Fall 2012
Lessons Learned By Sharon Naylor

In-store classes bring more visits, increased sales and best of all – loads of fun! Here’s a primer on how to pick and host the right class for your gift shop.

Andrea Krakovsky, of Re-Inspiration, could not be happier with the classes she offers in her Atlanta gift shop. “I find that our classes bring loyal customers. These are the kind of people that form a great affection for our shop and often invite others in on their trips,” Krakovsky says. The store sells entirely recycled items in popular categories such as jewelry, home décor, accessories and art. So it makes sense that the most popular class offered – from a slew of art classes – is called “Remake an Old Item.” Participants take an old vase or mirror and create something new using items from the shop.

And this is precisely one of the many benefits of classes – they allow you to showcase your store’s items in the best light and best of all, stimulate sales. Equally important, says Doug Fleener, classes create incremental visits from existing (faithful) clients adding to your bottom line. “Sure you might attract new customers, but the real benefit is giving that customer who already knows and likes you a reason to come back to the store. That is extremely important. Imagine the impact on a store if every customer came back 1 or 2 extra times a year!” says Fleener, president and managing partner for Dynamic Experiences Group, LLC, a retail and customer experience consulting firm in Lexington, MA. He is also the author of The Profitable Retailer: 56 Surprisingly Simple and Effective Lessons to Boost your Sales and Profits.

Knitting friendships

“People are doing classes for the social aspect and to get out of the house,” says Fleener, pointing to the big trend of offering groups of friends an activity destination, a new option in their socializing routines.

Michele Vail, owner of A Stitch in Time knitting and gift shop, offers social activity classes that teach the basics of knitting and crocheting, in addition to other lessons. Her most popular class in her Farmingdale, NJ store, is “How to Knit Socks.” Vail has had mothers and daughters, as well as groups of friends sign up. With class fees set at an affordable $20 to $35 apiece, and $60 for a three-class series, customers buy their materials separately (offer a discount to spur sales), boosting the shop’s sales.

Class choice

Here are five classes that might work for your store:

  1. Cooking demonstrations
    Chef Carolyn Gilles, owner and chef instructor at The Wholesome Chef, LLC in Lexington, Kentucky, says that demonstrations often work best in gift shops with limited space. You don’t need cooktops and counters for ten people, but you do have an expert chef showing how gift shop stock like flavored oils may be used in recipes. “Attendees see the food served on a platter from the store’s collection, see those decorative plates and potholders in use. When they see someone using the products, there’s more of an urge to buy them,” Gilles says, adding that offering edible samples is essential.
  2. Arts
    The do-it-yourself (DIY) trend is wildly popular, so hands-on crafting classes are a big draw. Create a class in which DIY kits may be test-driven, or personalized charm bracelets or necklaces may be made.
  3. Party Planning
    Local wedding or party planners will be happy to come into your shop to conduct a class on ‘top winter party trends’ or ‘budget party planning’ or ‘at-home party planning secrets’ with your merchandise incorporated into the lessons.
  4. Gift Wrapping
    Attendees learn several different methods of wrapping gifts, using your store’s gifts and gift-wrap merchandise.
  5. Fashion Stylist
    A fashion expert shows how the personal accessories you sell – jewelry, scarves – can transform tired outfits. Have attendees wear the outfits they want to jazz up and your expert fashionista can show them how to do so. Make this a free class, with a modest accessories discount and you’ll have a winner on your hands.

An A+ for planning

Once you have zeroed in on the class you want to offer, there’s still a checklist of things to do before your class is a hit. Here’s a quick planning guide:

  • Begin with a small number of attendees. This allows you to test drive the event and keep your expenses low. In addition, signage that says “class limited to ten participants” sends a message of exclusivity, making the class more desirable.
  • Choose your first class topic well. You know what your regulars like to buy – housewares, jewelry, gifts, stationery. Fleener suggests thinking about the Home Depot motto of ‘You can do it. We can help.’ “Teach people how to use the products. It can be anything from how to entertain, how to do a room makeover for $500 or less, and so on,” Fleener says.
  • Choose your instructor. Will it be you? Do you have competency and comfort in teaching demonstrations? Does a staff member? Fleener points out that being an instructor of a class has an added benefit: It positions you as an expert and your store as the go-to place for that category.
  • Choose the right time. If your customers are mostly parents of school-aged children, you don’t want to plan your class for a Saturday afternoon when parents are at kids’ soccer games. Krakovsky says she lets her class group know they’re getting a special peek at the store after hours, adding to the exclusivity principle. “I give them a private tour to give them inspiration for their projects. This sneak peek inevitably leads to several purchases, especially when encouraged to splurge by a group of girlfriends,” Krakovsky says. Fleener suggests offering the same class at two different times in the day – say 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. – to attract more customers.
  • Keep classes short but long enough to make them worth the effort. For complicated projects, Fleener suggests aiming for a 60- or 90-minute class that fulfills the customer’s wish for a group activity that’s longer, more interactive and worth the time it takes to drive there.
  • Decide on your fees and discounts. Fleener says charging for a class conveys a sense of value and decreases no-shows. You can offset the cost of the class by offering an equivalent gift card to the store. Invariably, participants will spend more than the value of the card. “If you charge $10 for a class, give the customer a $10 gift card and a goodie bag worth even more,” Fleener says. For a materials-heavy class, charge enough for materials to clear a profit, and a bit extra to cover any catering or drinks you’ll serve. A ten percent store discount is often the norm with some storeowners offering 20% for same-day purchases.

Whatever classes you offer, there’s a lot to be gained for your store’s marketing image and bottom line. “Offering classes is an incredible way to make your business interactive. This is your chance to sit down and get to know your customers in a personal way, and that kind of insight can do wonders,” Krakovsky says.

Sharon Naylor

Naylor is the author of 30 wedding books, including Your Special Wedding Vows and Your Special Wedding Toasts.SharonNaylor.net

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