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NAHFA holds best ideas contest at conference

Urban Home of Palm Beach GardensUrban Home of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., drew new customers into the store with a chance to win a $100 gift card to a neighborhood restaurant. The restaurant, Cabo Flats, also advertised the promotion on its tables.
NEW ORLEANS - Dave Harkness won a best ideas contest at the Home Furnishings Industry Conference here for a promotion that creates community buzz while raising money for local charities.
     For 17 years, Harkness Furniture in Tacoma, Wash., has held a charity miniature golf tournament inside its store, sponsored by the local Rotary club with the help of donations from the retailer's vendors and other business contacts.
     Various professional groups and companies each sponsor one of the 18 holes, which are decorated by charities (the local food bank, for instance, might create a hole that involves cans of corn that the golfer has to play around). There are prizes offered at each hole, and it costs $50 to participate in the event, which includes dinner, a drink and live jazz to liven things up.
     Harkness said that in 17 years, the event has raised $250,000 for local charities.
     "You've got to make it fun," he said.
     Harkness received a $450 cash prize for winning the best idea contest, which he said will be going the NW Furniture Bank in Tacoma along with a matching amount from the retailer.
     Other top ideas included:
     ► Bicycles for charity. Jim Fee of Stoney Creek Furniture, Stoney Creek, Ontario, said his store connected with a church based organization called New Hope Community Bikes, which takes donated old bikes and repairs them, giving work and new skills to those in need.
     It then sells the bikes to the underprivileged in the community for just a few dollars, Fee said - maybe $10 for a children's bike and $35 for an adult.
     "These are people in the community who don't have a job, don't have a car, or easy, maintainable access to jobs," he said. "Now all of a sudden they have reliable transportation."
     Last year, Stoney Creek ran the event, offering $50 store gift cards to any customer who dropped off a used bike. It ended up collecting more than 200 bikes and a lot of media attention and goodwill in the process.
     ► Cross marketing with a local restaurant. Cynthia Heathcoe of Urban Home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said her store partnered with a restaurant in the same shopping plaza, drawing business to both.
     Urban Home offered visitors a chance to win a $100 gift card to the Cabo Flats restaurant and all it cost the retailer was some marketing materials - including signs to go on the restaurant's tables, telling patrons to visit the furniture store for their chance to win. The restaurant covered the cost of the gift cards.
     At the contest dropbox in the store, consumers also were encouraged to leave their email addresses for more information on Urban Home and events. Heathcoe said the promotion began last month and business has been booming.
     Sales in the last week of May were four times what the store normally generates, drawing customer who may have not stopped by otherwise, she said.
     ► A novel way to establish a list of core values. Shane Spiller of Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Spiller Furniture challenged retailers to think of three people in their companies who would drive their success to new heights "if you had 10 more just like them," he said.
     Next, write down what you consider to be their core values and strengths - three to seven points - and make them your company's own, he said. This gives businesses an easy and painless checklist for hiring, firing and evaluating employees; they either have the core values or they don't.

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