Fall 2006
Party In Store By Sharon Naylor

When a Festival Is In Town

If a festival or a big special event is scheduled in town, the increased traffic surely means that your special event will get extra attention, right? Not always. Store owners report that it's a bad idea to plan an in-store party for the same day or night as a big festival. Most festival-goers tend to stick to where the action is—by the games and rides—and they buy from the display vendors on the street.

Take advantage of the crowds by promoting your party during the festival, with a big sign and fliers. The hectic atmosphere of a festival in town means less time for potential shoppers, especially those with kids, to spend in your store.

Imagine your store filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of people smiling and checking out your displays, filling their arms and their baskets with your stock and sipping champagne as waiters serve them canapes and hot hors d’oeuvres. You’ve dimmed the lights, music plays, and your store has been transformed into a packed shopping party where guests are raving about your work and seeking you out to shake your hand. The media show up with cameras, and your party puts your shop on the map. Store proprietors who have thrown these soirees say their party guests often inquire about future party plans and ask to be added to VIP lists for special, earlier selection of merchandise. And they’d like to add their 10 friends to the mailing list, too. Thus, a successful marketing strategy is born.

What’s the magic key that unlocked this trend for in-store parties? Merchandising has taken a cue from the special events and weddings industry: Make your party an experience. Anyone can set out a platter of finger sandwiches and punch. Your party, with the special additions featured in this article, will stand out as marketing genius that delivers on many levels: appeal to individual shoppers, group attraction, media coverage, and repeat visits from loyal customers.

Find out how to envision and create a party that’s perfect for your store’s theme, space and clientele.

Matching your event to your store’s identity

A gourmet food shop might host chocolate tastings. A stationery or gift shop might host scrapbooking demonstrations, with a beautiful array of colorful supplies on display. At The Blue Turtle in Madison, NJ, for instance, owner Diane Fabry stocks feng shui items, meditation pillows, candles and Eastern philosophy books. She has hosted evening events of meditation and yoga workshops, dream analysis parties, and “angel nights” where her party guests loaded up on angel pins, pendants, books on angels and guardian angel candles.

What kind of event is a logical extension of your store’s identity? Get creative. A gift shop that stocks spa and relaxation products, for instance, can plan a “New Mom’s Appreciation Night” or a “Bride-To-Be Evening of De-Stressing,” where massage therapists can come in to provide foot massages. Put relaxing teas and healthy snacks on the menu. A wine shop might go a step beyond wine tastings to do vodka tastings, paired with gourmet specialties in a relaxed atmosphere.

Bring in live performances

The key to a great party is often great entertainment, so bring in a live guitarist or harpist, found through local musicians’ associations or the International Special Event Society. Or you could hit a marketing grand slam by bringing in talent of note. The Morrison Hotel Gallery in La Jolla, CA, which specializes in limited-edition and collectible fine-art photographs of significant musicians and moments in music, recently held a Friday night party where guitar legend Javier Batiz, who taught Carlos Santana how to play, performed a 30-minute acoustic set before inaugurating an exhibition of photographic work by Fernando Aceves. The opportunity for shoppers to experience a legend in concert at the party was priceless. The Morrison Hotel Gallery hosts these parties regularly, giving their patrons something to look forward to on a monthly basis.

At Experience & Creative Design Ltd., an upscale home decor shop in Schenectady, NY, spring and winter holiday open houses feature harpists, pianists and quartets. Authors, massage therapists and experts from nearby businesses can help promote your event. A professional organizer giving a workshop on decluttering the home would really work if you had her stand before a display of your best home decor, artistic storage containers and books on home decor.

Where do you find these experts to feature at your party? Network. Talk to your own customers, the chamber of commerce, or your local tourism department. To contact an author, call the phone number listed on the publishing company’s website or send an email to the publicity department.

On the menu

No party can be great without fabulous food and drinks. You have your choice: do-it-yourself or catered-in. For the do-it-yourself option, set out platters of your own stock, if you offer any. A gourmet food shop will have plenty of choices on hand: focaccia bread, pita crisps and caviar cream cheese spread, chocolate-covered fruits and pretzels. Scan your shelves and displays for the proven technique of “you try it, you’ll buy it.”

