Facebook Twitter

ShopKo kicks habit - with Utah’s help

SHARE ShopKo kicks habit - with Utah’s help

Take a bow, Utah, you've shown the nation how it can help reduce lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses connected to smoking: Just stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in stores.

Citing the success of a ban on tobacco sales launched by its 15 Utah stores three years ago, ShopKo said it has ended the sale of all tobacco products in its 130 specialty retail stores nationwide."We heard nothing negative from Utah consumers after we stopped selling cigarettes in our stores there, but we received a lot of praise for the decision," ShopKo spokeswoman Sheree Olson told the Deseret News Wednesday.

"Because of the success of our program in Utah, we decided to take tobacco out of all our stores and that process is now complete."

Target Stores, a 700-store chain that opened its first discount stores in Utah in 1995, also has banned sales of tobacco products.

Is this the start of a major trend for retailers?

"I think it is," said Olson. "At least it's a trend for the kind of retailer that ShopKo is. Our business is planned around customer lifestyles, and as those lifestyles change, we devote more space to the more popular trends. Cigarettes are one of the things we have chosen to eliminate."

Marsha Gilford, spokeswoman for Smith's Food and Drug stores, said the company has a policy against discussing sales trends at its stores.

"We try and fulfill the needs of our many diverse customers, but we also have programs in place for the responsible selling and merchandising of all tobacco products," said Gilford.

Other Utah retailers could not be reached by press deadlines Wednesday for comment on their tobacco policies.

What about ShopKo's bottom line? Don't cigarettes represent a big profit center?

They did once, but not anymore, said Olson.

Cigarette sales have been declining substantially over the past five years," she said. "While we are obviously walking away from some sales, we think we'll be able to replace those with more profitable items in other categories, although I don't have anything specific in mind."

Olson said Utah was chosen to pioneer the ban on tobacco sales because of the healthy lifestyles of most residents.

"I think the trend away from tobacco sales was noticed earlier in Utah. We quickly realized, with the help of the people who brought it to our attention, that cigarettes are not a popular business to be in."

ShopKo has no illusions that cigarettes won't continue to be sold by many stores. "But for mass retailers like ShopKo, the demand is clearly on the decline," said Olson.

Terry McDonald, senior vice president of marketing for Shop-Ko, said that when the ban was first made in Utah, some company executives worried that there would be a pro-smoking group who would say, "Wait a minute. You're not convenient anymore."

But that didn't happen, McDonald said.

Olson said ShopKo will not launch an advertising campaign to trumpet the tobacco ban.

"This was just a business decision, based on profitability, and it's like decisions we make every day regarding the categories of merchandise we sell in our stores."