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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