On the catering front, you have many options. At the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the most recent musician and art showcase party featured a professionally catered, theme-appropriate menu of shrimp cocktail, Mexican spreads and fruit platters. The food was both passed around by hand and set out on tables. At Experience & Creative Design Ltd., owners David Siders and Rudy Grant tailor their catered menu to the season when they host a party. “For our spring parties,” says Siders, “We do a Friday night VIP cocktail party with wine and hors d’oeuvres such as asparagus wrapped with prosciutto, shrimp cocktail, cream puffs, stuffed mushrooms and artichokes. Our Saturday party, which is open to the public, has a similar menu, and on Sunday for our 12 noon to 5 p.m. party, we serve wine and cookies. We’re very attuned to the details, so we plate our menu items in beautiful style, garnishing them with fresh flowers.”

Presentation counts for your visually minded clientele, so use attractive platters and garnish with fresh flowers, creative swirls of sauces, and sprinkles of herbs and spices. If the platters and dipping cups used at the party are available for sale in your store, ask your servers to point them out. When shoppers see these items in action, as a moving part of the party, they may be more enticed to buy their own sets. Decor

Some budget-friendly decor ideas include: fresh flower bouquets set on display tables, fresh flower nosegays or rose petals set on pedestal displays or on the buffet table, even nosegays hanging from doorknobs and floral garlands on chandeliers, light fixtures and window sills. The right choice of fragrant blooms transforms your shop and makes shopping a pleasant sensory experience.

For lighting, set out candles in creative hurricane lamps, candelabras and votives in your choice of colors. If you have a dimmer, bring the light level down a bit. The more intimate environment is not a distraction from your items, but rather an enhancement. Just like you may love how you look by candlelight, so too might your products look more enticing in mood lighting. Train spotlights on a wall display case. Show off your wall art with pinlights, and drape your ceiling and windows with strings of white lights.

Getting the word out

While advertising your event in newspapers’ and regional magazines’ events columns is always an option, most stores use their own customer mailing lists. The Blue Turtle, for example, does little more than create fliers to send to clients who have signed its in-store guest book. The store also displays its fliers in the shop for weeks before the event. Since the Blue Turtle is a relatively small shop, it’s a coup when it is filled with an average of 20 to 30 guests per event. Experience & Creative Design Ltd. sends invitations to more than 8,000 people on its customer mailing list, and also to members of the media. Its seasonal events have drawn such attention that its mailing list has grown exponentially over the years. From these 8,000 invitations, Experience & Creative Design attracts over 1,000 guests to its VIP party; 2,700 guests attended the Christmas showcase party last fall. In addition to invitation mailings, Experience & Creative Design advertises events on local television.

The Morrison Hotel Gallery—which also has a sister store in the SoHo area of New York City—sends a full-color postcard invitation with images of the artist or theme for an upcoming party. The gallery also sends email blasts to all who have signed its online guest book. Since the New York City shop is right across the street from an Apple Computer store, the gallery has worked out an arrangement where Apple displays a promotional slideshow using art from the gallery (displays have included artwork on Jim Morrison and Led Zeppelin). In return, Apple displays signs for Morrison’s party and does an email blast to all of its contacts as well.

Even without a Fortune 500 company behind you, publicity can be yours through creativity. Send email invitations to your mailing list, or print your own eye-catching invitations with invitation printing. Visit art paper supply stores for a selection of card stocks, invitation papers and envelopes, and use your computer system to mail merge your client list into labels. Your marketing plan, then, will cost less than $50.

Getting the media to attend

Visit your library and browse through the latest copy of Bacon’s Media Directory to get the names, addresses and emails of editors at all your local newspapers, regional magazines, trade magazines and websites. Go beyond your usual demographic, to the local college newspaper, a small regional newspaper a few counties away, or a town website. Entice reporters with an early viewing of your products, or with tickets to your VIP hour or party. Tell these reporters that you can provide graphics from your party to accompany any story they wish to run on your smashing success. And of course, take many high-quality digital pictures from your event, to submit to media now and for your future in-store parties.

Time to plan

With the ease of do-it-yourself invitation software and a quick call to a caterer, your planning process shouldn’t take more than a month. For larger events, owners say they spend three months on planning, from start to finish, which allows plenty of time to work on decor and a menu, distribute invitations to allow a good month’s notice, follow up with email blast reminders, and contact the media. And of course, like any good party, plan on sending guests home with a cute favor and a coupon for 10 percent off future purchases, as a thank you for attending your party. Also send a postcard announcing next season’s party. Cheers to your success!

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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