Tonight the classic cars cruise into downtown Jackson. The fourth Friday of every month May through September is a Cruise-In. Most every downtown in America has some type of event that closes the streets and draws a lot of traffic. Many malls have special events also designed to draw new traffic.
The key phrase in there is “new traffic.”
DDA’s, Chambers, and other groups organize and host these events for three reasons:
- As a fundraiser
- To draw new traffic to the area
- To make the area seem like a hip and fun place to be
That first reason explains why these events are not always retailer-friendly or in the best interest of you, the downtown business owner. Sure, you might be a downtown restaurant, but they brought in food trucks. Sure you might be a downtown gift shop but they brought in crafter booths. Sure, you might be an expensive luxury store but they brought in a middle income crowd (or vice versa). Those things are bound to happen.
But those other two reasons more than offset the problems of the first if you embrace the event and turn it into farming for new customers.
There are two types of new customers you’ll meet at an event like this:
- People who don’t know you
- People who think they know you
THEY DON’T KNOW YOU
That first group includes out-of-towners, newcomers to town, and people you haven’t yet reached with your marketing efforts. What do they need to know about you to be enticed to come back? What special services or products do you offer that would make someone want to drive to visit you? (Note: if all you can say is, “we’re friendly,” that isn’t enough to make people drive.)
You need to highlight what makes you unique, special and worthwhile.
- Have large signs outside your business that are easily readable telling people about your unique brands they won’t find elsewhere.
- Have large signs outside your business telling people of special services they won’t find at your competitors.
- Put a table outside with the kind of products on it that make people want to cross the street to see.
- Put a table outside with the kind of products on it that make people want to drag their friends over to see.
Put your best, most friendly people out front. Make sure they are fired up about the event and ready to meet new people. Make sure they are well-versed in what makes your store special. Make sure they understand how critical is their mission to make a positive first impression. (Notice how I didn’t say how critical it is to make a sale? Sales are secondary to impressions during an event.)
THEY THINK THEY KNOW YOU
The second group has already formed an opinion (usually negative) about you. Either they’ve previously had a bad experience, or someone they know had a bad experience, or it just might be a perception that because you are an indie business you have to be more expensive.
With this group you have to change their minds if you want to turn them into customers. You have to begin building trust with those people. One of the easiest ways is to use the concept of FREE. It doesn’t have to be FREE product, but just some giving of your time and energy away for free.
- If you are a jewelry store, for instance, you could put out a sandwich board that says “FREE RING CLEANING WHILE YOU WAIT!” Get people in the door, clean and polish their rings while they look at all the fancy display cases, and make them feel more comfortable with your business.
- If you are a shoe store, have a free gait analysis or foot sizing. Show them you really know your stuff when it comes to getting the proper footwear for them.
- If you are a hardware store, have a power tools demonstration. Show people how to safely use different saws, drills, or yard equipment.
- If you are a toy store have a make-and-take demo. Or even easier, give away free helium balloons from inside your store. When kids see other kids with helium balloons, parents will ask where they got those balloons.
- If you are a restaurant, set up an appetizer or quick-bite stand outside. Serve only your best stuff. Give away tastes for free or a stupidly small fee. Set up some outside seating, too, for people who want to hang out and watch the other people at the event. (If it is a family-friendly event, put out a special family-friendly menu.)
- If you are a clothing store, have a fashion show in front of your store. (Use local celebrities or kids from the high school sports teams as your models for added excitement.)
- If you are a comic book store, have a comic swap, a drawing contest, or a photo op with one of your best cardboard cutouts.
Be creative, understanding that you are trying to make a positive first impression on a crowd of “new traffic.”
WHAT NOT TO DO
- Don’t be closed. No matter what your normal hours, be open for the event. This will be the cheapest form of marketing and advertising you will get all year because the event organizers are paying all the money to draw the crowd.
- Don’t put out a table of just your clearance stuff. Your tired, worn-out, dead merchandise is not the best first impression you can make.
- Don’t be open, but do nothing. More people switch from their favorite stores because of perceived apathy than any other reason.
- Don’t give away coupons and discounts just to try to make sales during the event. You’ll only attract a small handful of transactional customers who won’t spend much, and likely won’t be back until the next offer.
If you are going to give away anything to get customers in the store, give out gift certificates that are only redeemable after the event. If you give out gift certificates redeemable during the event, people will only spend the minimum. If you give them out to be used later, not as many will be redeemed, but the ones that are redeemed will be for a much higher ticket, and you’ll have a much better chance of winning them over with your excellent customer service. People at an event are not necessarily there to shop. Get them back in the store when they are ready to shop and the promo will be far more productive.
A lot of businesses will give away free food like popcorn, bottled water, or cookies during an event to draw customers through the door. It is effective for getting people in the store, but you need to do some of the other stuff listed above to get them to want to come back.
Remember that these events are not about today’s sales. They are marketing events designed to farm for new customers for future sales. Make that awesome first impression and the events will pay off in the long run.
PS The worst is when the event is taking place downtown, but not on your street. The event may only physically close one block, but perceptually it closes all of downtown to your regular traffic. Unfortunately, since you aren’t in the one block, you don’t get the benefit of the new traffic. If this is your situation, you have two options. First, petition the organizers to have a free booth at the event. Go mobile and make it the kind of booth that drives people to your booth and also to your store. Second, if you can’t have a booth, send people up and down the street with tons of helium balloons and gift certificates that encourage the event attendees to visit you later.