WYOMISSING, Pa. — When Albert Boscov joined Boscov’s in 1954, he had an instant impact on raising its profile, first by enlarging newspaper ads, and later by instigating some unusual promotions and employee events, like extending the family picnic into a picnic for all the employees on a day when all the stores were shut. The picnic is still held, but the stores stay open, staffed by a handful of employees who remain behind.

This story first appeared in the March 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Boscov’s takes other unusual tacks. The day after Easter, when business would normally slow down, the store launches a four-week promotion with the tagline, “Did you Boscov’s today?” On each day of the event, there’s a different kind of price break. One day, for example, there might be 20 percent off any apparel item. Other days might discount different categories.

“It’s a different way of saying we’re on sale, other than a one-day sale or a two-day sale,” said Kenneth S. Lakin, Boscov’s chairman and ceo.

The biggest draw of the year is V.I.P. Day. It’s a one-day event held at only two stores each year, with different ones selected annually. For those units, it’s the biggest volume day of the year, even bigger than Black Friday or the Saturday before Christmas. On March 8, it was held here at the store in the Berkshire Mall, one of three Boscov’s units in the Reading, Pa., area. The store had 80 major suppliers participating, with a total of 250 vendor reps. There were sales directors and regional managers demonstrating gadgets, showing off new products and cooking food; makeup artists giving beauty tips, and merchandise managers offering fashion tips — and the discounts were plentiful. At several checkout counters, there were roulette wheels for customers to spin for extra markdowns, usually another 5 to 20 percent off. One was manned by Miss Teen Pennsylvania.

“We’ll hit $550,000,” said Boscov’s president and chief merchandising manager, Burton C. Krieger.

The doors opened at 9 a.m., and by 9:30, it was crowded through most of the store. Shoppers on the third floor were already sampling hamburgers cooked on the George Foreman grill. “It’s amazing the response we get from this event. It’s not so much the bargains. It’s because it’s a fun day,” said Albert Boscov. “There’s food being made all over the place. There are no clean aprons. It’s recreation.”

Customers were also biting into samples of Boscov’s homemade fudge and chocolate-covered strawberries, made on a strange electronic gadget. Before it was activated, a witness thought it was a humidifier, and one executive identified it as a candle maker. “People are looking at a lot of innovations in cooking and appliances,” said Boscov. “Women’s fashion always has something new every year, but the biggest excitement is what’s happening in housewares, gifts and small appliances. That’s where the greatest interest is.”

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