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  • Community Events: How To Avoid The ‘Screwdriver Syndrome’

    Community events are disappointing
    They seem to promise more than they deliver.
    You put in long hours.
    You spend money on extra staff.
    You buy balloons.
    There’s tents. Face painting. Music. Crowds.
    But no sales.

    All that work for nothing, it seems.
    At the end of it all, you swear you’ll never do another community event.
    Don’t give up too soon.

    Community events can be great business builders!
    To be successful, you have to redefine the goal of your event.
    If you’re trying to hammer a nail with a screwdriver, you won’t be successful.
    But, if you use that screwdriver for what it was intended for, it works like a dream.
    Community events aren’t the right tool for sales.
    Except perhaps for restaurants. And souvenir shops.

    Community events are relationship tools
    Not sales tools.
    They’re opportunities to show you’re a part of the community.
    And most importantly, they’re a chance meet new people.
    People who might not otherwise have discovered your store.
    The goal of the event is to get to know each other.
    So, how do you do that?

    There are four steps to making a community event successful.
    1) Invite guests
    2) Attract guests inside
    3) Get to know your visitors
    4) Give them a reason to return

    1) Invite your own guests
    Don’t rely or the event marketing to attract the customers for you. The event organizers will be promoting the event using mass media, to attract a wide variety of people. You can build on this promotion by marketing specifically to your target customers.

    Use your email and mailing lists, social media, blog and website to promote to your customers. Tell them what special offers they’ll get at this event. Also promote the event through signs and handouts in-store. Send a news release to local media, highlighting what will be offered in your store.

    Now you’ve let people know about your participation in the event.
    What about the big day?

    2) Attract guests inside
    On the day of the event, your goal is to get visitors into your store. You want them to come in, look around, meet your team and get a taste of what you have to offer. What can you do to attract people inside? You need to contribute to the theme of the event, and find a way to connect it to your business.

    Perhaps you can offer free face painting, temporary tattoos, or stickers with selections of designs relating to your business. For an ec0-friendly business, this could be images of nature. For a pet store, the designs could be animals.

    Consider doing a special order of logo merchandise that your customer would value. It could be an inexpensive item that you give away, or a higher priced item that can be sold. Make it an item that has value to the customer, and reflects your business.

    Another option is hosting a live demonstration or activity in the store. You could hire a local musician to play in the store. An art gallery or art supply store could have an artist at work. A retail paint company could give mini-workshops or demos of how to get a great paint finish, or how to paint furniture. A clothing store could host a mini-fashion show, or trunk show. A book store could have readings throughout the day.

    You have a few ideas to use to attract customers. On to the next step.

    3) Get to know your visitors
    Introduce yourself to guests when they come inside. Ask them about themselves. Find out if they’ve visited your store before. Do they live nearby? What brought them down to the event?

    Once you’ve learned more about them, you can let them know about what they’ll find in the store that day. The key to this step is to be friendly and informative, without being pushy. Remember — all you’re doing is getting to know each other. To make this successful, do more listening than talking.

    The more you know your visitors and customers, the more you’ll know about how you can help them.
    Once you’ve gotten acquainted with your guests, what next?

    4) Give them a reason to return
    To make the most of an event, you need to give your visitors a reason to return. Most people are unlikely to make a purchase the first time they visit a new store. To turn your visitors into buyers, you need to give them a compelling reason to come back.

    Invite your guests to come back to another event. Make this event a short educational workshop, seminar or class. It should be a learning opportunity, a topic that solves a problem for your customers.

    The event should be scheduled for the near future, when the shoppers’ experience in your store is fresh in their minds. Inviting shoppers to an event also gives you an opportunity follow up. Ask them if they’d like to receive more information about this an other events and workshops by email. Get them to sign up for your email list. Give clear information about what will be in the emails, and how often they’ll be received. Offer a bonus to anyone who signs up. Perhaps everyone on the email list receives a pass to a VIP event, a free class, or a special report.

    Make sure bonuses and incentives to return are valuable to the customer. Coupons and discounts are overused. Instead of discounts, think of creative ways to add service to your offerings. Service can be information, education, convenience, pampering, special attention. The right service helps your customers solve a problem.

    To get visitors to return, offer them a compelling reason to visit again.

    To have successful community events, you need to be sure you’re using the right tool for the job.
    A screwdriver is ineffective to hammer a nail, but it works great for the job it’s intended for.

    Community events are often poor sales tools.
    But with a little planning, they’re great relationship tools.

    To make sure you’re using this relationship tool effectively:

    1) Invite your own guests
    2) Attract guests inside
    3) Get to know your visitors
    4) Give them a reason to return

    Get your store involved in your next local community event. Build relationships with new visitors!

    Next Step
    Need to know what makes a great education event? Click here =>

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    The Secret To Running ‘Automatic’ Store Events

    Sleepy cartoon woman pouring coffee

    Some people are morning people
    I’m not one of them. When I get up, I stagger around with a foggy brain at first.
    Until my head clears, I can’t do anything that requires me to think.

    So, I put my morning routine on automatic.
    I can make coffee and get my day started, when I’m barely awake.
    I can do this without thinking because I have a system.

