UNDATED (USAToday.com) - Consumers seeking the most patriotic way to spend the Fourth of July holiday used to have two choices: Hit the grill, or hit the fireworks show. Now, there's a third option: Hit the stores - for bargains and freebies.
In a tough economy, a widening circle of familiar brands, from Boston Market to Payless Shoes to Sherwin-Williams, are offering steep discounts - or even freebies - built around the July Fourth holiday. Some marketers are targeting veterans and military. Others are reaching out to lure in the die-hard value-seekers. But almost all are pushing enticing deals to drive business on a day when millions of Americans have traditionally made plans to gather outdoors and party, not stay indoors and shop.
"Consumers have shown that no day of the year is out-of-bounds for shopping if the right incentive is offered," says Steven Addis, a brand consultant.
But brand guru Peter Madden warns that July Fourth shoppers are single-focused: "It's about how cheaply can I get something."
Bang-up promos for the Fourth:
• Free eats. Active duty military - and vets - with proof of service, get free meals (up to $15 value) on July 4 at 170 participating Iron Skillet and Country Pride home-style restaurants, whose core customers are truck drivers. Last year's promo served more than 15,000 servicemen and women, says John Ponczoch, senior vice president of food service operations at Travel Centers of America.
• Cheap eats. Boston Market offers four different Family Meal options - meals that feed three to six people - at 50% off on July 4, with a coupon. When it ran the promotion last July 4, sales zoomed 34% vs. July 4 the previous year, says Sara Bittorf, chief brand officer.
• Cheap drinks. Jamba Juice has a buy-one-get-one-free smoothie promo through July 7 that requires a coupon from Jamba.com, says chief brand officer Julie Washington.
• Paint deals. Through July 8, Sherwin-Williams paint stores are offering 30% off most paint and stains - with some locations open July 4.
• Shoe bargains. Payless ShoeSource has an offer to buy one pair, get the second pair 50% off - with coupon.
• Free advice. Some 25 grill masters who work in LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants, will provide grilling tips to the grilling-challenged, July 3-6, during peak grilling hours (2 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST) to folks phoning 1-855-LH-GRILL. Or, post a question on LongHorn's Facebook page and grill masters will answer in real time.
• Free furniture. Some folks in Rhode Island and Massachusetts who bought furniture this past spring at the Cardi's Furniture chain will be hoping for heat wave on July 4. When they purchased the furniture, the chain had a "98 degrees and it's free" promo that promised if the local temp hit 98 on the July Fourth holiday, the purchase is free.
As usual, the house wins. July Fourth forecast for the area: high 80s.