WWW sample sale West Michigan’s largest United Way fundraiser

“You can’t create a monster like this and turn it over to someone else,” Michael Bohnsack, director of Merrell Retail, a division of Wolverine World Wide (WWW), said of the annual sample sale held Thursday, Sept. 30 at WWW headquarters on Courtland Drive, Rockford.

The sample sale, in its third year, was opened to the public this year for the first time ever. With prices on footwear including all the WWW brands, as well as sports apparel, up to 90 percent off, organizers weren’t sure what to expect for a turnout. With a slight drizzle in the morning, Julie Townsend, corporate social compliance analyst for WWW, thought poor weather might botch the success of the sale. Turns out, it didn’t.

“We had security to help direct traffic, but they had to call in help from the Rockford Police,” Townsend said. The Rockford Police then called in the Michigan State Police to help because there were so many cars. “Traffic was backed up past Peppino’s.”

Although the public portion of the sale didn’t begin until 4 p.m., by 2:30 the vast parking area at Wolverine was full and cars were lining up and down Courtland Drive. Lines of people wrapped around the warehouse where product was unpacked.

Townsend said she and others on the sample sale team have a goal of increasing their donation to United Way by 10 percent each year. This is a lofty goal considering donations are down and charity organizations are receiving more requests for help than ever before.

The parking lots and roadsides were full of cars by 1 p.m. and at about 2:30, three or four people got out of their cars to get in line. “I thought I was going to throw up,” Townsend said of her reaction to so many people waiting to shop. “We didn’t have volunteers scheduled to check people out until four. I felt like we were torturing people, making them wait.”

“Our goal was to raise $85,000 for United Way. We decided we’d be ecstatic if we reached $90,000,” The sale was advertised by newspaper articles only in The Rockford Squire and the Grand Rapids Press. At the day’s end, the total raised for United Way, not including the six percent tax, which Wolverine covered, was $120,000. “According to United Way, this was the biggest one-day fundraiser in West Michigan.”

“We are grateful to the public and also heard lots of thank-you’s to Wolverine for doing this,” Townsend reported.

Perhaps because people saw items they liked not in their size, or because of the long lines, the retail store in downtown Rockford saw a big increase in sales as well. An average day is $5,000 in sales. The day of the sample sale, the store sold over $33,000. Even the employee-created cookbook did a whopping business and sold 165.

“We would have kept the sale going, but we were using solar calculators and it just got too dark,” Townsend said.

She said Wolverine is very grateful to the public for the response and she and Bohnszak are proud of all the volunteers who made the big sale possible.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Townsend of the sale. “It brings tears to your eyes. If it was a moneymaker, there wouldn’t be this kind of emotion; there wouldn’t be all these warm fuzzies. It was exhausting, but it was all worth it.”

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