Good Retail Promotions Don't Cost Much But They Pay

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Is there anyone out there old enough to remember TV dealer Mort Farr of Upper Darby, Pa.?

Back when color was the newest benefit consumers derived from owning a television receiver, and the battle for market share was practically a fight between Zenith and RCA exclusively, Farr was the retailer who merchandised those new color-TV sets with red, white, and blue ribbons wrapped around the outside antenna for a new installation.

The objective, of course, was to demonstrate to the neighbors that here was a household which could afford the new, expensive technology. Customers appreciated it, and did not hesitate to recommend Farr's store to friends and relatives. In many ways, the promotion was the same as Chicago-based Polk Bros. giving customers a huge Santa Claus to put on the roof at Christmastime.

Regrettably, promotions such as these are getting harder to find. It's almost as if, as the consumer electronics industry has expanded its new product offerings to the public, its creative merchandising instincts have shrunk.

Yes, there are more promotions than ever, but these are almost all built around lowering prices to the point where they can be afforded only by those publicly-owned firms whose shareholders are more interested in sales volume than in net profits.

And yet it wouldn't take much in the way of thought or promotional allowances to come up with attention-getting ideas for today's sophisticated consumers.

In fact, with all the complicated pieces of consumer electronics being plugged by manufacturers and large retailers alike, it would come as a breath of fresh air for some link in the distribution chain to take the simple approach to improving relations between buyer and seller.

For starters, how about a thank-you dinner at a local restaurant for some of those who have been buying from you for the longest time? Whether it's one couple or several, the table conversation is bound to center on what it was like to shop in "the good old days", and a photograph of the evening out is bound to be kept by the customers.

Especially if there is no attempt to sell anything at the dinner, it will be remembered and recalled by all for a long time. Finally, its value as a focal point for an ad should not be ignored.

Such good-will promotions are in keeping with a store policy of including a bouquet of flowers or a box of candy with the delivery of a big-ticket purchase. They are a sincere expression of "thanks" for buying from your store and can't help but be mentioned whenever consumers compare shopping experiences.

Striking closer to the heart of today's middle-class family with children would be a video tape of a local high school's most recent athletic event, with a free copy for the parents of each team member. It would work especially well if the tape was of a winning game or a local drama club presentation, and would probably do well as a demo tape on a top-of-the-line TV in the store.

I'm certain there isn't a consumer electronics store owner who could not come up with better promotional ideas than these, provided two obstacles are removed from his or her path.

The first is the notion that, for a dealer-sponsored event to be effective, it must be lavishly expensive. The second is the thought that, if the idea is so good, the big chains would have tried it a long time ago.

That last in particular ignores the fact that no one has a monopoly on imagination. The big money-makers today started with nothing but imagination, and so can you.

Jules Steinberg, a former NARDA executive VP, is president of Jules Steinberg & Associates, 425 Sunset Road, Winnetka, IL 60093. Phone: (847) 446-7312. E-mail: JSteinb611@aol.com.

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