You probably wouldn't guess that a traditional five-and-dime store--with a 16,000 square-foot space tucked away in East Aurora, N.Y.--would be up for a coveted Super Bowl commercial. Those spots, typically worth upwards of $4.5 million, are certainly beyond the means of the average private company.
Nonetheless, Vidler's 5 & 10 is one of three finalists in the "Small Business, Big Game" competition, which is put on by software maker Intuit. The winner, who will be announced in January, will score a 30-second ad spot during this year's Super Bowl on Feb. 7, 2016. That's a big deal, considering that last year's event was the most-watched television event to date. It had reached more than 114 million viewers, according to Nielsen's ratings.
The ad will be produced by the production agency RPA, and Intuit promises to cover all costs. Along with Vidler's, the other finalists are Chubbies Shorts, a clothing retailer based in San Francisco, and Death Wish Coffee, an e-commerce coffee startup based in Round Lake, N.Y.
GoldieBlox, the maker of educational toys for girls, won the competition in 2014. It claims the ad has significantly helped in boosting their brand awareness and sales.
"Within the first fifteen seconds, we had tens of thousands of people visiting the website. Sales were soaring, and we had to produce toys so much faster than before to meet demand," says Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox. "All I could think about were all the toy industry people who told me that GoldieBlox would never go mainstream."
As recently as October, GoldieBlox rolled out a second doll -- an African American character, named Ruby Rails -- in addition to new construction sets. Sterling notes that now, just one month later, Ruby Rails is the company's top selling product.
"The goal of this competition is really to help fuel the success of small business," said Bill Rancic, the celebrity entrepreneur partnering with Intuit, in an interview with Inc.
This year, the panel of judges sifted through a total of 15,000 applications to select their top 10 picks. They evaluated founders on factors such as passion to grow the business, and the company's ability to create an "emotional connection" with the public audience.
In order to qualify, businesses needed to have fewer than 50 total employees, and have steady revenues. The American public then voted for their favorite companies, and the winner of the competition will be announced in January.
Here's a quick look at the three private businesses up for an ad slot during America's favorite sporting event:
1. Vidler's 5 and 10
This five-and-dime store prides itself on entertaining YouTube clips, selling everything from home décor to yodeling pickles. Vidler's is a family-owned business, and CEO Don Vidler says sales have gone up 20 percent since the start of the competition in June. The company has been around for 85 years.
2. Chubbies Shorts
Designed specifically for weekend use, shorts made by Chubbies -- which caters mostly to men who aren't too afraid to show their thighs -- was started by four friends from Stanford University. Today it counts 35 employees, with headquarters in San Francisco's trendy Jackson Square neighborhood. Chubbies prides itself on only sourcing from American (primarily, Californian) manufacturers, says co-founder Tom Montgomery.
3. Death Wish Coffee
The e-commerce coffee company -- which has a handful of brick-and-mortar stores in upstate New York -- got its start just three years ago. Founder and CEO Mike Brown recalls selling his car, and moving into his mother's house, just to get the company up and running.
"It can only go up from here," he said, referring to the early days. "Luckily, people started liking the coffee," and he scraped up the funds to get his own place.
Intuit, it's worth noting, has shifted the framework for the competition since 2014, when the campaign was a big success initially, but saw lagging interest for the QuickBooks program in the months that followed.
"We skipped a year because again looking back at the first execution, we liked what we saw but didn't feel like we had quite the right formula," said Ken Wach, the senior VP of marketing for Intuit's small business group, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
This year, Intuit put the marketing emphasis on its TurboTax preparation software, and integrated the campaign as a whole with the October 2014 QuickBooks Connect conference. Applicant businesses were also required to join QuickBooks' "Own It" network, which Intuit anticipates will help to gauge the success of the campaign after the Super Bowl.