“I put on this free event and have reaped the rewards in a number of ways.” — Jeanette Lauture, Aunt Jean’s Toys & Treats
With additional reporting by Terri Hughes-Lazzell, Chris Lundy, Claudia Newcorn and Brenda Ruggerio
Drawing potential customers into your store can take a little more cunning than just putting a product out for sale. Events add interest and excitement to your business and can often bring in new customers, retailers told TDmonthly Magazine.
First, let's get rid of some myths about retail store events:
1. An event doesn't have to be directly related to your product. Events need to get people in the door. It's great when there is a natural tie in, but it's unnecessary. 2. You don't have to spend a lot of money. It's nice if you can get big piles of balloons and advertise in the local newspaper, but these things are also unnecessary. Get the word out via your website, an email to existing customers (with an incentive for them to forward it to their friends), or even through Twitter. 3. Having a small space doesn’t mean you can’t hold events. Several of the ideas below don't involve having 100 people in your store at once. For example, if you have a customer appreciation day, people can come and go at their leisure. It's still an event and a reason for people to come to your store. 4. You don't have to wait for a special occasion. Events don't need to center around a known holiday. In fact, there's a lot of competition already for customers’ attention during holidays, so try creating your own event when nothing else is going on.
Following are some ideas for events to hold in your own store. They might take some planning and effort but don't require a lot of cash, or even a lot of space, to execute.
1. Anniversary Party: Celebrate your business every year! We used this as an excuse to thank our best customers. I would go through our customer database and look for the top 25 (based on the amount of sales to those customers) and send them a personalized letter and offer to come back to the store. 2. Customer Appreciation Day: The kind of customer appreciation mentioned above does not have to wait for any special occasion. You can do it just because! David Campbell, owner of Amazing Toys in Great Falls, Mont., holds a Customer Appreciation Night in October. "It's a chance to give customers a good savings on pre-holiday purchases," he told TDmonthly. 3. Play Dates: Toy retailers have a natural tie in to children’s playtime. Invite customers in to play with a particular toy on a particular day for free. 4. Special "Guest" Appearance: Bringing in a special guest any time of year can be as simple as renting a costume and asking an employee to play the part. Jeanette Lauture, owner of Aunt Jean's Toys & Treats in Montclair, N.J., said, "I get such a thrill watching the kids’ reaction to Santa, and being part of the community as a business person, I put on this free event and have reaped the rewards in a number of ways." 5. Local Musician: This idea might require some space in your store, or possibly even right out front on your sidewalk. But you might be able to find someone local looking to gain exposure rather than earn income from you. 6. Treasure Hunt: This is especially fun for kid-oriented businesses. Come up with a list of five to 10 things participants must find in your store, possibly with a riddle involved. If they do, they win a prize. 7. Arts and Crafts Activities: There is always an excuse to create an arts and crafts project, and parents love activities for their kids. Set up a table and let the kids do the craft with a little supervision so the adults can shop. 8. Small Event Targeting Select Customers: At my retail store, we held an event called "Diva Night" that was after hours and catered to adult women (the normal day-to-day business catered to families). We used the diva theme and repeated the event monthly. Many of the women who participated also would bring their families in during normal hours, too.
Whatever event you decide to hold, consider the cost and effort involved and no matter what — have fun with it!