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Contests: how to make your bottom line a winner PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   

ImageIf you subscribe to online marketing, you're familiar with the most popular promotions. Team buys, gifts-with-purchase, dramatic prices and contests. For many furniture retailers, the last is the most effective tool for the expense. Team buys can be ruinous since they almost always result in dramatically low prices. A GWP can offer the consumer something she doesn't want and dramatic markdowns devalue the product permanently.

A well-designed contest can engage the consumer and its cost can be well controlled.

Jordan's Furniture, the well-known Boston-area furniture retailer that was so successful it was bought by investment guru Warren Buffett, is a textbook case. The madness began in 2007 when they refunded US$20 million when the Red Sox won the World Series after an extensive month-long promotion. That was followed by a challenge to hit the company's sign at Fenway Park (with miniscule odds). In all cases, Jordan's bought an insurance policy to cover the risk.

Our own temple of coffee, Tim Horton's famous Roll-Up-the-Rim-to-Win has become a tradition that outstrips many mandated events. Itravel2000, the online travel agency, has offered an "if it snows this much" contest for the past several years with excellent results.

Here are tips to use to make your contest a success.

Decide what you want to accomplish: build store traffic; generate more web site traffic; win more ‘likes' on Facebook; add new newsletter subscribers; or, boost this month's sales volume. Each requires a separate strategy so the retailer shouldn't try to do them all at the same time - staging them throughout the year on a regular basis is probably the best, and most productive, method.

  • Store traffic could be increased by allowing one entry per day in the store itself;
  • Web site traffic could use the same frequency, with a hunt for a specific item or symbol.
  • Gaining ‘likes' on Facebook is fairly straight forward.
  • Adding newsletter subscriptions gives the store an improved e-mail data base.
  • Immediate sales require a strategy similar to Jordan's and Itravel2000: "Win your purchase if......"
Determine if you want partners (remember other local, non-competing merchants are usually looking for other quality local businesses to build marketing alliances with): the local car dealership could offer a one-year lease; the travel agent could offer a trip; one of your own suppliers could offer product; and, a spa could donate a day's worth of treatments.

The important thing to remember is not to offer an obscure prize; make it something they would want in a contest worth her time to enter. There are also a couple of things that need to be remembers and applied during the planning process:

  • Vet your prospective partners diligently. If they have PR (public relations) sins, these will immediately become yours.
  • If you form partnerships, ensure the companies get excellent publicity.
Make your contest news worthy. The store needs to gain maximum in the local press for the contest to make any kind of lasting impression - that means a simple lottery won't cut it. Remember to be sensitive to the customer's feelings - guessing Rob Ford's weight (the ‘large' gentleman who was recently elected mayor of Toronto) could alienate many people. Also she may not care whether the home town team wins or tanks.

Publish the contest's results daily to keep the contest fresh. In all cases of a tie, the winning name is drawn from correct entries. Here are current suggestions drawn from current events:

  • Guess the number of seats each party will win May 2 general election or "win your purchase made from April 15 to May 1 if the Conservatives get a majority."
  • Guess the length of the train on Kate Middleton's wedding dress or "win your purchase if the train exceeds 20 feet."
  • Vote on the ‘worst street' in your city; vote on your ‘favourite park' in your city; vote on your favourite Canadian television show. Draw from those nominations with the most votes.
Create signage throughout the store and on your web site that tracks the latest results. You are the voice of your customers and the publisher of their ideas. Plan to make this - or some variation - an annual event. It will gain momentum and your store will gain brand awareness. Like Jordan's, the people in your community will look for what comes next.

A regular contributor to Home Goods Online, Alixe MacRae is one of this country's best known merchandisers, having held senior positions at a variety of well-known Canadian retailers including Stoney Creek Furniture, Sears Canada and The Bay. She recently started her own business Concierge Relocation ( Her company specializes in move management, especially for those dramatically downsizing seniors and their overwhelmed children.

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