OSU, United Healthcare Spotlight Spruce During ‘The Game’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Ohio State University football team didn’t come away from its annual clash with its archrivals to the north with a victory Saturday, but owners of a local small business came away from the game feeling like winners.

Spruce Home Décor & Gift Store, which has storefront locations in Niles and Boardman, was spotlighted during the OSU-University of Michigan game as part of a joint campaign by OSU and insurer United Healthcare that United has conducted since 2019. Small businesses could submit online applications to be recognized, and one was selected each week during OSU’s regular season.

The Spotlight on Small Business program is designed to raise awareness of local small businesses in Ohio, Tony Marusic, director of communications for United Healthcare, said.

“The goal is to promote small businesses and provide them with advertising assets to promote growth for their organization,” he said.

Erica Lewis, who said she and her husband are OSU fans, said she came across the contest on the university’s social media and entered during the summer.

“I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to be able to showcase our small business throughout the state of Ohio,” she said. “After nine years of doing this, I feel like we’re a pretty good example of what a small business should be – the way we’re growing, the way we do things.”

In addition to the original store in Niles and the Boardman location, Lewis and her brother, Nicholas Giancola, opened in 2019 in space they share with OH Donut Co. The siblings operated a Spruce store this summer and fall in Chautauqua, N.Y., and have again opened a pop-up store in downtown Youngstown for the holiday shopping season.

Lewis and Giancola were having lunch one day about two weeks ago when she got the phone call from an Ohio State representative who said Spruce had been selected for recognition at last weekend’s game, featuring one of the most storied rivalries in college football.

She nearly didn’t answer the call because it was from an anonymous number, Giancola said.

“We feel very proud to be seen as leaders in small business, that we’ve been able to work hard and be recognized not only for our work, but our team’s work,” Giancola said.

Lewis described it as “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Giancola and Lewis went out on the field during the first timeout of the game’s third quarter to be recognized and were given official OSU jerseys with the Spruce logo on the back.

“The coolest thing was they did a 30-second announcement on the business in the stadium, and then the logo was projected up on the Jumbotron in the stadium,” Giancola said.

In addition to the live recognition during the game, Spruce also is getting social, digital and radio promotion, and will be featured in a radio interview and radio spots, Marusic said. The owners also received tickets and vouchers for the game, field and VIP hospitality passes and autographed merchandise.

In addition, they will be interviewed on The Fan 97.1 FM and promoted on OSU’s social media.

Lewis said she hopes the recognition will help expand Spruce beyond its traditional demographic to an expanded customer base.

“It’s not even about marketing” but having the opportunity to explain their journey and help other small businesses, she said.

“Sales would be nice, too,” she acknowledged.

“We see that it’s a recognition not only for us, but those who have supported us over the years as far as customers and other small businesses in the area,” Giancola said. “It was more than just Spruce. It was a moment to really shine light on small business in general, and for Erica and me to be the face of that, we felt very honored and proud.”

Pictured at top: Nicholas Giancola, co-owner of Spruce Home Décor & Gift Store.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.