Economy pressuring business promotions to recruit, keep customers

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

Whether it’s assurance at the pump, assurance in the laundry room or a few bucks to pad the wallet, businesses are doing what they can to bring in new customers and retain the old ones in a difficult economy.

Count First Community Bank among those, with a plastic 5-by-7 recruitment tool called the Cash Cube. Neiece Bernal, senior manager at the bank’s Pile Street branch, said any small way to get a customer pays off down the road.

“It is a lot harder with the economy,” Bernal said. “Everybody’s taking money out of the bank instead of putting money in.”

The bank signed up about 15 new customer accounts with the promotion, a total Bernal considered pretty good for a Monday.

New customers stepped into the cube for 15 seconds with $200 in small bills blowing. Whatever cash a person had in their hands became a credit towards their account balance. Current customers could also compete, and the customer with the best run got to keep the winnings.

Other local businesses are taking part in national promotions meant to lure customers:

• Hamilton Hyundai, which has been established for a month in Clovis, is taking part in the company’s fuel assurance plan.

Sales Manager Scott Mills said customers will be issued a card, which they can link to an existing credit or debit card. Whenever gasoline is purchased, the cardholder is responsible for the first $1.49 per gallon purchased. Hyundai picks up the remainder.

The gallon limitations vary according to the car mileage, Mills said, with the limits intended to reflect about 15,000 miles driven in a year.

Mills admits the gas promotion might not end up being a big expense for Hyundai. Assuming a $3-per-gallon gasoline rate for the next 12 months, and a car getting 25 miles per gallon, it’s a savings of $900 on vehicles with a price range of $14,000-$37,000. But alleviating a customer’s fear is always a good investment, and Mills remembers paying $4.50 for gasoline and $5.40 for diesel.

“People panicked,” Mills said. “We had a lot of people that got rid of their trucks. The gas went back down, and people realized they needed those trucks. Then they had to buy them back, and it cost them a fortune. A temporary fluctuation in gas prices makes a big deal to people.”

The deal is similar to GM-Chrysler’s “Refuel America” program of 2008, in which customers were given a credit for all gasoline charges in excess of $2.99 per gallon.

• High Plains Harley Davidson is participating in the national “We Ride Free” promotion.

No staff member at High Plains Harley Davidson staff was available to elaborate on the promotion Monday, but details were available on the company’s highplainshd.com Web site.

According to the site, any customer who buys a 2009 Sportster bike before Aug. 31 and keeps it in good condition can trade it in towards the purchase of a Dyna, Softail, VRSC or Touring model after a year. The Sportster’s trade-in value, according to the Web site, will be equal to its original purchase price.

“The exceptional value of our motorcycles,” Dino Bernacchi, Harley-Davidson director of advertising and promotion, said, “provides a unique way to reward our customers and give them more choices to enjoy the freedom and passion of the Harley-Davidson experience, especially during an uncertain economy.”

• Sears is offering buyer protection for home appliances, starting this week.

Under the program, appliance purchases of more than $399 made by Aug. 1 on a Sears card will be protected if the cardholder loses his or her job.

The program will credit one-twelfth of the purchase price for every month the cardholder is out of work. If the person is still out of work after one year, the cardholder can keep the appliance and will receive an account credit for what’s left of the purchase price.

The cardholder is responsible for finance charges and other fees, and must have a full-time job for at least 60 days prior to the purchase.

• Sleep Solutions in Portales has a trade in promotion on used mattresses running through the end of the month. Customers who bring in their mattresses can get $100 back for king size, $75 for queen, $50 full and $25 for a twin toward the next purchase.

“We’re constantly running promotions,” Store Manager Bobby Hamilton said. “In April we did a no tax sale, right now we’re doing a trade-in event.”

Sleep Solutions also offering special financing offers and interest rate financing. Hamilton said the financing options have helped the business.

• Valentine Linen Service is gearing up for August with “Fair Time Special.” People getting ready for the fair can get four pairs of jeans pressed with the fifth pair for free. Also, three pressed shirts and fourth shirt is free.

PNT Staff Writer Clarence Plank contributed to this report.