    A system can put your events on automatic too
    Events have the potential to be your best marketing tool.
    Events can bring in new customers, and keep shoppers coming back.
    But, events can be a lot of work.
    To reduce the workload, events need to be on ‘automatic’ setting.

    What stops you from holding store events?
    What stops most people is the planning.
    It seems like too much work to hold an event.
    It’s overwhelming.
    There’s too much to think about.

    It’s hard to even come up with a good idea for an event.
    Once you’ve done one event, you have to come up with another idea.
    And another plan. Just thinking about all the planning discourages people from getting started.

    How can you get past that barrier?

    The secret is to have a system
    That system is an annual calendar of store events.
    You sit down with a calendar, and plan all your events for the year.
    The best way to do this is to get out of the store.

    Go to a cafe, order your favourite beverage, and start thinking.
    By doing your thinking now, you don’t have to think as much about each event later.
    You can get all your thinking out of the way in a couple of hours.
    For the rest of the year, you can just follow the plan.

    The system puts your events on automatic, so you can focus on other things.

    What does your automatic calendar system need?
    To create an annual calendar of events, your plan needs three factors:

    1) Simplicity
    2) Repetition
    3) Variety

    1) Simplicity
    The events that go in your calendar need to be simple, or they won’t get done. To be automatic, the events need to be easy to produce.

    Don’t get carried away with elaborate catering, a DJ, a huge guest list, door prizes, gift bags and expensive marketing. One big event per year might be okay, but only if it builds relationships with new customers, or results in big sales.
    Otherwise, it’s just a big effort and big expense.

    Instead of going big, think small.
    Small and simple.
    Fill the calendar with education events that solve problems for customers.
    Then you don’t need lots of entertainment and free giveaways.
    The value is the information.

    A simple event recipe:
    Valuable information
    A small and personal guest list.
    Add a few light snacks, and sparkling water. Or tea and coffee.

    Voila! A simple event that will build your customer base.
    Especially when it’s paired with the next factor.

    2) Repetition
    Once you’ve had a successful event, repeat it. Most people try to come up with something new. If something works, keep doing it until it stops working.

    To encourage customers to return regularly to your store, events need to be held frequently. Holding only a couple of events per year will not build your customer base as effectively as holding events more often.

    There are three methods you can use to repeat your events:

    Method 1)
    Schedule the same event, on the same topic, multiple times. Perhaps on an annual, quarterly or monthly basis. If the event is only scheduled annually, you need to fill the calendar schedule other events as well.

    Method 2)
    If you had an education event on one topic that was successful, use that format for other related topics. Present a series of topics on a weekly or monthly basis.

    Method 3)
    Make the events into classes or workshops. Get participants to sign up for a class that runs for several weeks. Or a workshop that is completed in a day, or over a weekend.

    3) Variety
    An effective events calendar will have a variety of different types of events. There are three main types of events to choose from:

    Sales and promotional events
    Sales and promotional events are easy to overdo. Keep these events to once or twice a year. Put some effort into making this a special event. Put it on your annual calendar, and promote it well in advance. Build it up, so your customers look forward to it each year.

    Community events
    Neighbourhood events that usually happen on an annual basis. Choose one or two that are the best fit for your store. Use these events to meet new people and promote your education events.

    Education events
    The education events are your bread and butter. Fill the calendar with these events.

    Consider choosing topics that relate to the seasons or annual activities. For example, if you sell computers or office supplies, host tax seminars during tax season. Or for a dress shop, offer a talk in the spring on How To Save Money In Wedding Season: 5 Great Ways To Wear One Dress.

    An annual calendar is the secret to creating an automatic system of events.

    It’s like having a system in place for making coffee in the morning. Setting out the coffee and pot the night before makes it easy to brew that java with your eyes closed.

    Once you have the calendar in place for events, you can run them without getting bogged down in the planning. To put your events on automatic, your calendar needs:

    1) Simplicity
    2) Repetition
    3) Variety

    With those three factors, events will become so effortless, you could do it in your sleep!

    Next Step
    Want to find out more about education events? Click here to read Education Events: How To Find The ‘Hidden Treasure’ In Your Business

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    Education Events: How To Find The ‘Hidden Treasure’ In Your Business

    It was a six year old boy’s dream come true
    A birthday treasure hunt. The young treasure hunters discovered a battered map in a bottle on the rocky ocean beach. Following the clues to the ‘X’ on the map, the boys found the right spot and started to dig. It didn’t take them long to unearth the buried chest. Imagine the boys’ delight on finding a pirate flag and handfuls of jewels.

    Real treasure!

    Customer relationships are the treasure in your business
    Relationships with loyal customers that come back again and again. These repeat customers are the ones that make your business thrive. One of the best ways to get customers to return is with regular events.
    But not all events attract the right customers.
    And keep them coming back for more.

    What type of event attracts repeat customers?
    Not just any customers.
    Customers that want more than just a product.
    Customers that want to know how to solve a problem.
    Customers that are hungry for information.

    The most effective are education events.
    These events offer that information.
    They solve problems for the customer.

    That brings us to the next question.

    How do you create an education event?
    You need to find a map that will lead you to the repeat customer treasure.
    Sometimes we search all over to find the map.
    We don’t realize the map is right in front of us.
    The landmarks on the map are the customers’ problems.
    The customer problems will lead you to the treasure.

