Independent retailers in Eugene, Ore. have banded together to promote the idea of shopping at locally owned stores. Their new cooperative advertising program, known as Unique Eugene, aims to “persuade Eugeneans that shopping at customer service-oriented local stores is better for the community and more fun.”
“The big stores have enough marketing power behind them to tell their story,” says co-founder Paul Nicholson. “We needed a way to tell ours.”
Nicholson, owner of Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life, conceived the idea for Unique Eugene after having lunch with an advertising agent and another local retailer. “We started to talk about how it was a shame that we didn’t have a mechanism for cooperative activities—even for something as simple as putting ads for each other’s stores in our own newsletters,” he says.
By pooling their money, member businesses can buy advertising that would otherwise be out of reach. The group’s first television ads, which aired last August during the Olympics, focused on building recognition of the Unique Eugene logo and promoting local retailers generally. Recent ads combine broad promotion of the idea with a focus on two or three member businesses.
“Our ads communicate to customers that they’ll get a better value and have a better experience shopping at a local retailer,” says Nicholson. In addition to print and broadcast advertising, Unique Eugene has created posters, a web site, and gift certificates redeemable at any member business.
The group currently has nine members, including shoe, record, book, and appliance stores. Several other local businesses hope to join when membership slots become available in July. Membership, however, will be limited to twenty. More would be unwieldy, according Nicholson. Plus, the group wants to stay focused on businesses that provide high quality customer service and are involved in the community.
In addition to being locally owned and operated retail stores, members must “respect and honor their employees” by paying higher than average wages and encouraging employee participation in decision-making. Member businesses must also take “steps to minimize their impact on our environment” and “substantially participate in and contribute to local charities and non-profits.”
Basic membership costs $1,000 annually. In addition, stores are required to contribute to at least one ad campaign a year by, for example, paying one-third of the cost of an ad that features their own business and two others.
So far, the response from the community has been excellent, according to Nicholson. Many people are now familiar with the organization and recognize the Unique Eugene logo. Members report lower advertising costs overall and note that the organization has given them greater opportunities to exchange ideas and strategies with other local merchants.