Small Shops Join Forces – Unite for a Festival

You’re a small store owner and you want to improve your bottom line. If you’re in a shopping center, look around. Each store in your vicinity has a group of people who regularly frequent their store. In smaller shopping centers, it is far more likely to have a customer park, go into one store, and then return to their car and leave. How can you change that?

Small business owners unite!

Join forces with the other stores in your areal. It doesn’t matter if you are all of differing businesses. If you can present a united front to the public you will all benefit from the joint effort. Even if you work next door to one another, you might have been so busy getting your business going that you really didn’t take the time to introduce yourself to your shop neighbors.

Go in and introduce yourself. Share a little bit about you and what you do. Ask a few questions about what your neighbor does and see if they might be interested in creating a shopping center group where you work together a few times a year on a project designed to bring people into the shopping center for an event that will benefit everyone.

One really great idea is to do an outreach in your neighborhood. Do something that might benefit the people of the neighborhood, or a nearby school. This helps to cement the idea of community and creates a sense of belonging both for your neighborhood as well as for the other shopkeepers in your center.

When you join forces, when you unite, obviously someone is going to have to be in charge. If you’re one who is reading this, it is probably going to be up to you. Or, if you can identify someone who has a really gregarious personality and is engaging and is able to work well with other people, is fairly well organized, that is the person you want to head this kind of a group.

The idea is to make friends with the other businesses. Unless you’re selling exactly the same product, which you probably aren’t, being in the same shopping center, you might actually do better by having a great big event. Something that we used to do is ti have summer Friday Festivals. We would have a small up and coming band who was willing to donate their time, or maybe take up a collection and give them $50 and they’d play for three hours. You set them up outside if the weather is good enough. Inclement weather usually shut down the event.

Some people could provide popcorn, hotdogs, sodas, clowns, face painting. Each participating store needs to be open. What would be a good idea would be for each store to have some kind of a special going on that night only. The idea is, it is advertised as a Friday Fiesta or Friday Festival. You stay open a little bit later on a Friday night and during the summer more and more people are actually able to spend a little bit more time. They aren’t in a rush to get home, get dinner, so they can prepare for school and work the next day.

Many times, Friday evenings are a good time to have this special event in your shopping center. Advertise it. Hire a kid to pass out flyers in the nearby neighborhood. There are a number of ways to get the word out, but by uniting your forces, you expand the event. If only one single store were to have a special on one Friday night, that store would be able to bring in a few of its very best customers and would have a halfway decent night because your very best customers came on one of the Friday Fiestas. But, if you relied only on those really great customers, after awhile, the number of people coming on those Friday nights would diminish.

But, by having a united event in your shopping center, you’re going to tap into everyone else’s good customer list as well. If you have enough going on, if you have a good enough reason for people to come to your event, they’re going to tell their neighbor, their sister.

They’ll say things like, “Hey, do you want to go to a Friday Fiesta at the shopping center tonight? I went last week and got a great deal on this __________.” Fill in the blank. Word of mouth advertising is your very best, so the events have to be good!

Many small shops believe that they have to go it alone and there is strength in numbers and by uniting forces, you can have a really great event and a really successful event.

K Birmingham

Hosting a Holiday Open House – Give Them a Gift

What you want to do is focus on that holiday and focus on what the needs of your customers are. Whatever your business is, particularly if you’re a retail business, you will want to provide something of value to your customers; specifically, ones that you’re marketing to directly. These customers are the ones you want to retain. These are your most important customers. These are the ones who have been with you for a period of time, hopefully for years.

A Holiday Open House needs to be an event that your customers want to come to. They won’t want to miss it. They will want to participate and they want whatever it is that you’re giving away.

Yes, I said, give something away.

People like to get a gift. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It could be a small votive candle, or a small bag of candy. It could be napkin rings, or something that goes along with the theme of your store and can buy in bulk. I highly advise against always making it an advertising gimmick. People get tired of just getting a pencil or a calendar with your name on it. They all know it is advertising. For once, they’d like to be treated as someone special, not as someone you’re marketing to.

You want the gift to be something that people are willing to come in and get. You can make it, you can buy it. What matters is that it is something special. It’s even better if you go the extra mile and get inexpensive cellophane gift bags and wrap them up like gifts. People feel even more special when you present this to them because not only is it free, but it looks and feels like an actual gift.

People don’t forget being made to feel special

With the Holiday Open House you want to provide an opportunity for people to purchase for other people. You may have certain gifts that are obviously a gift, like a hostess gift that is already gift-wrapped. Have the samples out and on the display table so that they can choose whichever one they want, but then you have the rest of the merchandise already beautifully gift wrapped and all they have to do is pick it up.

This is especially effective particularly around the holiday time, at Thanksgiving when people often visit someone’s home, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, Easter, Mother’s Day, 4th of July. These holidays are times when people often visit at one another’s homes and bringing a beautifully wrapped hostess gift is most welcome.

Here’s a tip. People actually enjoy getting a gift rather than always getting their gifts placed in a gift bag. So, if the item lends itself to being wrapped pretty easily, then wrap it and add a small bit of ornamentation to it to dress it up a bit.

