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R.C. Willey has hot dog of a slogan

Free food boosts traffic and sales, ad director says

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"Free hot dogs and soft drinks." Sound familiar?

It should, as one of the main, but indirect, advertising slogans for R.C. Willey home furnishing stores.

In a given year, the company gives away more than 600,000 free hot dogs at its 11 stores in Utah, Idaho and Nevada. It also sometimes provides complementary pizza, ice cream and other food items, though not nearly as often as hot dogs.

Competitor Granite Furniture also delves into the free food offering on holiday weekends with complementary pizza and drinks, though less often.

"It's an effective expenditure," John Rogers, R.C. Willey's director of advertising, said. "We do it to promote goodwill."

He admits the free food also increases traffic in R.C. Willey stores and ultimately sales.

"We have a corresponding jump in our business," Rogers said.

R.C. Willey started the free hot dog giveaways 20 years ago at its original Syracuse store and its Murray location. Today, the free food is a staple at all stores, including the new one in Henderson, Nev. In fact, Rogers said that store has been running out of hot dogs sooner than most other stores have. (The company is also now in the final stages of planning for a second store in the Las Vegas area.)

"We've even tried grapes and Mexican food giveaways before, but nothing works quite like hot dogs," Rogers said.

R.C. Willey only gives away free pizza, like the Dominos Pizza it provided on New Year's Day, when a pizza company is a co-sponsor.

Hot dog giveaways vary by store size, with the larger Murray-type stores giving away as many as 3,500 hot dogs on each designated day, while 2,300 are consumed at the smaller R.C. Willey outlets.

On days when free food is offered, it begins at 11 a.m. and goes until 4 p.m., or when supplies run out. Saturday is the usual day, but some Monday holidays may have free food, too.

"We normally run out before 4 p.m.," Rogers said.

The next free hot dog day is planned for Saturday, Jan. 19, at all R.C. Willey stores.

Normally the chain averages 20 days a year of free food giveaways, but this year will likely be the record setter. That's because the company is planning free food on every Saturday in February for the Olympic Winter Games and also will offer complementary food on four of the five Saturdays in March. Super Bowl weekend will feature pizza again this year.

Each store has its own "hog dog" room, though some accommodations are smaller than others.

Rogers said people are welcome to eat as much food as they like, but no food should be taken away, to the showroom floor. In summer, the free food is sometimes given away outside under tents.

"I doubt anyone nationwide does free food giveaways as regularly as we do," Rogers said. "We're hot dog pioneers."

News of R.C. Willey's food giveaways has spread, and a Nebraska furniture store recently started its own promotions, patterned after R.C. Willey.

R.C. Willey stores also feature live remotes by radio station personalities on many of the hot dog or pizza days.

E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com