    ‘X’ marks the spot
    Your customers’ biggest problem is the ‘X’.
    That’s the first problem to tackle with an educational event.
    Once you’ve identified the problem, you dig deeper to get more information.
    That’s where you’ll find the treasure.

    But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

    How do you find the X?
    Your job is to find a problem your customers want to solve. And create an educational event that provides a solution to their problem.

    It isn’t as hard as it sounds.
    As I said before, you start with problems.

    1) Discover the customer problems
    2) Pick one problem to solve
    3) Provide the solution

    1) Discover the customer problems
    Talk to your customers in the store. Listen to their questions. What do you find yourself explaining to your customers most often?

    Ask questions. Ask for honest feedback. Find out what bugs your customers about any of your products. What bugs them about shopping? What would make it easier for them to buy?

    For example, let’s imagine you sell women’s dresses. What makes it hard to buy a dress? Let’s make a list of some problems customers might have.

    Problems with fit:

    • Dresses are too long, or too short, in the waist
    • Hem is too low, or too high
    • A dress fits in the hips, but is the wrong size in the top

    Problems with selection:

    • Can’t find a suitable colour for skin tone
    • Can’t find a dress for figure type

    Other problems

    • Need a dress for a formal occasion, that can also be worn for casual events
    • Need a dress that can be part of a work wardrobe

    These are just some of the problems that customers could have when shopping for dresses. If you have a wide variety of products, you may come up with many more potential problems that customers encounter. At this point, start with a list of 10 of the most common problems you hear from your customers. In the next step, you’ll reduce the list even further.

    2) Pick one problem to solve
    Yes. Just one.

    You can come back to the rest of the list later. For now, you need to focus on just one problem. If you try to solve too many problems at once, you get overwhelmed. You don’t know where to start. The project seems too big to handle. When you choose just one problem, you start to see how to tackle that one issue.

    Multiple problems lead to unfocused messages. Unfocused messages alienate customers. When you focus on just one problem, you attract all the customers that struggle with that one issue. The message is clear, and the customer feels like you are talking directly to her.

    So, just one problem. Let’s go back to our example.

    How do you choose just one problem?
    Well, in this case, problems with selection are more difficult to solve with an educational event, although it can be done. Let’s put aside those problems for now.

    Problems with fit are very common. The other problems listed are also common. However, fitting problems likely cause the most stress for customers. This is a clue that customers may be interested in a solution that you have to offer. Remember, start with the ‘X’. The biggest, or most common problem.

    I’ll pick one fitting problem: A dress fits in the hips, but is the wrong size in the top

    Now I’ve isolated a problem from my list, but what do I do with it?

    3) Provide the solution
    Now that you’ve chosen a problem, you need to identify a solution to the problem. A solution that you can deliver with an event or a class. This is where you go back to brainstorming.

    What is the solution to the problem?

    What advice would you give to a customer with this problem? Make a list of these points, or steps, to solve the problem.

    Back to the dress shop example.

    The problem: A dress that fits in the hips, but is the wrong size in the top
    The solution: A dress that fits just right (in the hips and the top)
    To get a dress that fits just right:
    1) Wear the right foundation garments to try on the dress
    2) Buy the dress to fit at the fullest point -> either bust or hips
    3) Find a good seamstress or tailor
    4) Have the dress professionally altered to perfect the fit
    5) Accessorize to visually balance the figure

    Now you’ve got enough points to give a seminar or class. You’re ready to start planning your event.

    But, I’m not a professional speaker
    It’s best to deliver the seminar yourself, or use your own staff team. You may not be a professional speaker, but your customers perceive you as an expert. The more you can encourage your customers to use you and your team to solve problems, the more you’ll improve your relationship with them. You want your customers to see you as a solution provider, not just a product seller.

    When customers see you as the solution provider, or expert, they’ll keep coming back over and over.

    And that’s the hidden treasure in your business.

    To uncover the treasure of repeat customers, start digging.
    1) Discover the customer problems
    2) Pick one problem to solve
    3) Provide the solution

    Next Step
    Does running events seem like too much work?
    Come back next week to learn the secret to ‘automatic’ store events. Or subscribe here, to get the next article sent to your email inbox.

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    How to Create Events That Bring In Customers (And Avoid Those That Don’t)

    Cartoon of happy woman talking and holding a glass of wine

    Charles was worried. It had been over six months of slow traffic in his store. This was usually his busiest time of year.

    But sales had dropped right off. In this previously busy shopping district, stores were closing, or being sold. He didn’t want his store to be the next to shut its doors.

    What could Charles do?
    Slow sales had nearly erased his marketing budget.
    Charles needs to get customers in the store, fast.
    He’d like to host some events in his store to get people in the door.
    But, he doesn’t know where to start.

    What kinds of events are effective marketing tools?
    Shoppers need a reason to go visit your store.
    An event gives them a reason, a date and time.
    Events attract attention.
    They’re special.
    They’re limited in time.

    Events help new shoppers discover you, and get to know you.

    Not all events get results
    Some events can be a whole lot of work, with little payoff.
    Which ones will give you the best payoff?
    Let’s find out by looking at four different types of events.

