What Started As A Small Event Has Grown Into A PR Bonanza

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Iowa residents looking for used appliances, slightly worn baby clothes, nearly new garden tools or old record albums likely had no trouble finding it in Dubuque the last Saturday in April.

For the 10th year running, the $320-million Dupaco Community CU organized a community-wide garage sale with more than 400 families, neighbors and civic groups attempting to turn their trash-including an iguana and tubs full of homemade lard-into somebody else's treasures.

Several local radio stations joined the credit union in sponsoring the event that Dupaco President Bob Hoefer has turned into a "perfect" match with the CU's philosophy.

"From a credit union perspective, we're about people, thrift and the community," he said. "That's also what the Community-Wide Garage Sale is about."

"I would say it was very successful," added Michael Weber, VP-marketing and PR at Dupaco.

CU officials said the event has progressively grown throughout the years. The first one in 1994 had 50 family participants. This year, Weber said, there were about 425 sales, but many more multi-family sales than in previous years. The purpose of the sale is to stimulate economic activity while promoting recycling and positive social interaction among area residents, he said, adding that "close to $100,000" would be a conservative estimate of how much money changes hands during the event.

"We have some anecdotal evidence that the average garage sale nets $200," he said. "Of course, not every garage sale (that day) gets registered with us."

Weber noted that no one has ever turned to the credit union and asked to borrow money to pay for a garage sale item, nor has he seen an increase in lending around garage sale time.

"We don't expect to get loans from this," he chuckled. "Most of the things being sold really don't need financial help. Besides, the bargaining process is the fun part."

Dupaco's benefits, he said, come in many different forms.

"It garners a lot of attention and a lot of press coverage," he said, noting that residents with items to sell start calling the CU in January to get information about the April event.

But, he added, the publicity doesn't come cheap.

The CU spends about $5,000 each year to collect information and hire an agency to design a 16-page directory and map that lists all the garage sale locations and some of the items available at each. The publication which also includes advertisements about CU products and services, is inserted into a local free publication and delivered to about 35,000 residents (see photo, below).

He said CU officials consider the money spent an investment.

The Benefits To The Credit Union

* When people register their garage sale with Dupaco, they get a listing on the CU's website that includes items to be sold. Shoppers are then invited to surf and search. "If they're looking for an iguana, they type in iguana," he said, adding that one year, a three-foot long iguana was actually among the items sold.

* Since adding the new online feature several years ago, Weber said web traffic has increased up to 20,000 hits during garage sale month. The typical average, he said, is anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 page views per month.

* Foot traffic at the branches also increases as residents register for the sale and pick up directories.

* The directory is "full of CU ads" that would cost a fortune if the space had to be purchased in the local newspaper.

Its partnering sponsors, Radio Dubuque, mention Dupaco numerous times on their four stations prior to the event. And, on the day of the sales, they cruise from sale to sale, broadcasting live. "A month before the event, we went on air to talk about the sale and important dates to remember in morning drive on all four stations," Weber said. "And we did it again a week prior to the event."

Radio station officials later said that a local banker called them to complain about Dupaco's free five-minute commercial. Weber's response, "It's not our fault that they have no idea how to work with the media."

* As a result of the partnership, CU execs are on a first-name basis with radio station officials, opening the door for other projects.

* Local non-profit organizations also benefit. For example, Goodwill gets a lot of the items that are not sold. "They filled a semi full of stuff that they can resale," Weber said. The Tri-State Pregnancy Center got a free ad in the directory that called for donations of baby clothes and furniture.

* It reinforces the differences with banks. "We're stimulating the economy," he said. "I've never seen a bank do anything like this."

Weber said no other local CUs have asked to participate, but that many from around the state and country have asked for information about how it's orchestrated.

As part of its effort to advertise the CU, Dupaco also provides sellers with a Garage Sale Kit that includes signage and multi-colored balloons bearing the CU logo. While it would be impossible to measure the number of members or accounts drawn from the event, Weber said there is no question that it's good business.

"It helps our reputation and keeps us in the forefront of people's minds," Weber said, noting that several community-wide surveys reported Dupaco at the top of the list in name recognition. "But, it also shows our commitment to community involvement."

Dupaco serves 35,000 members in 21 counties in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

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