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What can small town businesses do when big events come downtown and require the streets to be closed? Webster City, Iowa, is on the route of a cross-state bicycle ride that draws about 25,000 people. Maybe 8,000 people will get off their bikes in Webster City to eat and enjoy entertainment. Because they are traveling on bikes, they probably won’t do much shopping.
The number one complaint from businesses, according to Chamber Director Deb Brown, is that this leaves nowhere in front of the stores for regular local customers to park. It also means that the streets will be full of people that are probably not going to shop. Deb made some smart suggestions to local stores that I want to build on. What can small town retailers do during such big events?
1. Sell them something to consume on the spot.
Food and beverages. Massages. Jewelry they can wear now. Hats. Sunblock. Anything they could purchase and wear or use right away. Include activities or hands-on games people can play on the spot.
2. Ship it for them.
Let people purchase items with free shipping. Bicycle visitors will especially appreciate this, but it applies also to any event-goers who don’t want to be saddled with carrying large or heavy items. Then there are your other visitors who are going home by air. They won’t want to cram purchases into their carry-on bags. Really, I think free shipping helps sales of all kinds of items all the time.
3. Put your merchandise to work at the event.
Dress volunteers with your clothes or outfit participants with your accessories. Add a name tag with your store name and location. Now, take this a step further and make instant sales. Add an explanation and QR code that customers can scan with their phone to go straight to your online checkout basket for that item or outfit. They see the items, want them, scan the code, go straight to your online shopping cart already filled with the items they saw. They check out and buy it from you online, and you ship it to them. You could do this with clothes, gear, accessories, anything that people might see in use at an event or anything you might be displaying.
4. Don’t try to make a sale. Make a connection.
If you focus on making a connection, you can layer your way into a sale. Your goal is to give them a powerful reason to join your email list, and then deliver a valuable email regularly, building a relationship with them. So you have to provide a newsletter that benefits the reader, and you have to explain the benefit before shoppers will sign up. Your reward is a chance to earn their business in the future. Not sure what to say in your email newsletter? Here are tips to get started with emailing your customers.
Remember, this article was originally part of my newsletter for my business. It’s part of how I layer useful information for you and other rural people. Sign up for it on the Positive View of Rural Newsletter signup form.
5. Get involved.
Just having thousands of people in town is good whether you make a sale today or not. Your town will be more prosperous. When your town prospers, you’ll benefit down the road. So volunteer today to help make the event an overall success.
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Becky McCray says
Al Jones sent this comment by email:
Good points and it’s a big problem. Running aggressive sales and really blowing out old or slow-moving merchandise at last helps too. The sneaky factor you didn’t mention and everyone seems overlook is that people need to use restrooms frequently and these sorts of events ignore that or have vastly less capacity than is needed. Eight times a day is typical for urination and 2-3 times for a bowel movement so the likelihood most of the crowd will need to “go” during the event is dead certain. Many central business districts have no public or at least visible restrooms at all, the assumption that visitors have iron bladders and very short visits apparently.
So offering your customer or employee restrooms to the public (with a sign) draws a ton of people in for the cost of toilet paper, paper towels, and hand soap…people deeply grateful (except for the jerks) who spend a considerable amount of time deep in your store in line to the lavatory…a real shopping stimulant as well.
Free ice water is a classic tool from Wall Drug’s phenomenal success in drawing motorists otherwise passing by, it’s amazing how many stores forget they have big thermos jugs etc. sitting at home in their garage for picnics that would serve quite well.
For some events getting residents to consider renting out their spare bedrooms to visitors or competitors drastically increases the capacity of the town (and tourists spend the most dollars where they sleep that night, i.e. dinner, breakfast, shopping, entertainment) although you’d think from most of these events that selling a few extra lunches is the primary goal. The residents pick up some extra cash, meet new people, are directly engaged in the event, and the town may pick up hundreds of overnight stays as most small towns have very few motel rooms. AirBNB makes this especially feasible as does letting the event coordinator know who has rooms or whole houses for rent with rates and contact info.
Great points, as always, Al. Thanks for sharing some additional ways to make the most of special events.