    Which events are the best marketing tools?
    1) Sales Events
    2) Community Events
    3) Entertainment Events
    4) Education Events

    Not all events are great for building customers.  Let’s have a look at each of these and see which one is the best for building a loyal customer base.

    1) Sales Events
    When we talk about retail events, we often think of sales promotions. These include VIP shopping nights, late night shopping, fashion shows, discounted price specials. These are common in retail, especially for fashion retailers.

    There’s nothing wrong with these events, in moderation. They can be used effectively as bonuses for loyal customers. Or rare special promotions.

    But as an attraction tool, they’re boring. Shoppers have all seen fashion shows. They’re used to discounts. They won’t give up other activities in their busy schedule for yet another promotion. You have to spend a lot of money and energy to promote these events, and make them enticing.

    So, retailers use discounts as an attraction for these events.
    And end up training their customers to only buy on sale.

    Stay away from sales events as a primary customer attraction tool.
    Let’s look at another type of event.

    2) Community Events
    Community events happen in many neighbourhoods. They might celebrate a theme like the Calgary Stampede, or Car Free Days.

    They could be cultural or charity events. Local businesses are encouraged to get involved by sponsoring events, holding sidewalk sales, in-store activities, and displays.

    Participating in these events often adds extra costs. You’re promised a big increase in traffic. More traffic means more sales, right? With high expectations, you buy balloons, add extra staff, create a themed display.

    And what happens?
    Crowds come to the event to eat. Or listen to music. Or participate in activities.
    Your store might be empty of customers.
    Or you might be run off your feet with browsers.
    But one thing is sure, almost no one is at the event to shop.

    After all the hype, and all the work, it’s disappointing when we don’t get the results we expect. We might start to think that community events are a waste of time and resources.

    Community events may not be good for generating immediate sales.
    But they can be effective as a way to connect with people in the community.
    However, that’s another article.

    As a regular customer attraction tool, you can’t rely on community events.
    So, what’s next?

    3) Entertainment Events
    Entertainment events can include hosting live music, DJs, and movies. Entertainment events work well for the right business. They can be effective for art galleries. Music events or art movies are the perfect fit for a gallery. Entertainment is also great for youth oriented products like clothing, skateboarding and snowboarding. For young people, entertainment has high value making it a good addition to a youth oriented store. Of course, entertainment events are great for entertainment oriented products as well.

    Not all products fit into one of these categories. There’s another type of event that works well for most, if not all, products.

    4) Education Events
    Education events include any kind of training or information sessions. They include seminars, workshops and classes. And you don’t have to stop there. Education can be a creative blend of entertainment and learning. It can be a special guest speaker. A demonstration. An artist-in-residence.

    The key to successful education events is to solve a problem for the customer. If you don’t know what kind of problems they have, listen to their questions in the store. Do they have questions about how to use your product? Or about which product is best for them? Think about how you could turn those questions into a seminar. For example, one of my clients sells travel gear. He hosts a regular packing seminar on how to pack for a vacation abroad. His seminars are always full.

    Scrapbooking and sewing stores have classes. Home renovation stores have woodworking workshops. Book stores have author talks, book clubs and writers’ clubs. An art gallery offers pottery and figure drawing classes. Fashion apparel stores provide workshops with image consultants. A home décor store gives decorating seminars by interior designers.

    Whatever product you sell, there are topics you can use to offer relevant education. And when you offer the education shoppers are looking for, they turn into regular customers. They bring friends with them. They want to know more.

    Not only do customers appreciate the education, but they buy more. Education helps the shopper understand what you’re selling, how to use it, and how it helps them solve a problem. And so they’re happy to buy from you.

    So, why does education transform window shoppers into customers?

    Education builds trust
    When the customer learns from you, they learn to trust you. They realize you’re not just after a quick sale. They’re not afraid of being on the receiving end of a pushy sales pitch. Instead, the customer realizes you understand their problem, and you really want to help. People like to buy from someone they know, like and trust. Providing education to your customers builds relationships and builds trust.

    ‘I’d love to have events, but I need more traffic first’
    It’s tempting to think you need a big customer roster to start having events. But it’s actually just the opposite.

    Education events are the tool you need to build the traffic right from the start. Education events provide value for the customer. For example, the chance to learn to dress for your figure type has a high value for the right shopper. More value than just another dress on a hanger. Offering a valuable learning opportunity to the right customer sets you apart from the competition.

    Use your unique offering to start with just a few customers at a time. Try an event for 5 people. Make it exclusive. Tell people about it for a few weeks ahead of time. Have people book in advance. When your first event fills up, don’t just say it’s full. Start booking for the next one.

    There are four types of events you can host in your store.

    1) Sales Events
    2) Community Events
    3) Entertainment Events
    4) Education Events

    Each of these events has a purpose, and may have a place on your retail calendar. But only education events steadily build the customer base without breaking the bank.

    If you’re like Charles and need to start building your customer base right away, you know what to do, right?

    Next Step
    How do you find out what kind of education events would be right for your customers? Next time we’ll look at finding out what your customers want.

