Spring 2008
Spring Into Action With In-Store Events By Mollie Neal

You work hard to offer unique products and make your store a pleasant and friendly place to shop. What better way to take this one step further than by holding an in-store event?

As you know, in-store events help retailers like you by encouraging repeat visits among customers and attracting new shoppers. You can drive sales, build loyalty, and establish your store as a fun place and even a valuable resource, says Lynni Megginson, author of “Absolutely Essential Guide to Planning Fabulous Retail Events.”

Spring and summer months are an ideal time for retail events. “People have been cooped up in their homes all winter, and all of a sudden they want to be outside and surround themselves with family and friends,” says Megginson. Many people are planning casual get-togethers, while others are preparing for more formal events such as bridal and baby showers, graduations, and religious celebrations like confirmations and communions. If you are looking for an event idea, “entertaining is the number one word,” says Megginson.

Megginson practices what she preaches. Possibly one of the most popular events she holds at her interior design studio and home accents and accessories store in Gaithersburg, MD, L&M Designs, is Fast Flower Arranging For Mom’s on the Go. Megginson makes sure she has lots of pretty containers like vases and bowls for her in-store demonstrations.

Even if you and your staff don’t have the personal expertise to provide demonstrations, you can bring in an expert such as a local florist, chef or closet organizer. When their expertise is tied to one of your product categories, you can easily boost sales.

Demonstrations make customers more comfortable using a product and increase their propensity to purchase. In fact, a survey by the Advertising Research Foundation shows that purchase intent—a customer’s stated interest in buying a product—rose from 11 percent to 52 percent among customers who attended events.

Creating events around holiday themes can be rewarding, too. There is at least one holiday every month of the year except August. Megginson had much success by tying the interest in entertaining with the July 4th holiday by inviting a representative from Omaha Steaks to her store. The rep offered guests grilling demonstrations and recipes, which she coupled with her own tabletop decorating ideas. During a single event she can easily draw in as many customers as she’d normally see walk in her door over a two-week period.

Don’t limit yourself to promoting around a specific date such as Mother’s or Father’s Day. Think outside the box and develop your own unique event. Consider a popular product category, highly desirable collectible series, or develop a unique theme such as Think Pink or Treat-A-Dog Day. Tried and true events include open houses, auctions, product samplings, trunk shows, new collection previews and charity fundraisers.

Instead of focusing on holidays, seasons or themes, owners of The Freckled Fox, Kay Taylor and Jan Fine, bring in select vendors to showcase their unique product offerings in their Virginia Beach, VA, store three times each year.

A local handmade soap maker, a designer with a recently acquired collection of European oil paintings and a woman who does custom monogramming will be featured during a May event. These are products they don’t regularly carry in the store.

Around 200 shoppers come in during the three-day event, says Taylor. “Having products for a limited time makes it more compelling for people to come in to the store.” The event boosts store traffic and short-term sales, and many people return for future purchases.

If you don’t have the wherewithal to develop your own event, try reaching out to local charities, foundations, and even other retailers to develop a joint promotion. Working with a local art federation simplifies the process for Dorinda Brown, owner of Lafayette, IN-based Annecy’s, which carries a variety of gifts and home decor. Each summer the art organization arranges for a series of artisans to visit 20 participating local retailers. The retailers pay the organization $25 to $100, which covers the cost of organizing and advertising the event. Then on select Friday evenings thousands of people stroll the streets of Lafayette and visit the stores to see the wares and watch live demonstrations conducted by artisans, including photographers, potters, glass blowers and others. Sales are typically four times higher than traditional Fridays for just a small amount of money and effort, says Brown.

Mollie Neal

Neal writes about market trends, demographics and advertising issues for a variety of business and consumer publications. She can be reached at mneal@optonline.net.

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