that take you back home, while also capturing the foodie who wants to explore the exciting world of ethnic cuisines.”

In addition to cookware, IMUSA provides consumers with an easy and quick solution to ethnic cooking with its recipe offering. IMUSA’s recipes are available on the brand’s website recipe page, and a series of recipes and recipe cards accompany each IMUSA cookware vessel at the retail level. 

​Multipet International

Established in 1995 by Mark Hirschberg, Multipet International is one of the premiere suppliers of pet products throughout the U.S., Europe, South America, Australia and beyond. Its products can be found in more than 40,000 retail outlets, making Multipet International a leader within the pet industry. 

The Multipet International brand focuses on internationally sourced fabrics, unique designs and unwavering quality, all with a focus on value to its consumers. For more than 20 years, consumers have welcomed the Multipet International brand into their homes.

 Some of the brands the Moonachie, N.J.-based company is most known for include the Loofa Dog and Lamb Chop. The Loofa Dog comes in more than 20 varieties and is available in retail outlets throughout the world. Leslie Yellin, executive vice president, says Loofa Dog is also an internet sensation with hundreds of images and videos. She adds that “Lamb Chop is a dog’s best friend, and now based on its popularity we launched Lamb Chop for cats.

 “As one of the top dog toy suppliers in the U.S. our reputation stands behind us,” she says. “Multipet excels at innovation. We also pride ourselves on supplying toys, catnip and travel accessories that maintain their position for decades. We love what we do and it shows in our products.”


How does a company go from selling turquoise and silver jewelry in 1979 to becoming a manufacturer and distributor of daily essentials in 2017? Mark Deuschle, president of Denver-based Navajo, says it is all about listening to customers and adapting along with them.

“With distribution channels set up in the U.S. and Mexico, it was a natural step for Navajo to start sourcing other items their retail partners requested,” says Deuschle. “Navajo’s product line developed as the scope of corner-store industry changed. Contacts in multiple countries, a robust distribution system, and an in-house design team gave Navajo the ability to be versatile and expand in a rapidly changing landscape.”

As Navajo’s experience in general merchandise grew, success was found in broader trends and industry shifts, not fads. TSA-compliant toiletries (Handy Solutions brand), maintaining consumer eye health with a broader selection of protective, fashionable gear are eyewear standards (Piranha and Envy brands) and mobile adapters and accessories (Hottips! brand) are areas where Navajo has thrived. 

Now, sustainable products are an innovation driven by environmental demands and growing consumer awareness. As part of that initiative, Navajo has introduced Piranha Bamboo Sunglasses to the market. Piranha Bamboo incorporates bamboo temples with the classic sunglasses design to form a signature, organic style.

“Piranha Bamboo Sunglasses don’t only look natural, they feel natural,” says Deuschle. “When it comes to environmentally ethical manufacturing decisions, it’s a step in the right direction for Navajo and the industry.”

​Whink Products Co.

Whink Products Co.’s commitment to the community includes maintaining a youth soccer league playing field complex for children up to the 7th grade on its grounds. The Eldora, Iowa-based company is also the primary benefactor to the Iowa River Greenbelt Resource Trust and several executives sit on the board of directors. Company goals for 2017 include prairie restorations and the creating of habitat for pollinators along the new “Rails to Trails” corridor. Whink is also a milkweed seed collection sight for the “Save the Monarch Butterfly” efforts. 

Steve Throssel, CEO, saysWhink encourages employees’ participation in community civic organizations via support (monetarily) and participation (allowing time off). This includes, but is not limited to Rotary, Kiwanis and the Lions club.  “These organizations are well represented by our involvement, as is the Eldora area United Fund,” he says.

 On the product side, Whink continues to improve and to refine its specialty cleaners, offering a line of effective products under the Mossy Oak brand as a private label line directed at the hunting, fishing and outdoor market place. 

“The big challenge is that there are so many choices and a somewhat static market, meaning not a lot of new store openings,” says Throssel. “We’ve spent the better part of the last two years trying to find a way to actually clean the air, or scent from the air. This is pure R&D work and we’re utilizing Iowa State University’s testing facilities to give us the academic approach to success. These products have a broad application throughout the home. So far we have products that work and out perform others in the marketplace. We feel like we have this success with our Whink Uniform Wash and our GSR/Mossy Oak line of products.”    


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