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    Events: Why You Need To Start Small

    Cartoon woman pressing button labeled repeatA few years ago I went shopping for blueberry bushes for my yard.  The nursery offered a couple of choices. There were large bushes that would produce a crop of blueberries the next year. Or the ones in my price range. These bushes were small and would need regular care and tending to grow into a large, productive bush.

    Caring for these blueberries to make them productive, is a lot like caring for your business to make it productive.

    Store events give regular care to your business

    Regular events help your store grow and thrive. Regular events attract new shoppers, and bring existing customers back time and again. When you hold them on a consistent basis, events don’t have to be grandiose to be successful. In fact, small events can be better than large ones.

    Think small

    If your budget is large, you can host large, lavish parties. You can spend money of advertising campaigns. You can hire someone for public relations. But most of us don’t have a large budget. Most of us are trying to do as much as we can with small, even miniscule, budgets. Small budgets equals small events. And small events have advantages over big events.

    Small events are easy

    Retailers often shy away from events. An event seems like a big commitment. A lot of energy. Extra time. Big costs. Big intimidation factor.

    Small events don’t have those drawbacks. They’re casual. They have zero intimidation factor.

    What makes small events easy?

    1) Easy to afford
    2) Easy to manage
    3) Easy to repeat

    1) Easy to afford

    Small events don’t require a large outlay of cash. Small events keep costs to the bare minimum. Plan events that might hold 10 − 20 people at the most. If you’re only inviting a small number of people, you don’t need a big marketing budget. You can invite people individually. Invite 10 customers and ask them each to bring a friend or two. Make it personal.

    Stay away from lavish food. You might choose to provide some sparkling water, tea or coffee. Maybe some cookies. Keep it simple.

    Avoid giving away pricey gift bags. Instead, provide an incentive to return to the store. Offer each guest a gift card or gift certificate that can be redeemed for a bonus with their next purchase.

    You can even consider charging for your event. If the event has enough value for customers, you could charge a small fee to cover the cost. For example, if you are paying to have a special guest or speaker, customers don’t mind paying to attend.

    Remember, events don’t have to break the bank. And they don’t have to be take a lot of time to plan.

    2) Easy to manage

    Small events are less intimidating to plan than large ones. There’s no big marketing plan. No catering to arrange. No venue to book.

    For a small event you can fit all of the guests into your store. You don’t need extra staff. You can easily host a small event with one or two people. And the clean up is minimal.

    When the event is small and casual, it’s a lot less pressure. And a lot less stress. When an event is easy to manage, you’ll find you can hold it more often.

    3) Easy to repeat

    When an event is easy to afford and manage, it’s easy to repeat. The best events for building your business are the ones that you can repeat over and over.

    Why do events need to be repeated?

    Repeating events brings in a steady stream of regular customers. The same customers come back time and again. And sometimes they bring friends. And they tell others. Word gets around. You’re no longer just a store, with passive products sitting on the shelves. Your store is a place where things happen. Where people get involved, with you, and with each other.

    Repeating events is also efficient. You don’t have to create a new plan each time you hold an event. You create a system for your event. Each week, or each month, you hold the same event. You use your system to invite the guests, pick up the snacks, set up the room, and clean up after.

    Soon the event becomes a routine you don’t even think about. A routine that brings customers into your store time and again.

    But, I need more traffic right away!

    Some people want lots of traffic right now. OK, well, we’d all like that.

    The truth is big traffic equals spending big money. And big effort. You have to start planning months in advance. And you might only be able to afford to do that once. Besides, one off events aren’t going to keep people coming back. Those events will attract the customers that come for the big party. And then go home.

    Wouldn’t you prefer a marketing tool that cost you less than a hundred dollars a week? And could add at least a couple of new customers each week? If you get started right now, you could host your first event within a couple of weeks. Sure, you might just have 5 people. Or even just a couple. The next week you might have 6 or 7 people. In six months you’ll have an established marketing system. And you might just have a waiting list for your events.


    Small, in store events give regular care to your business. Just like my young blueberry bushes, your business will be thriving and fruitful before you know it.

    Next Step

    What kinds of events can you run? Next week we’ll look at how to come up with ideas for events for your store.


    Recommended Product: Another great way to start off the new year. Learn more about Why Customers Aren’t Buying (And How To Fix It): The Pinwheel Principle

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    How Events Get Customers In Your Door

    Sarah’s bookstore hummed as customers milled about, chatting with each other.

    Nearby store owners complained about the economy, and competition from big box stores. They closed at 5:00 pm on Wednesday & Thursday nights, because of slow traffic.

    But Sarah’s store was open late, filled with customers those two nights of the week. She seemed to have a secret formula that kept her store thriving.

    Events are the secret formula
    Events give shoppers a reason to visit. If you don’t give them a reason, shoppers may intend to visit, but put it off. Or they may never have been to your store before. An event gives them a reason to check it out for the first time.

    What’s Sarah’s secret?
    Sarah knows that events are the key to getting customers in the door, predictably and reliably. She knows that two nights a week in-store events draw a store full of customers inside. Customers that are happy to tell other people about their experience.

    Why is Sarah’s store busier than the others?
    Every week Sarah hosts a writer’s group and a book club. Each event draws 15-20 people. Most of those customers are regulars, but occasionally they bring new friends with them.

