Reader Dave Tucci sent in this terrific question that you may identify with:
Here in our small town Unionville, Ontario, Canada, (pop 9000) we have a free concert night every Thursday night from 7:30 to 9pm. We have awesome cover bands like Elton Rohn, Hotel California, Absolute Journey and many more. We draw crowds in the thousands for this free event.
However as a small business owner, it is frustrating because people aren’t here to shop! They will bring a lawn chair, set up, enjoy the free show, then immediately go home.
How can we capture the crowds of people and convert them into sales?? I was thinking about doing a street wide sidewalk sale on those nights?
When I visited another small town, Lake Arrowhead, California, (pop 12,000) the merchants talked about this exact issue. They have a summer concert series with terrific cover bands drawing great crowds who aren’t there to shop.
I remember the merchants coming up with clever ideas for quick-change displays they could roll out during concerts with special items people did need: water, sunblock, hats, etc. They also talked about building a community feeling and encouraging people to come early just to hang out.
I also believe I would try to find innovative and easy ways for people to find out what I offer, even if it’s not what they are shopping for right then. How can I get them on my email or text message marketing list?
Leslie McLellan is from Lake Arrowhead and has worked with merchants there for decades. I asked her to offer her insights. Here are Leslie’s comments:
As background, at Lake Arrowhead we have been offering a free summer concert series on Friday and Saturday nights from mid-May thru Labor Day since 2003. We do tribute bands, just like your community, and get thousands each night. I was a founder of the concert series so here is what I have found over the past 14 years:
- No matter what you do, the people are not there to shop – they are there for the free concert and that is that. What you can do is help merchants get the word out about what they offer before the concert and during intermission i.e. – we have one of those guns that will shoot t-shirts and we put merchants’ coupons/offers inside the rubber banded rolled up t-shirts, we also have coupons/info at the beer garden, the MC does announce various store’s messages, but no one really listens.
- The stores that do stay open after the concerts get some business as our concerts end about 8:45 pm and people love to wander around after the music is done. Generally our stores close about 7pm. Our concerts are from 6:30 -8:45 pm.
- Before the concert starts we do let people know where hats and sunscreen can be purchased should they need those items. We have tried fashion shows and the like at intermission, but no one pays attention.
- We have a “The Village is Your Downtown” program (that we started after Becky came to visit with us) where we encourage our locals to come and shop any time, and then to come and enjoy our concerts in the evening.
- We have tried sidewalk sales, shopping passports, you name it on concert nights. Nothing works.
- SERIOUSLY – we have tried everything you can imagine over the past 14 years to get people to shop on concert evenings and the best thing is to realize that that is not going to happen. We make sure we get the word out about what our merchants have going on via our Facebook page and weekly ads in the local newspaper that let people know all that is available in our village.
We did start a Second Sunday Block Party this summer on Sunday afternoons where we have local bands play from noon until 3pm, families come and picnic and shop a bit. We do it once a month on the second Sunday of the month. It’s gained some good traction, it’s something we will continue doing next summer and see if it will continue to grow.
My best advice:
- give the merchants a place that they can put their offers out at the concert venue,
- encourage concert goers to check out the offers,
- invite the crowd to come back and shop at a later date,
- make note of the stores that will stay open after the concert for those that wish to enjoy downtown,
- and then let the concert begin.
Lake Arrowhead continues to offer their free concerts, and they’ve incorporated their “The Village is Your Downtown” slogan into the concert backdrop. With 52 concerts and 2500 to 5000 people per concert and the slogan showing up in all their photos, that’s a lot of publicity for their campaign to connect with their locals and visitors and bring them back to shop another day.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.