Winter 2012
Want More Traffic? Hit the Road

Take These Ideas For a Spin!

What other venues can work to bring your gift store on the road? Have you tried a booth at:

  • A local mall
  • An annual craft fair
  • A school silent auction
  • A Chamber of Commerce event
  • Weekend high-traffic areas: libraries, post offices etc.

If you’re tired of waiting for customers to come to you, why not go to them? Taking your store to new venues is a great marketing strategy when done right.

Katie Goodine loves home parties. After all, they’re not just fun, they have hugely increased awareness of her gift shop, Lakeville Cards and Gifts in Lakeville, MA. Customers who might not have found the store otherwise have discovered not just the store, but a personal connection with the storeowner.

As Goodine and gift retailers like her have discovered, bringing your store on the road spreads awareness of your business, and ultimately directs more traffic back to your store. By observing sales and reactions in alternate venues such as home parties and farmers’ markets, you’ll get immediate feedback about your offerings. This lets you test new ideas without a huge investment, and adapt your products as necessary. The smaller scale and cozy settings of such endeavors also gives retailers time to form strong relationships with loyal customers who are happy to pay fair prices for your merchandise. Most important, the shoppers at such events are already primed to buy. You have a captive audience receptive to your message and your products.

Selling at farmers’ markets and home parties are two excellent ways to bring your store to your customers. Both venues offer distinct advantages. Farmers markets are usually centrally located and well advertised. Home parties virtually guarantee sales, because guests already know they are being invited to a shopping trip.

No place like home

A home party is more than just shopping—it’s an experience. Shoppers frequently come to enjoy themselves, not just to find the best bargain. “It’s definitely a women’s night out,” says Goodine, who frequently sells her store’s jewelry and accessories through home parties.

Home parties work very well for reaching people in bedroom communities, areas bordering larger cities. They can help strengthen your local presence within your community and increase your reach to neighboring areas. Goodine says the home parties attract plenty of new customers—all of whom are now potential customers for the physical store. The mechanics work like most other home parties.

How do you find venues for these parties? Use your social connections. Tell friends, family, and customers that you’re looking for people to host parties. Use brochures to spread the word. Finding new hosts will gradually become easier, because some guests will want to host their own parties—offer incentives to do so. Ideally you will book at least one new party from every party you hold; these new parties in turn will reach new groups of people.

Goodine has used Facebook and in-store ads to reach new hosts. She also hosts fundraisers on occasion, donating up to 25 percent of sales. Goodine recently held a fundraiser for a woman whose daughter has cystic fibrosis, and is planning another to benefit local schools.

Consider pairing up with local businesses and holding parties for each other. Ideal partners for gift retailers would be clothing boutiques and even gourmet food stores.

Growing sales at farmers’ markets

Glass jewelry artist Heather Castillow, who owns a business called Wildflowers by Heather based in Pleasant Grove, Utah, has been selling her jewelry at farmers’ markets for ten years. She has been a regular at the Salt Lake City farmers’ market for the past three years.

Your local farmers’ market might be a logical place to begin and some may certainly be thriving. Consider markets in larger cities too. Castillow drives the 45 minutes from Pleasant Grove to Salt Lake City nearly every Saturday during market season, passing numerous smaller markets on the way. Salt Lake’s thriving market, averaging 8,000 visitors per Saturday, makes the drive well worth the time, she says.

Check the specifications put out by the farmers’ market you are considering. Many stipulate that only handmade products be sold at market. Stacy Miller, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Coalition, says farmers’ market shoppers are typically most interested in “supporting local farmers and freshness, and uniqueness or diversity of products.” The Farmers Market Coalition advocates the health and growth of North American markets. If your store has a healthy selection of handmade products, consider bringing these to your local market.

Legwork is essential to find the right fit. When you visit a market, ask yourself what vendors are selling, and what people are purchasing. Evaluate whether your products will appeal to the demographics you see at the market. Also look at the quality of the produce, the main draw for most shoppers, Miller advises. Abundant, fresh and varied displays of quality produce cultivate a steady clientele; meager selections don’t. Also ask yourself whether you can fill a niche that no one else is filling. If you’re selling pottery, consider whether it stands out from the other product offerings. Is yours more artistic, of a different style, or more affordable?

Miller says that Saturdays tend to offer the best opportuni ties for craftspeople. Saturday markets are usually bigger than weekday markets, with more entertainment, vendors, and shoppers who want to linger. Determine where you would like to set up your booth. Castillow points out: “You want to be as close to the produce as possible, because that’s what drives the market.” Ask whether your desired spot is available, or how long of a wait there is.

Inquire about the average number of visitors and the vendor fee. The market may offer a seasonal fee that benefits you if you plan to sell every weekend, and allows you to claim a spot for the season.

Packing for the road

Since your home party or farmers’ market booth is an extension of your gift store, presenting an image consistent with your shop is vital. At a farmers’ market, your sign, bearing your store’s logo, needs to be bold and visible from a distance. Promotional literature like brochures and business cards will remind customers of who you are and encourage them to visit your shop. You don’t need a lot of packaging at the market; less is probably better, giving your products a more authentic feel.

