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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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The Sales Potential in Proms and School Dancess

Rich and Georganne interview themselves on a new retail sales opportunity.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (March 15, 2010)

(Note from Kizer & Bender: This article is a blast from the past, but it's a good one. Sometimes we find the best ideas in the most unlikely places. It's almost prom season so you'll be able to put these ideas to use!)

Rich: So Georganne, why don't you tell everyone about your big adventure on Saturday night?

Georganne: Do I have to?

Rich: (laughs) Yes, you have to.

Georganne: I was a chaperone at my son John's high school prom.

Rich: And how did John feel about that? What about you, was it weird?

Georganne: John didn't care; I've been around his friends all of his life. They knew I'd be a pretty lenient chaperone so they were happy to see me. And even though I try and keep up on trends, I felt old and out of it. But I had fun! It's amazing how you can blend in when you're in a crowd. Things have sure changed since we were in high school.

Rich: What do you mean?

Georganne: We looked good in high school but these kids looked great. They were polished in ways we never were. I was talking about this with a new teacher. Her jaw dropped when I told her we didn't have personal hair dryers when I was in high school, unless you were lucky enough to have one of these giant things you sat under, like at the beauty shop. And since I usually see John and his friends in a sports uniform or T-shirt and jeans, it was fun to see them all dressed up.

And it was interesting to see how most of the boys' wore something that coordinated with their dates outfits. The girls were definitely HMU's.

Rich: English, please. What's a HMU?

Georganne: HMU as in High Maintenance Unit. Every girl had been coiffed, manicured, pedicured, accessorized, and dressed to the nines. You know those $600 shoes I've been coveting at the Manolo Blahnik store at the Wynn in Las Vegas? A freshman girl had them on. I said, "Are those Manolo' s?" She said, "Yeah. No. Target. $29.99." I picked up a pair on my way home from the dance.

Rich: So according to how you think, you saved money on that deal, and now you have $570 to spend on something else, right?

Georganne: Right.

Rich: What opportunities for retailers did you think up during your time at the homecoming dance?

Georganne: A lot. I actually took notes! There is big opportunity if and that's a big IF you are willing to take a chance and step outside of your comfort zone.

Rich: Comfort zones are a dangerous thing. Retailing is so competitive, you have to be willing to try new things in your store. Otherwise, you'll look like you're going backwards in a world that's moving a hundred miles an hour into the future. Your competition will leave you in the dust and your customers will leave you behind.

Georganne: Right. So here's where I think adventurous retailers will see opportunity: most scrapbook, craft, and creative retailers have class or crop rooms; why not put that space to a different use for a few days during high school dance season?

Let's take prom, for example. You can host an all day "Primp and Polish" event in your store. Begin by sending invitations (with RSVP cards) to high school cheerleaders, pommies, sports teams, and other club members. Ask your staff to help you come up with this list. You can even ask customers to recommend your event to their friends and families.

If you own a craft or fabric store then, you already sell many of the things I saw at John's prom. And if you don't, you can easily get them for your event.

Rich: What did you see?

Georganne: Tiaras and garters. Boutonnieres, corsages, and wrist corsages made from both fresh and silk flowers. Necklaces and bracelets made from all sorts of beads. Plain dresses that had been embellished with paint, beads, sequins and more. Evening bags that were handmade, or purchased, then personalized with everything imaginable. The boys' ties became a different kind of fashion accessory after the dancing began: they took them off and wore them as headbands. Some of the girls wore them around their waists. And many of the boys' ties were embellished to match their date's dress.

Rich: I bet you saw flip-flops all over the place. According to the Millennials in our focus groups, the high heels stay on long enough for photos, then they are traded for flip-flops: America's favorite shoe. I still can't believe that people pay hundreds of dollars for designer flip-flops.

Georganne: Unless they're smart, then they buy the $3.99 version and embellish them with things from their favorite craft store.

Rich: That's a class I'd hold all year long!

Georganne: Especially during school season. Almost every girl came with her decorated flip-flops in hand. About an hour after the dancing began, I saw heels lined up all along the walls.

Rich: So do you see this in-store event as one similar to a Girls Night Out?

Georganne: Similar, only this involves multiple events and can last for weeks at a time.

The first in-store event would occur a couple of weeks before the school dance. That's when the girls would come in to create and/or embellish their flip-flops, hand bags, make their jewelry and accessories, and personalize their date's tie. If they want to give a keepsake boutonniere or corsage from silk flowers, they can make these too.

Rich: The host retailer should have available a list of things the partygoers can create in their stores, along with project sheets. Give the kids lots of choices and ideas, plus staff to help out. And if you have a small store with a limited staff, you can always ask your customers to help out. We know retailers who do this all the time and the customers are always happy to help.

Georganne: The second in-store event would be on the day of the dance. Invite a couple of beauticians and nail techs to set up shop in the class/crop room. The girls come in with clean hair and leave with a new 'do. You can set appointments: while one girl is getting her pedicure, another can be making her date's boutonniere with fresh or silk flowers. You might even set aside a time when the boys can stop in to make their dates corsage. The ideas are only limited by your imagination! I'd even invite the press in for this event. The local paper will probably send a reporter and a photographer.

Rich: If you have several high schools in your community you could position your store as school dance central. You'll connect with new customers at each event, building business along the way.

Georganne: Yep! And the third event or events would follow the dance. This is where the kids and their parents come in to create their commemorative scrapbooks. You can host a crop for the girls and boys together, the girls alone, even one just for parents. If you talk about this event at each of your other events and give everyone a bounce-back coupon you're sure to fill every available seat. You may even have to host several more crops. Not a bad problem to have!

Rich: And if you give a disposable camera to each person who comes to the first two events, you're planting the seed to come back and scrap. You could even throw in another bounce-back coupon for a free crop later on.

Georganne: The cool thing is that you are introducing your store to customers who didn't even realize that you could provide them with many of the things they need for the big dance.

Rich: And you are offering them a means to exercise their creativity and maybe even save money at the same time. The necklace they had their eye on at the department store may be out of their price range, but you can show them how to personally make a cooler one for less. So find out which dances are being held at your community schools and get to work.

Georganne: These events will take careful planning and brainstorming with your staff, and maybe even some of your Millennials customers. And you may have to buy merchandise that you typically do not sell, but it will be worth it to become your community's school dance headquarters.

Rich: Then keep these customers coming back for more throughout the year with e-mail blasts, bag stuffers, classes, crops, and other ways to keep customers close.

Our new favorite saying is "How much is your store worth? Exactly what you put into it." Expand your comfort zone and try something new. If you are not happy the first go around, tweak it and try again. Start now. Crank up the dance tunes to help set the mood and get to work!

(Note: Rich & Georganne will be the keynote speakers at the NAMTA show, April 15, in Indianapolis. The topic: "Retail Revolution: Straight Forward Solutions for Uncertain Times." For a complete description of educational programming, general trade show information, and online registration, visit www.artmaterialsworld.com/attendee. Pre-registration ends March 15. For more info, visit www.artmaterialsworld.com or call 704-892-6244.

To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

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