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Independents Push the Envelope

Store owners are enlisting grassroots efforts during tough times.

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Joseph Wright of Vernon Powell Shoes dressed up as an Easter bunny to draw traffic

Joseph Wright of Vernon Powell Shoes dressed up as an Easter bunny to draw traffic.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

NEW YORK — In the face of the weak economy, independents are dramatically retooling their business strategies to focus on more grassroot events.

At the NSRA conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., last month, retailers shared tips about how they are beating the downturn by trimming costs and thinking outside the box — and in some cases, outside the store. The efforts can lead to increased store awareness and a jolt in sales, retailers said.

David Levy of Hawley Lane Shoes in Stamford, Conn., said his store partners with local radio station WEBE108 for a “Tuesdays are Shoes Days” contest. “No question it really helps build brand equity,” he said.

Though the initiative launched about two years ago, it is even more crucial for business now, Levy said.

“Every Tuesday during the morning commute hours, the station has listeners call in, and if they can answer a shoe trivia question correctly, they get a $108 gift certificate to spend with us. People in southern Connecticut really identify with it and it’s been great.”

Jim Sadjak, president of Stan’s Fit for Your Feet in Greenfield, Wis., said grassroots marketing is the primary way his stores are standing out and resonating with shoppers.

“Gone are the days when you can put a full page advertisement in the paper and sustain business for a week,” he said. “For one, no one can afford that right now, and second, it just doesn’t matter as much anymore.”

Even small changes to normal events, such as sales promotions, can make a difference, said Sadjak. From May 1 to 17, Stan’s hosted a “Balloon Blast” sale, where customers popped a balloon and retrieved a discount ticket inside, ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent off.

Last week, Sadjak had the locally beloved Milwaukee sausage racers — the mascots for the Klement’s sausage company in Milwaukee — visit his New Balance store, and shoppers came in droves.

“We had people pulling in from off the street and taking pictures,” he said.

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