What would you pay for a tactic that gets new customers into your store, provides an unbiased report on your company's service, and brings you lots of new ideas? Gary Cino, CEO of the 98¢ Clearance Centers chain, based in North Highland, Calif., thought it was worth $5.

When Cino met someone who had never set foot in one of his 60 retail stores, which gross almost $400 million annually, he handed the prospect a retail-value booklet, a self-addressed stamped envelope, and a questionnaire with a dozen queries. The first-timers were asked to rate the store's appearance and products, note the friendliness of the staff, and add any comments or suggestions. Customers were also asked to attach copies of their cash-register receipts.

Cino and his executives passed out some 500 packets a year, which amounted to a $2,500 cash expense. But approximately 85% of the shoppers returned the survey within 90 days. The attached receipts showed that most of the new customers spent considerably more than $5. The feedback was worth even more. "It let our employees know that at any time, any customer could report back to management," said Cino. As for changes, he arranged an 800-number phone response system and started distributing gift packets to teachers, who could reward students with "Outstanding Achiever Award" coupons redeemable at Cino's shops.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing