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LUSH stores not shy about 'Kiss and Tell' protest

LUSH Handmade Cosmetics wants its customers to kiss for a cause on Saturday.

Not just any cause, but in support of same-sex marriage.

No stranger to social cause marketing, LUSH has used its stores to campaign for environmental issues, human rights and against animal cruelty. But the chain breaks new ground with its latest push.

The British retailer is donating all $5.95 shoppers pay for its glittery Freedom Foam bubble bath bar to a nonprofit lobbying campaign to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

At 11:38 a.m. Saturday at 105 stores across the United States, including Westfield Brandon and International Plaza in Tampa, LUSH will stage "Kiss and Tell" protests asking all straight, gay or lesbian couples inside its stores to smooch, sign petitions and write Congress.

"We're figuring about two dozen people will participate," said Rachel Love, LUSH manager in Brandon.

Most retailers steer clear of divisive controversies that might give shoppers a reason to buy elsewhere. That's one reason most cause marketing raises money to help the less fortunate or fight widespread diseases. But more holistic cosmetics makers like LUSH and the Body Shop, which openly campaign against animal testing by bigger rivals, have used causes that play to customer lifestyle preferences to strengthen a shared philosophical bond.

Any bad feedback from shoppers?

"Not yet," Love said. "But the promotional signs just went up."

The company picked the 11:38 a.m. time as a symbol of 1,138 rights and legal protections not afforded same-sex couples, according to the Freedom to Marry campaign.

"Our staff voted to choose the same-sex issue because so many of our employees are affected by it," said Brandi Halls, LUSH spokeswoman.

Mall managers typically stop their property from being used as a stage for any politically charged event that might interfere with the flow of commerce. But IP and Westfield officials are reserving judgment. LUSH, which did not alert local landlords of the plan, figured confining the event to their stores keeps them within their rights as tenants on private property.

Gone Greek

Former Beef 'O' Brady's president Nick Vojnovic is back in business trying to parlay the obscure Little Greek restaurants into a fast-casual dining phenomenon.

Little Greek is the creation of Sigrid Bratic, who bought the Palm Harbor hole-in-the-wall restaurant for $130,000 after migrating from Estonia seven years ago. She quadrupled annual sales to $800,000 after Americanizing the menu with such choices as french fries and fiddling with flavors of traditional Greek recipes.

"Some of our Greek customers from Tarpon Springs complained the food was no longer authentic," said Bratic, 39. "But, you know, they are still regulars."

After opening outlets in Feather Sound and Richardson, Texas, the average Little Greek generated $600,000 a year.

Stores for the low-cost franchise seat about 40 and require 10 staffers to run. The average meal check is $9, with Greek salads and gyros (10 percent lamb, 90 percent beef) the most popular choices.

Three more Little Greeks are lined up to open by fall in northeast St. Petersburg and in Tampa near University Mall and in Carrollwood.

"I see 25 in the bay area within five years," said Vojnovic, 51-year-old president of the Little Greek Franchising company, who took a year off after Beefs to work on his MBA at USF.

Texting for gas

While most retailers are waiting for something like Google Wallet to finally start turning cell phones into payment makers, the folks at Murphy Oil built their own pay-by-text service.

Tested first at seven Murphy Oil filling stations at Tampa Bay Walmarts in March, what's called MurPay this summer spreads to all 1,100 Murphy stations.

MurPay is more secure than other payment cards or a Mobil SpeedPass key fob, while guaranteeing the lowest gas price the Murphy station charged 24 hours before it's used.

After registering their bank account number at Murpay.com, customers text their code number just before they buy gas at a Murphy station. Their phone texts back a one-time-only PIN that's entered on a pump keypad or store register to pay.

"This generation is all about texting, so we want to be wherever they are," said Angelo Lambis, general manager of Murphy USA, based in El Dorado, Ark.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

LUSH stores not shy about 'Kiss and Tell' protest 06/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 13, 2011 10:08pm]
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