Behind the Scenes: Going Out of Business

Kabokow's eyes than scanned across Westfield's downtown, which features Ann Taylor, Esprit, Banana Republic and Anthology, and said: "All the mall stores are here now."

The Big Prize Giveaway

To get return customers, McKie signs up people for a prize giveaway. The more you spend and the more often you come back into the store, the more likely you are to get a new TV, iPod or DVD player. Basically, the top 10 shoppers during the sale period win the prizes valued from $850 down to $50.

But the real key to the contest is to get customer addresses. Each week of the sale, McKie will send them another mailing, keeping them posted on the latest details of the sale, trying to get them to walk through the door again.

Nathan W. McKie Sr. adds another customer to his mailing list as he tries to help liquidate a sporting goods store of all its merchandise.

At the start of the sale, everything in the store was at least 20 percent off, with some hard-to-sell items discounted further. The goal of the sale is to get as much money as possible for the retailer.

"For the most part, the people coming in in the beginning are familiar with the store," McKie said. "They tend to be locals and bought items not so much because of the sale but because they needed the goods. … The bottom-feeders come in for half-off or less. As annoying as it is, you need those folks."

At the very end, some items might be offered for 90 percent off. But some things just won't sell -- like that XXL T-shirt or the 1970s-style pants -- and an auctioneer is brought in.

Deep Discounts

Ellen Davis, vice president for public relations at the National Retail Federation, said that a going-out-of-business sale really can be "a goldmine for a shopper."

The sales often start out with just 20 or 25 percent off. The biggest discounts come at the end, but there's no guarantee that those items will be the merchandise you want to buy.

"There's a little bit of a game of chicken involved," Davis said. "If you don't buy it at 50 percent off, it might be 70 [percent] or 80 percent off next -- or it might be gone."

It's hard to miss the signs announcing the closing of another retail store during this recession.

The other key to the sale: timing the goods with the seasons. The Leader Store's sale goes through March 28. Selling ski gear at the end of the sale is going to be pointless. And now, with record cold temperatures hitting the region, it is going to be tough to sell soccer cleats.

"People are looking for a discount, but it's got to be stuff they want to buy," McKie said.

One thing McKie and Wright said they never do is mark up prices before slashing them for a sale.

"If people come in and see the 'regular' price is higher than they are used to, the whole sale is undermined," McKie said. "It's pretty obvious."

While many customers flock to going-out-of-business sales hoping to get a deal, many are skeptical.

Wright said his ads are designed to enhance credibility. For instance, saying that shelves, lights, desks and other store fixtures are for sale adds credibility. The company also doesn't say that items are 20 to 70 percent off. Instead, they say at least 20 percent. Consumers don't like ranges.

"We believe that consumers are skeptical when we say we're conducting a liquidation sale," Wright said.

Beware of Scams

Richard Eppstein, president of the Northwest Ohio Better Business Bureau, said that consumers should have their doubts.

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