A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
Retail Is in the Details: How
To Plan Extraordinary Events
Planning, planning, and more
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (February 7, 2011)
To be a successful retailer today, you have to do
more than just sell "stuff" – you must create an experience that
touches customers' hearts and minds as well as their wallets. You
can exist by running an occasional sale, and maybe an event or two
throughout the year, or you can thrive using Shoppertainment –
in-store events and promotions – to connect with your customers.
You need to plan for two kinds of in-store events:
Major and Minor. We believe you need to host one major in-store
event and two to three minor events each month. A major event is one
that builds traffic and packs your store with customers. Don't
confuse a major event with something that takes a long time to plan.
A class or fashion show can be a major undertaking, but it's not a
major event unless it attracts potential customers who come to watch
and buy something while they're there. A minor event might be a
Saturday full of make-it/take-its, demonstrations, and mini-classes.
Minor events draw customers to your store, but should not take a lot
of time to plan or implement. If the concept of events and
promotions is new to you, then begin by running one major event and
one minor event for each month of the year. If you’re already
running events on a regular basis, you can add as many as you are
Begin your planning process by scheduling
a brainstorming session with store associates to gather ideas. In a
brainstorming session there are no bad ideas, and no one gets to
say, "We can’t do that."; "That won’t work."; or our favorite,
"That’s a really stupid idea." There are no stupid ideas – that
off-the-wall comment could be your next big claim to fame when an
associate puts a new spin on the idea or combines it with another
Start Your Pencils!
Planning a successful retail event is like planning a
wedding or any other major party: you have to dot the I's and cross
the T's. You’ll want to answer each of the following questions for
1. Will this event attract
customers who already know and love your store?
2. Will this event bring
new customers to your store? Will the new customers it attracts be
the kind of customers you want to shop in your store? This is not a
trick question. Say, for example, your event includes a chance to
win a $500 shopping spree and you open your doors to find people who
are not typically your customers, and are not likely to be in the
future. What good will that store full of people do for you? Instead
plan your events to attract the poor misinformed people who need
what you sell but tend to shop at your competitors' stores.
3. What will you do for the
new customers to entice them to return? Bounce Back Coupons that
bring them back again next week are always a good idea. Loyal
customers love them, too.
4. What will this event do
for your store's reputation? We know a retailer with a 1,700 sq.
ft. store who sent a fabulous offer to 3,000 customers with this
one, tiny stipulation: You must be present to win; 3,000 people
trying to get into a 1700-sq.-ft. store at the same time? You do the
5. Can you handle the
increased traffic? Ask Wal-Mart about this one. When 6,000 people
showed up to meet pop princess Jessica Simpson, how easy was it for
new moms who shop there each week to run in and buy diapers?
Now, let's look at what has to happen to make your
event a success, this includes choosing dates, assigning tasks, and
scheduling deadlines. Create a Master Plan for each event which
details who will be in charge of each task, what needs to be done,
and when it needs to be done. Here's a list to help you get started:
Three to Four Months Before
1. Send solicitation
letters to vendors requesting merchandise for prizes and giveaways
(many have budgets just for this purpose, so ask!). Ask if they’ll
help with make-it/take-its, demos, and classes. Drop us an e-mail
and we’ll send you vendor solicitation letter and thank-you letter
templates you can customize.
2. If you're short on
staff, ask vendors, local clubs, and your best customers if they'd
like to help out on event day.
3. Begin work on your ad
campaign. Will you use newspaper, radio, television, direct mail, or
e-mail blasts to back up your bag stuffers, signage, and other
in-store advertising? Have your graphic artist (Code for a
Millennial staffer) or marketing person begin working on the ads.
4. Review your paperwork to
see if there are any special products or additional items you need
to order for the event.
5. Choose and schedule
entertainment. Keep your theme in mind. You might hire a string
ensemble for a more formal party or a DJ for a fun, family event.
Local high school choirs are usually willing to perform in return
for a small gift – one retailer we know donated material for
costumes and props.
Two Months Before
1. From this point on, meet
with key staff members each week to review tasks and to make sure
that everyone is on schedule.
2. Follow up with vendors,
instructors, and demonstrators. Confirm date and time, and arrange
for any special needs (electrical, merchandise, etc.).
3. Follow up with your
entertainment. Again, confirm the date and arrange for any special
needs (risers, electrical outlets, etc.).
