Publicity stunt gets ‘Stamps’ of approval!

Nov 5, 2002 7:20 AM

            THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIEND . . . Part II. My grandmother, God bless her, had a thing with trading stamps. She saved them with a passion. While growing up I watched her go to great lengths to get the little buggers and patiently lick them and stick them into their appropriate booklets. She would shop the stores that gave them and shun those that didn’t; all the while, telling me how they were like found money.

            When Gram finally had saved enough stamps to redeem them for merchandise her buttons would pop. To her it was like getting something for nothing.

            Grocery stores, department stores, gas stations and various other locations used stamps to lure customers and reward them for spending their money. This went on for as many years as I can remember. And all the while my grandmother kept telling me how great it was.

            To be honest, I really didn’t pay that much attention to her. Oh, I gave her the perfunctory, “That’s nice, Gram,” whenever the conversation called for it, but I usually had more important things on my mind. At least they seemed important to me at the time. Bottom line, trading stamps were not high on list of priorities.

            But, something must have stuck, because years later when I was working the racetrack circuit trading stamps came to the top of the list.

            My main assignment during my 20 years as a tub thumper was coming up with ideas to win the fancy of fans and make them clever enough to get the attention of the local press so they would write a story.

            It was not an easy job. In those days, the little tracks that I worked for had almost no advertising budget. It was up to the publicity man to get ink so people would want to come to the races. But, the media back then did not have horse racing on its “A” list things to cover. The sports departments at the newspapers usually assigned racing to the least capable staffer and only used a story when absolutely nothing else was available.

            So, coming up with things that would ring the bell with the press was a challenge.

            One day while looking for that elusive something that would interest both the fans and the press, I came across an ad for a store that was touting a “Double Green Stamps” day. Sperry & Hutchinson’s Green Stamps were the Cadillac of trading stamps. Everyone wanted them.

            Gram’s words flooded my mind and I had visions of her licking and sticking stamps.

            The track already had a Ladies Day on Tuesdays. It had only met with mild response. But, if we gave away Green Stamps I was sure we could turn Ladies Day into a big success.

            When the details were worked out it was decided that ladies could turn in their losing tickets for Green Stamps. Every $2 loser was worth 20 stamps.

            Redemption booths were set up.

            The first week we had a good turn out. Glancing through the stands it was easy to see that the ratio of women to men had grown significantly. I went down to check out the booths. The lines were long. That meant they were putting money through the windows. Management was pleased.

            The second week they were short of help for the redemption booth so I took up a position behind the counter. The routine was simple. Take the losing ticket, do the math to calculate how many stamps were required and hand the stamps to the lady.

            Then I got a $2 show ticket from a sweet grandmotherly type. I noticed the numbers and they looked familiar. I had placed a wager myself in the last race and I knew the numbers for win, place and show. This was a winning ticket. To be sure I double-checked it against my program and I was correct. This woman had bet the winner to show. She should be headed for the cashier’s window to collect $2.20. I told her this and she replied:

            “Young man, I’d rather have the trading stamps than the 20 cents this ticket is worth.”

            But, I explained, she would get her $2 back plus the 20 cents. This didn’t seem to impress her. She curtly said:

            “Just give me the Green stamps, please.”

            Well, I thought, Gram was really right about those trading stamps.