Outraged is how you would likely feel if a competitor stood outside your store handing out its own sales fliers promoting deep discounts on products you carry to your customers entering your store.
And outraged is exactly how Darren Bush and Jeff Weidman, co-owners of Rutabaga, the retailer that puts on the annual Canoecopia paddlesports event in Madison, Wis., felt when a local Dick's Sporting Goods store tried to solicit sales with a banner and promotional fliers -- while at Canoecopia.
On March 12, a banner was placed on the outside wall of the Alliant Center, a convention facility operated under the jurisdiction of Dane County, inviting Canoecopia attendees to visit the Middleton Dick's location. The store at Greenway Station is scheduled to close by the end of March, at the conclusion of a liquidation sale. The sign advertised "50 percent off all boats at Dick's."
"Customers who thought the behavior was shameful brought the banner to our attention, and it was removed," said Weidman.
The following day an individual was detained by Alliant Center security and then escorted off the premises after the person was discovered greeting Canoecopia customers as they entered the building and handing them fliers promoting the Dick's liquidation sale -- again promoting 50 percent off all boats.
Both the presentation of signs and the distribution of fliers without permission at the Alliant Center are violations of Madison and Dane county ordinances. When asked by a deputy sheriff if Rutabaga wished to press charges, Weidman told us he declined, wanting only an apology from those involved.
"When I called the Dick's store, I was connected with John Phillips, who, as it turns out, works for the liquidator in charge of closing out the store," Weidman said. "He told me he didn't see anything wrong with what they were doing, and that there was nothing we could do about it."
Naturally, Weidman saw things differently, and began sending out a blanket of emails and blog postings seeking an apology from Dick's and the liquidator.
By the end of the day on March 18, Weidman's deadline of receiving an apology from both Dick's and Phillips had passed without a word from either. However, Jeff Hennion, senior vice president marketing at Dick's told SNEWSÂ® after the incident occurred that the agreement withÂ the liquidatorÂ prohibited the company from doing anything outside the store or the center where the store is located.
On March 21, Dick's responded by email to SNEWSÂ®, including a message from both Gary Sterling, senior vice president chief merchandising officer; and Hennion:
"We are writing you in regards to an incident that occurred at Canoecopia this past weekend. At that event, we understand that people were distributing 'Dick's Sporting Goods Store Closing'Â flyers and had signs publicizing the sales going on at our Greenway Station store in Middleton.
"Please allow us to apologize for this incident. The liquidation event going on now in that store has been outsourced to a third party firm, and neither the direction to visit Canoecopia nor the people involved came from Dick's Sporting Goods. We have discussed this issue with our liquidation firm and taken appropriate actions.
"We pride ourselves in operating in an ethical manner that reflects our nature as an authentic retailer of paddlesports product, and we can assure you that this kind of action is in no way endorsed by Dick's Sporting Goods, nor will it happen again by anyone associated with us."
The liquidation company overseeing the Dick's store closure is Hilco Merchant Resources, based in Chicago. Calls to both Hilco and Phillips were not returned.
SNEWSÂ® View:Â If there is a humorous side to all of this, it is that the fliers gave directions to the Middleton Dick's store from Alliant Asset Management, and not the Alliant Center -- not even remotely the same business address. Stupid is as stupid does apparently.
The bottom line here, and a lesson to all in our industry, is be sure that anyone you hire or retain to conduct work on your behalf is going to represent your company with the same ethics, values and passions you do. Be it a consultant, a contractor, a third-party vendor, or simply a hotel in which you choose to place your VIPs, it is those folks who will be the ones leaving lasting impressions. Although Hilco Merchant Resources clearly acted without Dick's approval, many customers attending Canoecopia now think Dick's was being a, well, you know. Not the kind of lasting impression any company wants, for any reason.