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Ray Allegrezza

Dare to make the smart bet

What do you think it would cost to have your store featured in USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press, and picked up by ESPN, MSNBC and others?

Probably much more than most of us could afford. But what if you gambled that a daring — and zany — idea could net you that kind of coverage without spending a dime?

That's exactly what Randy Gonigam, who owns World Furniture Mall in Plano, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, did a few years ago when he announced in a Labor Day promotion that he would cover customers' furniture purchases at his store — up to a beefy $10,000 — made during the weekend if pro football's Chicago Bears skunked the Green Bay Packers.

He said in a mailer, "I could get sacked for a substantial loss, while you score $10,000 in free furniture."

You can guess the rest. The promotion drove shoppers in. Even better, 260 families bought furniture that weekend and believe it or not, the Bears did indeed shut out the Packers. All told, Gonigam gave away $300,000 in furniture as a result of the 26-0 win, which incidentally was the first shutout of star Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre's career.

While Green Bay came up empty-handed, World Furniture Mall enjoyed a 38% increase in business over the same holiday weekend a year earlier. While Gonigam was willing to roll the dice, he also was smart enough to have a big chunk of the giveback insured through Odds On Promotions.

But the story gets better. Remember all of the news organizations I noted? Every one of them — and many more — interviewed Randy. When Oprah Winfrey mentioned his store on her show, his Web site drew so many hits that his servers crashed overnight.

"You can't buy that kind of publicity," he said, adding his store will be "reaping the benefits for years to come." He figures the store netted the equivalent of more than $100,000 in free advertising.

But if you think this kind of promotion is too over-the-top for you, read on.

Randy has also done well with other, less outrageous promotions. For example, he has opened his store to let female business owners in his area set up shop to tell the community about their businesses. Randy supplies the location and refreshments.

Invariably, consumers attending the get-togethers ask, almost sheepishly, if they can buy furniture during the events.

To which my friend Randy always replies, "You bet."



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