Business

Bringing in the dough during a recession

Freeland resident Matt Deal, a “shaker-boarder” for Little Caesars, dances on the corner of Highway 20 and SW Barrington. The economic downturn has begun hitting businesses in Oak Harbor and merchants have begun employing new and inventive methods of attracting customers. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Freeland resident Matt Deal, a “shaker-boarder” for Little Caesars, dances on the corner of Highway 20 and SW Barrington. The economic downturn has begun hitting businesses in Oak Harbor and merchants have begun employing new and inventive methods of attracting customers.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Whether you realize it or not, if you’re from Oak Harbor there is a good chance you know 21-year-old Matt Deal.

If not by name, then by his signature moves and hard-to-forget spring-heeled shoes. After all, there just aren’t that many guys rocking out on one of the city’s busiest street corners waving a sign for $5 pizzas.

Three days a week, Deal plugs in his ear phones and dances the hours away on the corner of Highway 20 and SW Barrington as a “shaker boarder” for Little Caesars. If the endless smiles and honks from passing motorists are not evidence enough of his notoriety, just ask his boss.

“I can’t tell you how many people come in here and say, ‘I saw your little dancer guy out there and decided to get some pizza,’” restaurant Manager Justin Rescorl said.

The company’s “shaker boarders” are required to show enthusiasm but no one does it quite like Deal. Once he plugs in his ear phones, he’ll dance away for hours drawing in customer after customer, Rescorl said.

While many would never consider such a job, even sneer at the prospect, the Freeland resident said he’s happy to have steady work on an island where there are few jobs and the economy is struggling.

“All I know is at the end of two weeks it’s a solid $300 paycheck,” Deal said.

Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Jill Johnson said Deal’s job is representative of the times. As the economic downturn continues, businesses are having to look at new ways to stay competitive and keep an edge. Direct marketing is not necessarily a new concept, but it’s effective and affordable compared to more conventional forms of advertising.

“Guerilla marketing is the thing,” Johnson said. “That’s where I think businesses have gotten smarter.”

For many Oak Harbor business owners, the impact of the recession was not really felt until just last year. Development, which was going strong in the city until the summer of 2009, and the constant shopping dollars from Navy personnel and their families likely delayed the economic impact, she said.

However, over the past year, business owners have begun to notice the difference. The consequence, said Johnson, is that it’s forced them to either think out of the box or fall back on traditional methods.

Some real estate companies have begun to focus their advertising on free social media websites, such as Twitter or Facebook, while retail stores are employing direct marketing techniques.

For example, Casual House, a women’s apparel shop on SE Pioneer Way, is holding after-hours party where customers can peruse the store’s wares at their leisure while drinking champagne. It’s a great way to retain customer interest and loyalty, shop owner Jill Schacht said.

“We can’t take it for granted anymore,” Schacht said. “We have to work harder at keeping our customers’ attention.”

According to Johnson, these new strategies are effective and are changing the way merchants do business. The big question the shift presents is whether businesses will revert back to traditional forms of advertising and marketing once the recession is over.

Whatever happens, one thing is certain. Deal is going to keep trying to get people to buy pizzas by boogying-down on the corner of Highway 20 and SW Barrington for as long as he can.

“It’s an honest day’s pay for an honest man,” Deal said.

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