    You can learn to use Sarah’s secret in your store
    There are three steps to creating events that get customers in the door:
    1) Decide on a goal for the event
    2) Create the event
    3) Invite guests

    1) Decide on a goal for the event
    What do you want to accomplish with the event? Events are about customer relationships. Set goals that relate to building those relationships, and getting shoppers into the store.

    Your goal might be to attract new customers to the store. It could be to get customers to sign up for a series of workshops. Or it might be to build relationships with your VIP or best customers.

    Set goals that are specific. For example:

    • • If your slowest day of the week is Monday, plan to bring in 5 new customers every Monday
    • • If the store is dead in the middle of the day, create events to bring in shoppers midday
    • • Increase visits by regular customers from occasional to weekly

    Once you know what you want to achieve with the event, the next step is to plan the event itself.

    2) Create the event
    The events you run should relate to your customer needs. Create an event that helps your customer learn or do something.

    The event you choose will depend on the type of product you sell. Ideas could be book club meetings for a book store, running club for an athletic shoe store, or style and fit workshops for a women’s apparel store. Events can be free or paid. They can include clubs, classes and workshops.

    Whatever event you choose needs to add value for your customer. To help you come up with event ideas, ask yourself:

    • • What kind of questions do customers ask about using your products?
    • • What do they need help with?
    • • What kinds of problems do they have that you can solve?

    By helping your customers learn, they come to see you as an expert to turn to for information and advice. That is the value that will keep customers coming back to you, instead of the competition.

    Now that you’ve figured out what kind of event you will have, let’s move on to the next step.

    3) Invite guests
    Don’t make the mistake of trying to make the event a big, mass media event. Or printing up hundreds of cheap flyers.

    These events are about building relationships, so the invitations need to reflect that. Make it personal, like you would if you invited them to your home. Customers want to feel special like your friends do. Invite guests when they are in your store. Hand them invitations. Email invitations to customers you haven’t seen in a while. Put an invitation on your blog. Link it to all your social media; facebook page, twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

    Consider making the event exclusive to make it more desirable. Sarah’s writers group was exclusive. Only writers allowed. You can make events even more exclusive by asking for RSVPs, or charging a fee. Make sure the RSVP or fee information is clearly communicated in the invitation.

    Once you’ve gone through these three steps, you’re ready to host your event.

    What if no one buys anything?
    This is a fear for many retailers. Hosting an event takes time, planning, and money. With all that investment, what if there are no sales?

    The truth is, you may not sell anything. If the main goal of your event is to get new customers, you probably will sell very little. The event just gets the shoppers in the door. It’s like a first date. The shopper is just getting to know you. It’s a chance for you to start building a relationship.

    In Sarah’s case, she often had nights that went by without sales at the event, but she wasn’t worried. These people were some of her best customers. They were book lovers. By visiting her store every week, they would see what was new on the shelves. They would place special orders. They’d come in throughout the week to pick up something they’d seen during the book club meeting. And they told their friends about the bookstore.

    Sarah was happy to invest two nights a week hosting events. She knew they generated more business than an expensive advertising campaign would. And other than her time, the costs were minimal.

    To create Sarah’s secret to get customers in the door, use these three steps:

    1) Decide on a goal for the event
    Choose a goal that is related to building customer relationships.
    2) Create the event
    Plan events that meets customer needs.
    3) Invite guests
    Create invitations that are personal and build relationships.

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    How Connections Get Your Store Humming

    A friend of mine, Ian, struggled with the washing machine he shares with his landlord. He went to do a load of laundry, and couldn’t get the washer started. So, he left the laundry until later, hoping that the next time he returned, the landlord would have the washer running.

    Ian returned the next day. Still the washer wouldn’t start. After trying everything he could think of, he finally knocked on the landlord’s door. The landlord took one look at the washer and said, “With electrical appliances, it really helps if you connect them to the electricity.”

    Washing machines need connection to electricity.
    Stores also need connection to an energy source.

    Customers are your store’s energy source
    You need to draw customers into your store. But it’s tough to motivate shoppers to come into your store if you are ‘just a store’. If you’re putting products on the shelves and waiting for shoppers to come in, you’ll wait a long time. A few shoppers will trickle in.

    You might have a great product, but that great product isn’t enough to get new shoppers into your store anymore.

    What can you do to get shoppers in the door?
    The more often customers visit, the more they buy.
    The more time they spend in the store, the more they buy.

    You want to get your store humming.
    Buzzing with energy.
    Customers milling around.
    Browsing. Talking.
    Spending time.

    So, how do you get that energy? That buzz?


    Create a unique connection with your customers
    Just inviting shoppers to connect will not attract them to your store. You need to create a unique reason for them to connect with you. A unique connection will get them to spend more time in your store. And they’ll visit more often.

    But how do you come up with a unique reason for your customers to connect with your store?
    There are three parts of your customer interaction where you can create a unique connection:

    1) Experience
    2) Engagement
    3) Education

    1) Experience
    Offer an experience in your store that is different than your typical shopping trip. Treat your customers like guests in your home. Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, but do you really act on it?

