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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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