One year we had a few sets of small cheese plates and a spreader. It wasn’t terribly expensive. There were several styles. Some were a little more expanded sets that had cocktail napkins that would be perfect for an impromptu cocktail party. They were beautifully wrapped. They were in a box, so wrapping them in holiday paper was especially easy. We chose a beautiful blue paper and added a glittery plastic snowflake as an ornament on the ribbon that way we didn’t have to have both Christmas and Hanukkah paper. We just used neutral “winter” paper and ribbon and they literally flew out the door.

Giving a gift to your customers during a Holiday Open House and having pre-wrapped gifts available to them sets the tone for “customer service” that they won’t forget. They’ll be back every time because you’ve made them feel very special.

K Birmingham

Hosting a Holiday Open House – Sample Your Wares

Hosting a Holiday Open House at your shop can net you one of your biggest sales days of the year. Consider having one each quarter. Come up with ideas that make sense for your shop. Obviously we have a Holiday Open House as soon as we’ve decorated the shop for Christmas. We have one in the spring near Easter, one for Mother’s Day because 99.9% of our customers are women, and a fourth one late in the summer to celebrate the date we opened. We call that one our Anniversary Open House.

Our customers love, love, love our open houses. We treat them like guests and make them feel special.

During your Holiday Open Houses you have the opportunity for your customers to sample your wares, particularly if you have foods that you sell.

We carry scone mixes, cheeseballs mixes, teas, chocolate, coffee, and cider drink mixes, etc. We sell cookbooks. During our holiday open houses we would make a selection of foods and drinks based on our products, on our cookbooks. A number of things that we would have to nibble on throughout the shop were cheesy, easy things. Pretzels dipped in chocolate, M&M’s, small trays of cookies etc. were things we would use to augment everything, but it was essential to allow customers to sample our wares.

When sampling your wares, make it very obvious what they are tasting. Set up a display of those items in that sampling area. When we had customers come in who we know have never purchased one of these items, we try to get them to just have a taste of it. Many times all they had to do is taste it and they change their mind about what they think about it. Get them to realize that this will make their life so much easier at their next party.

Make sure that your staff has tasted everything that you are serving as well. They need to be able to talk knowledgeably about it and give recommendations for how that can be served and how it would make your customer’s life easier at a specific event. “For holiday entertaining it is really nice to be able to just open this up, add two ingredients and you have the most unique and delicious appetizer or dessert. I don’t have a party without serving these.” These are the kinds of things your staff needs to be able to say.

Above all, your customers need to feel as though they have been invited to something special, and when they come in they need to be greeted that way as well. Make sure you have enough staff on hand to help people find items, talk to them about what you’re serving, and above all make sure you can check them out quickly. Most people are quite willing to wait when they know they’re getting something special.

By treating your customers as honored guests at a Holiday Open House, you guarantee that they will return every single time you host one.

How to Get People to Your Business Open House

When you have an open house, the idea is to get people to come and share whatever it is you have to share.

The problem is getting people to actually come.

The trick is evaluating what you have to offer and matching that with what people expect to get if they take the time to come to your business open house.

Here are a few tips to help you plan an open house that will be more successful than all your previous attempts. Consider what you want from an open house, and then consider what your client/customer wants from an open house.

As A Business: You want people to come to your open house to spend money. Perhaps you have new merchandise that you want to share with your customers. It could be that the holiday season is coming up and you want to get people to consider spending money with you, so you want them to come to your store and get a preview of upcoming attractions. Don’t forget, you must advertise this event.

As A Customer/Client: An open house is a time for you to visit a business and find out what they have to offer that you might be interested in, without a whole lot of pressure to buy. If they can show you how their new product is going to help you, you’ll be interested in making a purchase, otherwise, you just want to have a little fun, enjoy some free food and beverage, and maybe talk to other people who are there for the same reason. A client can’t come if they don’t know about the event.

Ideally, an open house will satisfy the primary concern for both the customer and the business. As a business, you have something to sell, as a customer, you might want to buy it. This is the good part.

How do you let your customer know that you have something new for them to evaluate? Do you call them up? Do you send them an email? Do you send them an announcement through the mail?

How do you communicate with your customers?

The very best way to communicate with your customers is determined by testing. One business I know always sends out postcards for their open house events. They never have more than four a year, so the customers know that when that card comes in the mail, it is special, it is for a limited time, and most of them want to come, otherwise they would not be on the mailing list. They also make sure their postcards always have a “branded” look to them. That way when they arrive in the mail, they don’t look like the rest of the “junk” mail that your customers usually get in their mailbox.

I am assuming you have a mailing list and that it is current. Your list is your business. Never forget that!

Did you see the next part under the customer? They want little to no pressure to buy. They want to be courted. They want to have something to look forward to. Having food and beverage at an open house is a really good idea. A lot of people will just eat and leave, but those who really want to be there will respond to the food in a very positive way. It doesn’t have to be fancy. They just need to be made to feel special.

Finally, deliver on your promise. You promised that your open house was going to be something special. Some businesses give away gifts at an open house. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but customers/clients like to be made to feel special. You hand it to them personally. You thank them for coming in. You meet their eye. Don’t look at your customers merely as dollar signs. When you do, they’ll sense it and move on to someone who values them as something more.

Getting people to come to your business open house often takes a few tries. You’ll soon figure out what works and what doesn’t. Test, test, test. Keep what works. Discard what doesn’t work. A business open house can be a really good marriage between customer and business.

Kathleen Birmingham