    Try welcoming your customers in a way they don’t expect: take their coat, offer a glass of sparkling water and show them around. Get to know them personally and introduce them to each other. Act like you’re hosting a party in your store. Every day.

    Customers learn that your store is not just a place to buy more stuff, but it’s a place that connects them to their community.

    One coffee shop used red sleeves…
    A local coffee shop helped singles connect for Valentines. They created red coffee sleeves that single customers could put on their coffee cups. The red coffee sleeves let other singles in the coffee shop know they were interested in meeting other singles.

    Customers were able to connect with others in their neighbourhood. The red sleeves changed the usual coffee shop experience into one the customer would remember.

    Your unique customer experience
    Customers will enjoy a great experience in your store. If they enjoy it enough, they’ll be back again. They’ll tell some friends.

    That’s all great. And will help keep your store buzzing in the future. But what about now? What if you need to get shoppers in the door right away?

    That brings us to the next method to connect with customers.

    2) Engagement
    You want customers to be attracted, involved, loyal to your store. To get customers engaged, offer ways for them to get involved. One way to do this is to host clubs or groups on topics that are relevant to your customers.

    Bookstores host book clubs and writers’ groups. Sports stores become a meeting place for runners, hikers and cyclists. Eco-conscious retailers can organize environmental projects for customers to participate in. Stores selling products for babies & children can host mom meet-ups, or groups for stay-at-home dads.

    Engaging shoppers this way adds value to their experience in your store, and brings them in your door regularly. Engagement connects your store to the community.

    You can add even more value to that connection by giving shoppers an opportunity to learn something new.

    3) Education
    Add value to your product with education. When you educate your customers, they’ll see your store as more than just a place to buy more stuff. Your store becomes a source of valuable information.

    Offer education through seminars, workshops or classes. Don’t just stop at one class on a topic. Offer a series of classes on a topic that’s valuable to your customer. A series gets shoppers into your store more than once.

    Not only do customers learn and shop, but they connect with other customers that share their interests. They get to know you better and are likely to tell their friends about you.

    Art stores have scrapbooking classes. Hardware stores have do-it-yourself woodshop classes. A consignment fashion boutique offers workshops with a personal stylist. You can even go beyond classes to make education a focus of your business.

    Lululemon excels in delivering shopper education
    Lululemon is a Vancouver based yoga apparel company. Besides offering a schedule of yoga classes, and a well trained sales team, an entire section of their website is devoted to education. The website offers detailed information about the care and fit of the product.

    But the education focus goes beyond the product. This is where the company really stands out from the competition. One section provides advice on goal setting and a free goals worksheet to download. Under the ‘yoga info 101′ heading is a comprehensive description yoga styles, what to wear, local yoga instructors and classes, and yoga videos.

    Connect to your customers with education
    They’ll see your company as more than ‘just a store’, and keep coming back for more.

    You want to see your store humming.
    So, plug in.

    Attract customers with connection by offering:

    1) Experience
    Create an experience in your store that stands out. Get people connected to each other.

    2) Engagement
    Get shoppers involved. Create a club.

    3) Education
    Help your customers learn more. Not just about your product.
    Be more than ‘just a store’.

    Just like a washing machine, your store needs to be plugged in. Connect with your customers.
    And power up your shop.

    Recommended Product: Why Customers Aren’t Buying (And How To Fix It): The Pinwheel Principle

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    Eight Retail Event Essentials

    Community events can be great marketing and selling opportunities for retailers. Events give you the chance to increase your profile and brand awareness in the community, attract new residents and tourists into your store, and increase sales.

    On the other hand, regular customers may avoid shopping during congested events. Other shoppers may be deterred by a lack of available parking. Retailers may find that walk-by traffic increases, but shoppers don’t come into the store.

    Maybe you can identify with retailers like these:

    • • Carole owns a women’s clothing boutique in the downtown of a mid-sized city. Every year at the annual weekend Summerfest event, she puts a couple of sale racks out on the sidewalk. She brings in an extra staff member to stand outside and hand out balloons, while keeping an eye on the merchandise. Carole is disappointed that the increased traffic at Summerfest hasn’t resulted in more sales in her store.
    • • Jim & Susan just opened a day spa that retails bath and body products in Calgary. They’re looking for ways to become more integrated in the local community. They want to show their support for next year’s Stampede, but are wondering how to tie it in with their product and identity.
    • • Eric owns an urban pet boutique in Vancouver. With the 2010 Olympics on the horizon, he wants to come up with Olympic themed ideas to attract shoppers to his store.

    What can you do to get the most mileage out of participating in one of these kinds of community events?

    1. Set a goal for the event. Be clear about what you want to achieve through your participation in the community event.

    Do you want to increase sales at the event itself?
    Do you want to encourage local visitors to visit the store for the first time?
    Do you want to use the event to build new relationships in the community?
    Are you trying to build recognition of your store name and brand?
    Is your goal to get tourists to visit your store and make a purchase?
    Do you want shoppers to have a great in-store experience, and shop from your online store when they return home?

    2. Start planning early. Depending on the size of the event and what your goals are, you may need to plan several weeks to a year or more in advance. Consider what your needs will be for marketing, staffing and inventory for the event.

