When an economic downturn hit the ski industry between 1978 and 1980, Susan Fabbiano, owner of Bromley's Sport & Ski Inc. in Goshen, N.Y., was forced to cut her advertising budget. Her challenge was to continue to produce ads that conveyed an image of high-quality merchandise and service, on a budget reduced by more than $12,000 a year.

Because the retail ski shop is located in a village in semirural Orange County, Fabbiano realized the importance of advertising. Since she founded the business 14 years ago, she had been allocating an average of 6% of annual gross sales for newspaper, radio, direct-mail, and outdoor advertising -- more than three times the amount many other retail stores in the sporting goods industry typically spend on advertising.

"High-quality ads say high-quality merchandise," says Fabbiano. "We just had to find more cost-efficient ways of getting our message across." Fabbiano discovered that by taking advantage of co-op dollars and free artwork provided by many suppliers, she could maintain a high level of quality while reducing expenditures.

In cooperative arrangements, a manufacturer underwrites a certain percentage of advertising costs if a retailer features its product. "Co-op advertising has allowed the store to keep its name before the public without increasing expenditures," says Fabbiano. She insists that the advertising benefits far outweigh the logistical headaches of co-op arrangements, which include meeting the supplier's deadlines and sending him copies of ads and bills.

"If a manufacturer is willing to pay $1,500 toward the cost of advertising, naturally we're interested." Such was the case when Bromley's submitted an advertising plan to Vespa of America, and the U.S. distributor of motor scooters and mopeds agreed to credit Bromley's for $1,500 to cover annual costs for radio and display advertising -- a figure that Bromley's matched.

"It was especially important because we'd just begun carrying the Vespa line of mopeds and had to get word out to our customers,' explains Fabbiano, whose company uses co-op dollars for radio, billboard, and newspaper advertising.

Suppliers also often provide free photographs and illustrations, as well as camera-ready layouts of ads, Fabbiano has found. "Last summer when I wanted to do some outdoor advertising," says Fabbiano, "I told our sales rep for Salomon/North America Inc., a ski-binding manufacturer, that we needed a good photograph." The supplier was eager to help and delivered artwork for the outdoor billboard that would have cost her $700 to produce. Fabbiano added her company's name and address, and the ski shop picked up only the monthly billboard rental fee of $280. "I would have had to pay an agency a lot of money for that ad," says Fabbiano. "Salomon did it for nothing."

Fabbiano also advises businesspeople to take advantage of free advertising aids. When Mohn Corp. sent a package to dealers containing posters, ad mats, and radio scrips on ski maintenance machine services, Fabbiano pored over the material to figure out what she could use. "A lot of companies just toss these packages out," she says. Among the materials, Fabbiano found two 30-second radio scrips -- "professionally written by the manufacturer's agency" -- and combined them into a 60-second radio spot that she read on the air.

"At the local radio station, they call me the kamikaze recorder," says Fabbiano, who walks in and out of the studio in minutes, usually recording a spot only once. Fabbiano takes advantage of being what she calls "a natural talker" and records almost all her own commercials; she believes it gives the ads greater authenticity.

Besides using free artwork from suppliers, Fabbiano also seeks help from industry associations. For a pre-Christmas direct-mail piece that she sent to 5,000 of her customers, she used camera-ready illustrations from Ski Industries America's free advertising workbook. Workbooks offered by many associations and suppliers include headlines and promotional ideas as well.

Newspapers can also provide free illustrations for advertisers.The Metro Communications Group in New York City, for instance, supplies artwork on products ranging from food and beverages to hardware and appliances for approximately 4,200 subscribing newspapers around the country. "It's important to let your sales rep at the local paper know what your needs are," counsels Fabbiano. Recently, the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., provided Bromley's Sport & Ski with an illustration that fit perfectly with the company logo.

Last winter, a good snowfall in the Northeast boosted Bromley's sales and increased available ad dollars. But Fabbiano hasn't changed her advertising strategy: She continues to take full advantage of co-op dollars and to press suppliers, trade groups, and the media for advertising help. Fabbiano finds that, like good habits learned on a healthy diet, tactics developed in lean times continue to serve her well in more profitable days.