It's pretty common these days for deep-pocketed chain stores to wreak havoc on local independent retailers. When Pearle Vision and LensCrafters started moving into the Pittsburgh area, Norman Childs knew he had to do something to set apart Eyetique, his two-store eyeglass chain. "Everyone was coming in at the low end or the middle of the road, like Pearle," says Childs. "I knew we couldn't compete with that."

So Childs went upscale--way upscale. He began carrying brands swankier than even Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani. His average sale was about $450 and featured such fashion labels as Oliver Peoples, Lunor, and Matsuda. But stocking such ritzy products wasn't enough. He had to get the word out.

To do that he devised an ad campaign that the national chains wouldn't think to do: feature local celebrities. The tough part was getting the right people to pose, especially since he wasn't going to pay them anything. Childs broke the ice with Delton Hall, a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers who happened to be the son-in-law of his photographer. The fashion editor of Pittsburgh magazine followed. Soon, appearing in an Eyetique ad became a local status symbol. "Everyone wants their ego stroked," says Childs. "It's good publicity for them. Now it's become a sort of Who's Who of Pittsburgh."

Other ads have featured local musicians and journalists, as well as radio, television, and sports personalities. Childs runs the ads in about 15 periodicals. To further target his upscale audience, he also buys space in the programs of local symphony, ballet, and theater companies.

Childs's photographer usually shoots four or five subjects at a time at a cost of about $1,000. Placing the ads costs anywhere from $250 for the local weekly paper to $2,500 for a Phantom of the Opera program page. During the campaign's second year, Eyetique's sales doubled. Since the ad program began, in 1989, Eyetique has gone from 5 to 25 employees in its two stores, and sales have increased from $500,000 to about $2.5 million.