    3. Consider special promotions or products. Are there particular products that tie in well with the upcoming event? Consider carrying a limited supply of a special product just for the event, or stock up on a popular item and give it an event price. If you have giveaways, find a way to brand them with your name and logo.

    4. Create your own events. Host your own kick-off party a few days or a week before the big event. During the event, make sure something is always happening in your store that will draw customers in. If you don’t create a reason for them to come in, they won’t. Invite a volunteer to do facepainting for kids in the store, have some kind of food available, host live music, or an artist in residence. You could also offer short talks, workshops or book reading.

    Mini events in your store don’t have to be expensive. Try to use volunteers, or find someone who will benefit from doing a joint promotion with your store. Whatever you do, tie it in logically with your product and target market.

    5. Create unique themed displays. Get creative with displays, and don’t be afraid to use humour. Brainstorm how you can tie into a community event in a unique way. A bale of hay and a cowboy hat in a display with bath and body products doesn’t send any message at all. Instead, a vignette display of clothes piled on the floor, a cowboy hat on a chair, next to bath products & candles can have a sign asking, ”How will you relax after the rodeo?” Strive to make a connection in the customer’s mind between the event and your product.

    Leading up to the Olympics, a pet boutique display might show dog sporting events with accessories, or pet merchandise that represents Vancouver. Props or graphics can help to get the message across. Cartoons of pets could be used to create large scale posters, or adhesive window graphics to attract the attention of walk-by traffic.

    If all else fails, try using colour as a theme by creating displays that use one or two of the colours from the official event, or apply the event theme in your own store.

    6. Consider in-store traffic flow. How will you handle an increase in visitors? How will you manage line-ups? Perhaps you can remove a fixture or two from the sales floor to allow better traffic flow. Consider roping off an area for line-ups or in-store activities.

    Provide something for customers to do while waiting in line-ups. Providing entertainment, video monitors, interaction with staff, or something to read, helps to keep customers from getting antsy while waiting for service.

    7. Create effective signage. When your store is busy, you are not going to have time to give the same level of customer service that you normally provide. Effective signage can help provide information that customers need to find what they are looking for, and make buying decisions. Signs can provide:

    • • information about promotions, sales or discounts
    • • answers to common questions that customers ask
    • • pricing information
    • • suggestions of complimentary merchandise
    • • product features and benefits
    • • product information
    • • special event information or instructions
    • • an invitation for shoppers to sign-up for a VIP list or email newsletter
    • • information for tourists wanting their purchase shipped home for them

    Thinking ahead about the types of information and signs that will be needed for your event will help your customer to have a more enjoyable experience in your store.

    8. Start marketing well before the event. Don’t wait until the event arrives to create displays and marketing. Create anticipation for the upcoming event by putting up in-store posters and signs. Announce the dates of the event, planned in-store activities, as well as any special promotions, discounts, incentives or products. Create a series of displays and change them weekly leading up to the event.

    Don’t forget to communicate your plans to event organizers and the media. They’re usually more than happy to let people know how local businesses are participating and supporting community activities. Event organizers may even have some tips and ideas for how you can get involved and make the event even more successful for you.

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    Why Parties Are Key to Attracting Retail Customers

    Are you wondering why your store isn’t attracting as many customers as you would like? It’s because you aren’t having enough parties.

    No, I’m not crazy. And, no, don’t rush out and plan a big bash.

    Let’s just imagine a great party first.

    If you were throwing a party in your home, what would you do?

    You’d pick a date and send invitations. Plan food and drinks. Clean your house. Select music. Buy flowers. Light candles. Wear a great outfit.

    After all that work, what would you do when guests arrive? Would you let the caterer take care of the guests? Retreat to your office to plan the next party?

    That would be nuts. You’d enjoy the party!

    You would greet guests. Introduce them to each other. Show them around the house. Catch up with those you haven’t seen for a while. You would make sure your guests have a great time.

    Running a store is like throwing a party every day. Are you only giving it a half-hearted attempt?

    I’m sure you’re working hard. But is each day like a small party in your store? Are you having regular special events? Are you doing what it takes to throw parties your guests enjoy?

    Do you send out invitations? Go through your customer list. You have one, right? Go through it and invite people to your store. Use the phone, email or snail mail. Ask them to bring a friend.

    Tell them why you are having a party. Invite them to see new merchandise, to a bring-a-friend promotion, a customer appreciation, or maybe it’s your birthday party.

    Take a look at your store. Freshen the paint. Wipe fingerprints off the windows. Create new displays. Make sure it smells great. Get fresh flowers.

    Imagine how your customers respond when you greet them personally at the door. You ask if you can take their coats. You show them around and offer them Perrier. The Perrier is served in a glass, not a paper cup. You introduce them to staff by name. You ask their opinion on some new merchandise.

    When shoppers leave, you bring their coats, and give them an elegant, wrapped chocolate to take with them. You invite them back next week, for a lunch hour event of live music, hors d’oeuvres and product demonstration.

    Now you are sure I’m crazy. That sounds like too much work and expense.

    Sounds like your focus is on you. Not your customer.

    Instead, think of how that customer would feel. Think about what she would say to her friends. How many customers do you think would be in your store next week? And the week after that?

    Sounds like a party.

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