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

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Retail Is in the Details: How To Plan Extraordinary Events

Planning, planning, and more planning.

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 comfortable adding.

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 one.

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 each event:

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 math.

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 early.

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 Noticed."

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 completed.

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 last-minute touch-ups.

Show Time!

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 photographs.

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 future events.

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 staff.

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 control!

K&B At the Yarn Market News Retail Conference

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 www.yarnmarketnews.com.

(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 column.)

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

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