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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coat Store Pulls Out Stops to Fleece Customers

The most-advertised product on Russian television last month wasn't from Procter & Gamble or M&M/Mars. It wasn't a chewing gum, laundry detergent or pet food. The company ranking first in TV airtime was a 24-hour emporium that sells fleece-lined sheepskin coats from a five-floor building near Prospekt Mira.

As winter sets in, Russian consumers are under attack by a legion of stores advertising their sheepskin coats, or dublyonki. Competition is so fierce, the stores are resorting to guerrilla marketing tactics to keep the customers coming in from Moscow and beyond.

The stores bus in shoppers from small towns outside Moscow, hand out fliers to travelers at train stations and metro stops and commandeer radio and television airwaves with messages of deep discounts. The dublyonki rivalry reached a fevered pitch two weeks ago when one group of salesmen reportedly placed a bomb in a competitor's store.

Their methods may be mad, but Moscow's dublyonki stores are setting the pace for Russian retailers and attracting hordes of customers with their vast selection, reasonable prices and money-back guarantees.

The granddaddy of them all is the aptly named "Dublyonki," an emporium at 21 Staroalekseyevskaya Ulitsa.

On the approach to the store, bright signs declare that Dublyonki works "round-the-clock, without days off." Inside, yellow-capped sales assistants mingle with the waves of customers who come in search of a soft and warm wrap to shelter them from the harsh elements.

"Our society is divided into layers -- the very wealthy, the middle class, and the poor," said Sergei Kuznetsov, head manager of the outlet. "The majority of people are poor, so we are oriented toward that layer of society."

Maybe, but at $350 to $800 a crack, the coats at Dublyonki are probably out of reach for anyone living on a tight budget. All of the sheepskin coats are imported from Turkey, Italy and Spain. A smaller collection of fur coats are made from Canadian pelts sewn in Greece, on sale for $500 to $1,500.

Customers in the store appear more middle-class than poor. Some travel great distances to visit Dublyonki, drawn by the company's 15- and 25-second ads that air all over Russia on stations such as ORT and TV6. For the first two weeks of November the store ranked first in a Russian Public Relations Group report listing the most-advertised brands by air time. Dublyonki aired 596 commercials in the two weeks; chewing gum Dirol came in second place with 414 ads.

Kuznetsov said the three-month-old store, owned by a 30-year-old entrepreneur he declined to identify, is spending an unbelievable 100 percent of revenues on advertising to establish its name.

The store, Kuznetsov said, sells a similarly unbelievable 500 coats per day.

But the numbers appear to add up: Roughly figuring, at $500 per coat, the store would have ballpark two-week revenues of $3.5 million. With ad rates on top Russian channels running approximately $10,000 for a minute, the company's 243 minutes of ad time over two weeks would run $2.4 million.

"Without advertising it is impossible to work in the Russian market," Kuznetsov said. Advertising agency Video International produced the spots, which feature a tuxedoed emcee sashaying through racks of coats as he belts out the store's discounts into a microphone.

The store's marketing push goes deeper still: Each week the store hosts three to four busloads of shoppers from Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir and other provincial cities. Dublyonki offers cash-back returns up to 14 days after purchase and grants product exchanges up to one month after purchase.

Discounts are constantly shifting: Dublyonki typically marks down its wares 35 percent after they've been on the rack one month, cutting prices again by 15 percent and 10 percent if the article doesn't sell. Shoppers arriving after midnight receive an extra 2 to 5 percent off their purchases.

As shopping for the New Year holiday begins, Dublyonki is peppering the airwaves with frenzied five-second ads and adding extra discounts.

Customers milling around among floor-to-ceiling racks of brown, orange, green and purple dublyonki last week appeared more impressed with the store's selection than with its discounts.

"I heard about the store on TV," said Galina Maslenikova, who drove 300 kilometers from Ivanovo with her husband and son to visit the store. "We came because they have such a big selection and they constantly change their merchandise."

Dublyonki's success has drawn the attention of competitors, whom Kuznetsov said recently tried to sabotage the business by planting a bomb in the store.

"They just wanted to disturb our work," he said, noting that the planters of the bomb tipped off the police, who were able to find it before it exploded. The episode forced the store to evacuate its shoppers and employees for two hours on a busy Saturday afternoon.

"We gave everyone an extra 5 percent discount when the store reopened."