4. If you're having the
event professionally catered, now is the time to schedule the
delivery and servers. If it’s a holiday event, play it safe and book
One Month Before
1. If you plan to run
additional ads to announce your event, schedule them now. Draw a
schematic of your sales floor, noting where to set the refreshments,
demonstration areas, entertainment, etc.
2. If this is to be an
invitation only event, now is the time to create your invitations.
Be sure the invitation encourages customers to bring their friends
-- the more, the merrier!
3. If you want to draw a
larger crowd, invite the general public using Bag Stuffers. Don’t
let the name confuse you! The secret to successful bag stuffers
lies in how you distribute them. If you pre-stuff them into bags,
you’re just wasting paper. Instead, instruct associates to talk with
customers about the event, personally placing the bag stuffer in the
customer’s hand -- it’s like a free 30-second ad. And what's the
cost of distribution? Nada.
Two Weeks Before
1. Time to kick things into
high gear! Meet with key personnel to review all aspects of the
event, and to make sure everything is on schedule. If things aren't
progressing as planned, you still have time to make changes.
2. At this point, your
invitations should be printed and ready to go -- it’s time to mail
them out. It's also time to begin distributing bag stuffers.
One Week Before
1. Seven days ‘til show
time! Build a buzz about town with press releases announcing your
event. Make sure you cover all local media outlets. Need help?
E-mail us for a copy of "How To Write Press Releases That Get
2. Prepare a list of
in-store specials and events (e.g., grand-prize drawing at 7:00 pm,
demo #1 at 7:15 pm).
3. Talk up your event on
your voice mail or answering machine message.
4. Verify that vendors and
instructors are set for their demonstrations. Check to be sure you
have all the product and supplies they will need.
5. Verify that the
entertainment is set for event day. You'll want them to be in the
store, and ready to roll, the moment you unlock the front door.
6. Double check your
refreshment order. You know our motto: Food is Good!
The Day Before
1. Less than 24 hours to
go! Recheck your Master Plan to verify that all tasks have been
2. Finalize your floor
plan. Move what has to be moved, and rearrange what has to be
rearranged. Set up all tables and risers, making sure extension
cords reach to where they need to go.
3. Hang all the signing and
place all the decorations before you leave for the night -- get the
big stuff ready so that tomorrow all you have to worry about are
1. Schedule a pre-opening
breakfast meeting with your staff to review everything that will
take place during the day. Make sure that everyone knows what will
be happening in the store and what is required of them.
2. Give everyone a copy of
the in-store specials, demos, and drawings. Place copies at the cash
wrap, cutting tables, etc. -- even the bathrooms.
3. Greet your guests at the
door. Invite everyone sign a guest book – this stealth marketing
trick will ensure that you have names, addresses, e-mail addresses,
etc. for future events.
4. Take lots of
5. Have fun!
After Your Event
1. Schedule a staff meeting
to review your event, noting what went well, what didn't, and what
you will want to incorporate in your next event. Give each associate
an evaluation to fill out -- your team’s candid input is critical to
2. Record the total sales,
customer count, type of advertising, number of associates, vendors,
even the weather for the day. Keep this on file to review if you
choose to make this an annual event. (Annual events are a good thing
because customers look forward to them all year.)
3. Send follow-up press
releases to media -- you want to let people know what they missed.
Be sure to Include photos -- newspapers love photos.
4. Send a personal
thank-you letter to the vendors, instructors, customers, etc. who
helped out. Letters, not e-mails. And don’t forget to thank your
The time you spend planning your in-store events is
as important as the event itself -- it's probably more important.
Building a solid promotional calendar, and then bringing each event
to life, is not an easy task. It takes creativity and dedication and
sometimes sheer will power, but it’s always worth your effort. If
the task seems overwhelming or you’d just like to talk events, give
us a call. We'll be happy to help you exercise a little crowd
K&B At the Yarn Market News Retail
Rich and Geoganne will lead a seminar, "The Crackle Factor: Taking
Your Business Off Auto Pilot" at the annual Retail Conference
sponsored by Yarn Market News. The conference is Mar. 13-15
in Portland, OR. For info, visit
(Note: Meetings & Conventions
magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their
favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the
list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka,
Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin
Powell, and others.
To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand
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