Originally published Aug 9, 2009

Sandy Stroehmann knew for months that the recession would claim at least one of her competitors in the massage business, and when one closed, she was ready to act.

Stroehmann, founder of Elixir massage spa at 1518A Wazee St., announced last month that she would honor gift certificates from Revive Spa after it closed its downtown location. The move would cost her business money initially, she said, but it will help pay off in the long run.

Business people are finding new ways to help customers displaced by the closing of other businesses, while also helping themselves.

“It’s a little bit of an oddity,” said Christina Pfitzinger, interim executive director of LoDo District Inc., about the idea of giving up short-term profits to try to capture customers when competitors shut down. “I think it’s an entrepreneurial risk, but one with a lot of rewards if you have the customer base.”

Stroehmann, whose massage sales have increased 109 percent since opening her shop in June 2007, knew that honoring the gift certificates of closed competitors would mean performing services for which another company had gotten paid. But she saw advantages to the plan.

First, it would bring in potential clients who lack a spa to visit. If they appreciate the gesture and service, they might not only become Elixir clients but refer friends too, Stroehmann figured.

Second, it tell clients the business is financially healthy and not in danger of closing, she said.

So, Stroehmann has advertised her acceptance of the gift cards (for a $65 massage at her place rather than whatever value the certificate was for) through blogs, on her website and at networking events. She didn’t get any takers in the first week but expected to attract interest.

“It’s kind of a feel-good story,” she said. “It lets people know this is a company that cares. And when you’re going to get a massage, you want someone like that.”

Rusty Staff, owner of Asian art and antique gallery DecorAsian, saw another way to both help a closing store and add to his business.