It’s Showtime!

By John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.

It is time to create a stir.  Some excitement.  Some passion.  Go ahead, pound your chest a bit.  It is time to make yourself known.  It’s Showtime!

All too often, store operators – after their grand opening—sit back and wait for the phone to ring or a customer to wander into the store.  Slowly, over time, their store sales begin a long erosion.  It is time to get proactive and generate excitement at your store to drive traffic.  It is time to create a store event.

Staging events or promotional activities at your store is critical to continually create interest in what is going on at the store.  Your store was top-dog when it opened, but now that other retail establishments have opened as well to minimize your thunder, it is up to you to jazz it up a bit.  While these events may vary wildly depending on the type of retail – the premise is the same:  Creating excitement and enticement to visit your store location is critical!

Here are a few idea-starters to get on your way to Showtime!

Create A “Call-To-Action” With Giveaways:  You may “eat, breathe and sleep” your store every day, but your customers don’t feel the same way.  Come to grips with this reality and create a sense of urgency for your customers.  If you don’t take the lead, who will?  Pick a day and time and stage a “First 50 Get A Special Offer” sale.  It is important to make the offer compelling, in order to have a crowd at your door before you open.  

Mascots Attract Kids:  What’s the best way to attract the van-driving mom and her kids?  Schedule a mascot at your store.  If the kids want to see SpongeBob SquarePants®, they will beg mom to take them to the store.  The local sports team mascot, vendor mascots (think Twinkie-the-Kid®) and other cartoon characters can be an affordable attraction to generate store traffic.

Live Entertainment:  If money were no object, booking U2 at your store would surely drive traffic.  But, since you are not Madison Square Garden, the local magician or high school jazz band may provide enough of a local draw to your store.  Over time, your store may be an enjoyable venue for aspiring artists that are community-based.  Depending on how you are able to promote this, these live acts may serve as not only an attraction to your store, but also serve as an added benefit to your atmosphere while customers shop.

Throw A Party:  Host an after-hours gathering for your employees and their friends/relatives that offer “club” specials to all in attendance.  This type of “club” pricing and shopping could be expanded to select local companies, age groups – i.e., “senior night” – or even an event promoting singles.  Many customers will flock to places that attract those of the same feather, so “batching” like shoppers in groups enable you to create a stir.

Book A Celebrity:  Much like the attractiveness of club shopping, booking a local celebrity guest for an event at your store is a fantastic way to attract specific fan groups.  Most stores may not be able to afford professional athletes or actors, but there are other local celebrities that can attract as much attention to your store as a national celebrity.  Many customers like the local flair and television news anchors or local authors are an excellent fit.

Hold An Open House:  As suggested in Gray Cat’s Grand Opening for Retailers Manual, holding a VIP party the night before your store opening is a powerful way to engage your community.  Invite prominent city officials and the press for your first anniversary is an even better idea.  This is a terrific way to tell the community that your store survived the first year and you are celebrating with the people that made it happen.  Engage the movers and shakers and have them cascade your story throughout their constituencies.

Daily Specials:  Every store has a slow day of the week.  Your store still has to open and has baked-in operating costs to the day – you need to offset these costs with a sales-driver.  Pick the slowest day of the week — then hold a one-day sale to move top-line sales.  Driving the top-line is the only way you can get closer to a break-even for the daily operating costs.

Creating a “buzz” at the store is all about being proactive with your efforts.  I am amazed at how operators will think nothing of spending $250K or more on the build-out of a store, but balk at the cost of a $200 mascot to attract customers.  Driving top-line sales requires some investment but as importantly, proactive involvement.  If you want enthusiastic customers to come back again and again, you have to entertain them.  Remember, it’s Showtime!

John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries.  With more than 20 years of senior-level  experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.

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