MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, OHIO — Tired of fighting with retailers to get its full range of products displayed, Step2 Co. is launching its own retail business.
About four weeks ago, the rotational molder quietly opened A Step Beyond, a 5,200-square-foot store in Mayfield Heights, a suburb of Cleveland about 20 miles north of its Streetsboro, Ohio, headquarters. The company publicly announced the store's opening in an Aug. 26 news release, and plans a grand opening ceremony in October.
A Step Beyond, predictably, carries only Step2 products, and goes beyond the normal range of products most other retail outlets display — from relatively inexpensive toys to lawn and garden items to gargantuan, $400 rotomolded bunk beds.
Despite reporting a healthy $100 million in rotational molding sales for 1997, Step2 still finds barriers to higher sales in the retail market.
``Our challenge is finding outlets and getting exposure to our line of rather bulky products,'' Step2 President Tom Murdough said in an Aug. 27 telephone interview.
Noting that A Step Beyond is not a discount outlet, Step2 spokeswoman Dotti Foltz said the company isn't planning to hurt its own retail store customers.
``We're going to bring more exposure to the complete Step2 line, which will benefit all the retail outlets of our products,'' she said. ``We are not going to cut prices or make special deals. It's a fine line you have to walk.''
Prices in the store are competitive with other retailers that sell Step2 products, a store employee explained to a customer at the store. A Step Beyond also will match other retailers' prices at the store for Step2 products for as may as 30 days after the purchase.
Because of growth in the rotomolding industry and consolidation in the retail industry, Step2 has been caught in the middle of two conflicting trend lines: more competing products and fewer retailers to market them.
That means Step2 toys and garden products have to duke it out with competitors' stock for limited floor space at most retailers.
``We've become very frustrated over the cherry-picking of our line,'' Foltz said. ``The stores are so jam-packed, you're lucky to get one or two [items] in.''
Step2 includes catalogues with every product it sells. Consumers see the products in the catalogues, but can't always find them on store shelves or floors, Murdough said.
``We're trying to respond to that demand and do it in a way that doesn't undercut our current retailers,'' Murdough said.
The Mayfield Heights store could be the flagship of a Step2 retail chain.
``We've had a tremendous response,'' Foltz said. ``Don't be surprised if another store opens up before the end of this year. I don't think this is a one-shot deal.''
Of course Step2 won't be the first plastics processor with its own store. Rubbermaid Inc. already has Everything Rubbermaid stores in Wooster, Hudson and Jeffersonville, Ohio; Corning, N.Y.; and Winchester and Woodbridge, Va.
Rubbermaid even has a new store of its own.
The company had a ``soft'' opening of a store in Kenosha, Wis., with plans for a ``grand'' opening in September, Rubbermaid spokeswoman Linda Whyte said.
Rubbermaid competes with Step2 in a number of rotomolded product lines, but also offers blow molded and injection molded housewares through different business units.