Thursday, June 26, 2008

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast - Be a Survivor!

I have to admit, there is probably nobody on the planet who is less a fan of reality TV than I am. Outside of sporting events and election coverage, I'm much more into comedies and the like.

I am a big fan of people who know how to promote their business, and my friend Ira Wachtel, of Champaign Surplus in Illinois, just pulled off a great promotion for his store, an army/navy outlet that focuses on outifitting for outdoor adventures. Champaign Surplus is a longtime Rothco dealer who does a great job selling Rothco military boots and clothing.

Ira is a proponent of promoting his business via advertising. With the University of Illinois in town, Champaign is a good area for a surplus and outfitting store and the television market is small enough to allow him to advertise on the local CBS affiliate. Over the years he has found that he gets more impact with a limited number of ads in prime time than he would with a greater number of ads during off-time programming. He often advertises on the CBS hit show, "Survivor" for his anniversary sales.

The Champaign CBS affiliate WCIA 3 approached Ira about holding local auditions in his store for "Survivor" version 18. They saw the combination of the "Survivor" series and Champaign Surplus' outdoor survival merchandise as a natural. Ira agreed and thus began the promotion of the event. This consisted of roughly 30 announcements a day for nearly 3 weeks, a very high-profile placement for the store.

When the day for auditions finally came on Tuesday, June 24th, over 115 applicants filled the military section of the store. They had to fill out a 19 page(!) application, answer questions posed by WCIA staff, and film a three minute audition tape right in the store (hundreds of such videotapes are available for view on YouTube).

Besides the in-store traffic generated by the event and the hundreds of announcement spots on WCIA, the casting call was prominently featured on the WCIA homepage with a huge logo of the store. In addition, there was a front page feature in the local Daily Illini newspaper as well as local coverage on the WCIA nightly news. On top of all that, Ira and Champaign surplus are prominently featured in today's Camobloge!
The day wasn't without it's highlights either. For instance, "There have definitely been some interesting people here," videographer Jordan Arseneau said. "One woman wore a bikini made out of candy necklaces."

In case you were wondering, this doesn't come for free and there is a cost paid to the station for this promotion and a few in-store costs as well. Believe it or not, Ira says business was actually DOWN on the day of the auditions, but was much busier than usual the day after (all those auditioning received a discount coupon for coming down). He told me it seemed that traffic was up during the announcements and that, overall, the station did a good job of increasing the visibility of the store. "It's great to get the name out there, whether the news is good or bad", says Ira, and I tend to agree with him.

Especially in the retail environment we are in today, it's very important to make one's business stand out from the rest. Champaign surplus did a great job of that with this event and, hopefully, should see even more benefits for weeks and months to come. What are you doing to Outwit, Outplay and Outlast your competition? Drop me a note at or leave a comment below. We would love to find out how you're Surviving?

Camobloge will be off next week for Independence Day. Have a safe and reflective holiday as we all celebrate our freedom!

John Ottaviano

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