A local jewelry store's holiday contest that will give away five quarter-carat diamond rings is more than just a marketing technique.
"Other stores -- we talk among each other and they call it a gimmick," said David Morgan, owner of Bench Vizion Jewelry Designs on Hixson Pike, which is hosting the contest for the second time. "But for me really it's the fact that we've literally been buying the gold and silver off peoples' hands, and it is heartbreaking."
Two years ago Morgan held the contest and hundreds of people submitted essays describing why they should be one of the five to receive a solitaire ring in yellow or white gold. The contest is back and Morgan said since Dec. 1 he's received nearly 100 essays.
Although Morgan said the contest is a way to "give a little back to the community," he acknowledges it's also good for business.
"Even people who didn't win [last time] are calling back this year; they remember who we are," he said. "You remember the jewelry store that gave away the diamond rings."
Bev Brockman, an associate professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said creative marketing strategies are common in tough economic times, especially for small businesses.
"You have to think more creatively in terms of your promotion," she said. "The traditional approaches as far as big advertising campaigns and commercials are not as effective for a smaller business -- period. You have to think about how to spend your money as wisely as you can."
Brockman said that includes finding ways to attract attention through means other than traditional marketing.
"I think that it's just even more pronounced in down economic times," she said. "Taking advantage of publicity is a big thing smaller businesses will try to do."
The approach seems to be working for Morgan.
"This year is better than I've seen in awhile," he said. "I don't know if it's because of the advertising we've done, or the contest, but I've definitely noticed it in the layaway box, we're knocking the dust off it finally."
Nikky Tocco, an employee at Bench Vizion, said this time of year typically draws "an outpouring of new customers," but the store has been busier than normal.
Morgan said he anticipates the surge in business will last through Valentine's Day, mentioning that one of the winners from the last contest waited until then to pop the question with the free ring.
Contact staff writer Brittany Cofer at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.