Providing an awesome customer experience is critical to retail success, especially in an age where customers can shop using the web or their mobile devices. In order to truly engage the modern consumer offline, retailers must offer experiential in-store visits that shoppers can’t get when they’re browsing the web or tapping on their phone.
One way of doing this is by hosting events. When done right, this strategy can draw people into your store, increase awareness, and even generate sales. If you’re thinking about throwing one for your store, check out the steps outlined below. We’ve put together insights and words of wisdom from merchants and retail experts to help ensure that your next in-store event is a hit:
Planning and preparation
Select the perfect type of event
What type of event should you host? To answer that, you must first turn to your customers. Who do you cater to? What types of activities do they enjoy? Address these questions first to get a general idea of what type of event would work for your store.
On top of that, here are other factors to consider when deciding on an in-store event:
Historical information – Look to past in-store events that you’ve organized. Which ones were a hit and which ones didn’t gain much steam? Needless to say, you should stick to the types that proved to be successful.
Don’t have a lot of experience hosting events? That’s ok. Take notes and treat it as a learning experience. Consider Flourish Boutique, an apparel store in Granger, IN. According to shop owner Vanessa Cooreman Smith, event-hosting for them was initially a trial and error process, and they had to throw a number of functions before figuring out what works for their store.
“Now we have it down to a science,” says Smith, and today, Flourish Boutique is always on top of launching events that keep people coming back.
Competition – Do some research on your competitors and see if they’ve thrown any events in their store. Figure out what made them successful and find ways to incorporate those elements into your own functions.
Time of year – Take into consideration the season or time of year when you’re planning to run the event. If you’re throwing it in February for example, you may want to incorporate Valentine’s Day. Having an event later in the year? Consider a holiday theme.
Deal with your finances early in the game
Figure out your finances early on. The last thing you want is to overspend on the event or run out of funds when you’re about to launch. Think about what you’ll need to host a successful function, including inventory, staff, fixtures, marketing materials and more. Take note of the prices of the required products and services, total the amount, then add 10 – 20% to the figure to give your budget some wiggle room.
If you’re looking to lower expenses, consider co-hosting with other businesses or organizations that are willing to split the costs and help promote the event. You can also consider striking cross-promotion deals with your vendors to save on costs.
Do note however, that there’s a difference between savvy budgeting and being cheap. While it’s good to find ways to lower costs, don’t sacrifice the quality of the event for the sake of saving a few bucks. As Retail Prophet Doug Stephens puts it, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
“Don’t cheap out,” he adds. “Make sure the space is right and that you’ve staffed the event properly. If you can’t afford to do events, don’t.”
Planning a successful event requires managing several moving parts and sticking to a budget and timeline, all while running the regular aspects of your store. Things can get hectic and plans can fall apart if you’re not organized.
Create lists and timetables to keep everyone on track. Make sure all tasks and deadlines are on paper and everyone knows who’s in charge of what.
Take a leaf off Flourish Boutique’s playbook. “We create to do lists organized by one month ahead, two weeks ahead, one week ahead, one day ahead, and day of tasks,” shares Smith. “Then those tasks are delegated out to different employees. As the owner, I circle back to make sure each task is being accomplished in a timely manner.”
Use multiple marketing tactics
The turnout of your event will depend on how well you market it, so spend a good amount of time and resources on this step!
Fortunately, there are various tactics that you can look into. Flourish Boutique, for example, utilizes online and offline marketing methods to promote their events.
“We usually do a combination of things to try and get the word out there,” mentions to Smith. According to her, some of the things they do include:
- Sending post card invitations
- Sending e-mail invitations
- Creating a Facebook event with invitations
- Publishing Facebook posts and sometimes paid for posts or ads
- Putting out banners in front of the store
- Leaving flyers at neighboring businesses
- Handing out point of purchase flyers
- In some cases they even call their top customers and invite them personally over the phone
Also see if you can get some publicity for your event. As Retail Minded founder Nicole Leinbach Reyhle writes on her site, “Radio stations, newspapers, local television stations, magazines and other local media outlets crave great information to share with their readers. Let your in-store events be among what they share!”
Tips for the big day
Mingle, don’t sell
While it’s common practice to showcase store merchandise during events, be careful not to come off as too salesy. Remember that the goal of having events is to deliver great experiences, and not stuff.
For instance, if you’re hosting a cooking class, stick to giving recipes and tips instead of promoting your merchandise. Having a party? Prioritize socializing and networking over sales.
In other words, mingle with attendees and focus on educating or informing them. Don’t wear your sales cap during the event.
“Retailers should not look at in-store events as having any sort of direct or quick payback in sales,” shares Stephens. “Events are a slow build strategy but can have a profound impact on word-of-mouth marketing by customers. They pay dividends over time in the form of customer loyalty and share of voice in the marketplace.
“And most importantly, if the event seems like a veiled attempt at selling something, it will fall flat. Consider events part of the marketing budget for the store and look at it as a long-term effort that will generate results – have faith!”
Document the event
Take pictures and video at the event. Aside from giving you content and promotional materials for the future, doing so will give you the opportunity to take a closer look at how things went. Review the photos and video footage after the function and keep an eye out for things that went right and components that can be improved.
After the event
Post photos on social media and include them in your newsletters
Remember those photos and videos that you took? Post them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other social networks you belong to. Thank everyone who attended the event, mention the people who took part in it, and tag individuals you know personally.
If you send out newsletters, be sure to include those photos in your next issue and include a writeup summarizing the great things that happened.
Consider “second chance” promotions
Smith of Flourish Boutique says that they extend special opportunities to people who couldn’t make it. “If we had a fashion show with a storewide discount that night, we might extend the discount portion for the weekend and offer other people a chance at the sale, who could not attend.”
If it makes sense for your business, see if you can do something similar.
Follow up with the staff
Round up your employees and discuss the event. What went right? What didn’t go according to plan? Let everyone have their say. Take note of insights and learnings so you can apply them in your next event.
Plan the next one
When it comes to hosting events, Stephens emphasizes the importance of frequency and repetition. “You can’t just hold one event a year and expect people to remember or look forward to it. Shoot for monthly events initially and work up from there if necessary.”
Do you hold in-store events? Tell us all about them in the comments.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.