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Are You Joining In or Shutting Down?

You’re a retailer in the middle block of a three-block-long shopping neighborhood. The shops on the two outer blocks think it would be great to hold a street festival to draw traffic into the area. They want to close off your block and have food tents and other activities in the middle of the road, effectively cutting off all your regular traffic. Are you excited or pissed?

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(photo courtesy MLive)

When we had street festivals downtown some of our retailers were behind these events all the way. They planned special activities in their stores, put sandwich boards out front, propped the doors wide open, and celebrated.

Others quietly cursed the events, believing that the event traffic wasn’t going to stop in their store no matter what they did, and since most events were on the weekend, it was going to kill their regular Saturday crowd. Imagine if someone told you they were going to shut you down on your best day of the week, “to draw traffic to your area.” Yeah, it would be hard to support that.

I get both of those reactions. They are both valid and understandable. They are also both expensive and exhausting.

If you embrace the day, you’re adding staff, adding work, spending more time planning and prepping, and doing extra stuff to make the day a success. You’re spending more hoping to make it up with an increase in sales. At the end of the day you’re exhausted.

If you shut down, avoid the hassles, and just take your losses, you lament the lost sales, curse the event organizers, and turn bitter. At the end of the day you’re exhausted.

Either way, your bottom line didn’t likely change much. Either you spent a lot to have a great day or cut expenses to offset lost sales.

In the long term, however, your approach to these events does have a huge impact on the bottom line. Embrace the events and your bottom line goes up over the long term. Ignore them and it goes down.

Sure, Saturdays are big days for retail. If your experience has been that these street festivals and events shut your Saturdays down, you need to rethink how you are working them. You need to rethink what these events are for.

The event organizers plan these events, “to draw traffic to the area.” New traffic. Traffic that might not have come down before. Traffic that needs something more than your shop’s feeble advertising to get them into the neighborhood. Traffic that doesn’t (yet) know you.

You get to use these events to make a first impression on all this new traffic.

The impression you make won’t necessarily translate into sales that day, but it will impact whether those people come back some other day. If you embrace the event and make your store shine, people will remember and come back. If you close your doors and silently curse the event, people will remember that, too.

You will make a first impression no matter what you do.

Your brand is simply your reputation. Roy H. Williams says, “Your brand is every single interaction a customer has with your business, plus how they feel about it.” No matter what your slogans and sayings and advertising and color schemes, if you’re closed and/or uninviting during an event, people will remember and they will have feelings associated with that memory.

Remember, too, that these events make the difference between your shopping area being known as a boring, unimpressive place to not go or a hopping, hip, fun place to go. Is it worth losing a few Saturdays here and there to give you the chance to farm for new customers and give your shopping district a better reputation? Damn right it is!

You’ll be exhausted either way. Might as well be exhausted for the way that leads to better sales down the road and doesn’t make your bitter.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If all the businesses shut down in the area where the event is happening, you defeat the whole purpose of the event and no one wins. If you’re the one who shuts down because it isn’t good for you, you make it less effective for your neighbor. All boats rise with the tide. If your neighbor starts drawing more traffic, you’ll see a bump, too. You all owe it to each other to embrace the events and make them work for everyone. (And if you don’t like the events being planned, join the committee and start changing those events from within.)

PPS Tomorrow I’ll give you a list of ideas for how to farm for those new customers at an event and get them back in your store later.

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