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  • Clint Engel

Timing pays off for R.C. Willey

R.C. Willey is among a handful of furniture retailers who are tying promotions to the federal government's tax rebates.

The Top 100 company, based here, timed its promotion to hit consumers' mailboxes at the same time rebate checks arrived, and designed the mailing to resemble the tax checks.

"And by sheer coincidence, we picked the exact same envelope the federal government picked," said President Jeff Child. "We wanted something that looked official and, boy, it looked very official. We feel we got a lot of eyeballs looking at (the mailing). They opened it to see what it was."

Here's how R.C. Willey's rebate tie-in worked. For starters, the 10-store retailer ran a promotion in newspapers and on television, encouraging consumers to come in, buy now and pay off purchases with rebate checks later — basically 90-day-no-interest terms.

Then, the retailer began dropping the direct-mail pieces, offering charge-card customers a $50 discount on purchases of $299 or more, and $100 off on purchases of $599 or more. The mailer also featured a hot buy, such as a small table offered at cost or a cutlery set for $3 to help drive traffic.

But what really helped pull the promotion off was the timing. The rebate checks arrived through early October, depending on the last four digits of taxpayers' Social Security numbers. Since R.C. Willey had the Social Security numbers of its charge-card holders, it timed its mailings to arrive at the same time as the rebate checks, sometimes the same day.

The chain dropped about 150,000 of the direct-mail pieces.

"It seemed to work very well," Child said, noting the average ticket generated by the promotion has been close to $900.

Other retailers made similar efforts to tie into the rebates, including:

  • Art Van of Warren, Mich., which sent a mailer to 700 customers offering a check-like $100 off purchases of $399 or more. The company was going to do the mailer regardless of the rebate, but was able to refer to the rebate in the promotions, said Cathy DiSante, director of marketing.

  • Like R.C. Willey's mailing, Art Van's piece looked official; the store name wasn't on the envelope. "I think we got 100% of the people to open it," DiSante said.

  • General Appliance & Furniture in Dyersburg, Tenn., where Chief Executive Officer Billy Yates went on the radio to offer a discount of 10% of the value of the rebate checks on furniture or appliance purchases.

  • "Mainly we wanted to test the advertising to see who was listening," said Joe Yates, president. "It stirred up some interest. We can't complain."

  • Nationwide Warehouse & Storage, based in Norcross, Ga., which ran TV spots urging consumers to bring rebate checks to its stores, noting they could buy up to three rooms of furniture for the value of the check.

  • Other retailers contacted chose not to tie significant promotions to the rebate checks, and at least one noted the maximum rebate of $600 wouldn't buy much furniture.

R.C. Willey's Child doesn't understand that thinking.

"You've got guys like Wal-Mart and Home Depot — they all tried to get it," he said. "You ought to at least throw your name in the hat. As tight as business is right now, we're looking for any little thing to try to pull (consumers) into the stores."

R.C. Willey timed its mailer to arrive at credit-card holders at about the same time as tax rebate checks.

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