Some vendors set up the tables in their booths in a U-shape, allowing customers to walk in and browse, while others create a reverse U, with merchandise set up around the perimeter of their booth. Castillow opts for the latter, so customers can see all the merchandise as they walk by.

As in your store, you don’t want bright colors to overwhelm your merchandise, but you do want your set-up to stand out. This means you need a contrasting background. Castillow chooses a black background for her colorful jewelry. If your store’s primary color doesn’t offer contrast, use it as a base by choosing long tablecloths in that color, then place shorter backdrop cloths over them.

Don’t change your look too often—once a year is plenty, says Castillow. Maintaining a consistent look, with occasional, subtle changes to keep it fresh, builds brand recognition.

Using the space wisely without making it look either cluttered or sparse is key. Castillow suspends large metal and glass dragonfly decorations from the ceiling at the edge of her display, so they dangle and catch the sun (and customers’ attention). Modeling merchandise by wearing it is also an excellent way of drawing attention to it, she says.

Remember that things blow around when you’re selling outdoors. Tape down any labels, and bring paperweights or pretty rocks to weigh down your brochures. Your sign must be sturdy and tied down at each corner.

Similar principles work for home party set-ups. An ideal home for a party is easy to get to, offers plenty of space for guests to sit and chat together, and has plenty of table or counter space to display your merchandise.

Displays at home parties tend to be simple. At her parties, Goodine usually sets up in the dining room. The table provides a place to display merchandise, as well as a spot to chat. It’s important to be adaptable in someone else’s home, and not add clutter. “Less is more,” Goodine says. She typically uses the host’s tablecloth as a backdrop, but will set down a neutral one if necessary. If the host has a chandelier, Goodine often hangs necklaces or scarves from it to create an eye-catching centerpiece. She doesn’t bring a lot of display structures, but she does bring mannequins, and small easels for displaying jewelry. She also drapes scarves over chairs. The informal display makes it easy to touch and pick up the products, a definite benefit, says Goodine.

Inventory issues

You’ll bring far more inventory to a farmers’ market than to a home party, as you might meet hundreds of customers at a market. Not every market will offer your business the same sales, of course, but you want to be prepared.

Determining your bread-and-butter items is key. Make an educated guess about what customers will purchase most, based on store sales and the market demographics. Big items don’t sell as well, says Castillow. She sells many beads that people can mix and match to create unique bracelets and necklaces, which keeps them coming back for more.

Remember that your first experience at any given market should be about testing the waters, not berating yourself for not being perfectly prepared. “You have to realize every year you’ll get better, because you can read the crowd better,” Castillow says.

Predicting the type of merchandise your customers at the party will be most interested in is important. Keep your customers’ preferences in mind when packing inventory. Record all your sales, including any specifics about the items you’re selling, like color and size.

Goodine keeps her products fresh at parties so that several months down the road, customers will see a whole new array of merchandise. Customers can mix and match her clothing, jewelry and accessories to create complete outfits, encouraging more sales. She brings a variety of pieces to create a well-rounded selection, which in turn creates a well-rounded impression of her business.

Staying prepared for markets or parties will make your work easier. Goodine keeps a box stocked with order forms, pens, and a calculator. Castillow keeps her market inventory packed in boxes and bags, keeping it in the truck she uses for markets to prevent unnecessary unloading.

As you sell your products through these venues, paying attention to the immediate feedback your customers give you will help you hone your strategies.

Work it

At both markets and parties, your personality is just as important as your display. Bring out your extroverted side and engage your customers in conversation. Developing relationships will keep them coming back. Ask them questions, and tell stories about your products. Stories make your products authentic, and authenticity is what your customers want.

Likewise, demonstrations will engage your audience at markets as well as parties. People are excited to learn how to do something new, like a simple craft. Your merchandise then becomes a conversation piece. Different ways of wearing a scarf would be a good demo to conduct at a home party.

Music and refreshments help create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere at a party. Choose music like jazz or classical that sets the mood without being intrusive. Goodine brings the hostess’ drink of choice as a thank-you gesture.

Dressing in nice but casual clothes for either venue will make you look professional but not overdressed. Wearing your product is key, says Goodine.

Before guests leave a home party, give them literature about how to hold parties, inviting them to contact you about doing so. You might offer free merchandise for the host as an incentive. Invite guests to pass the word along to friends who may want to hold a party as well.

Goodine says she chats with party guests as friends. “The networking is phenomenal,” she says. She makes her parties feel as casual as possible, without pressure to buy. Often she holds a raffle as a fun activity. “Having a good time yourself is important—people will sense whether you’re enjoying socializing with them or focusing on sales. Be their friend. Don’t pressure them,” Goodine says.

This advice works well for gift retail in general: focus on building relationships be it on the road or at home, and the sales are sure to follow.

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