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Events—With A Twist Of "Fresh"

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Events—With A Twist Of (GIFTBEAT)Stuck at the starting gate because the pace of traffic and sales has slowed at your store? It's time to put the pedal to the metal and add a creative spin to your store events while keeping your attitude upbeat, says Lynni Megginson, owner and principal designer of Maryland-based L&M Designs and author of "The Absolutely Essential Guide to Planning Fabulous Retail Events!" Read on, as Megginson suggests events that will transport you through this month and into early fall.

Q. What factors are keeping customers out of stores today? How can retailers encourage customers to buy despite all the bad news?

A. A lot of the [bad news] is due to doom and gloom from the media and feedback from the election. There's caution before a candidate is elected. People are [lying] low and keeping their options neutral. Many have lost a ton in the stock market.

That said, there is a segment of the population that's not so much affected. That's the luxury market. Those buyers are still there. Other consumers are shopping for essentials but they're missing out on shopping as a pleasurable experience. That's what we as retailers can give to our customers. We have to figure out how to get beyond the doom and gloom and put some thought into how to get shoppers back in the stores and shopping. We need to make them feel positive instead of negative, to feel good about themselves, and to see our own numbers increase.

Q. Why do you feel it's important to think "out of the box" when it comes to planning store events?

A. I'm guilty of "getting into a rut" myself. It's a familiar pattern that we all start relying on. We do an event over and over again. All of a sudden, we notice customers are not as excited about the event. We can't just expect customers to buy from us because we're hosting an event. I like to say, "Expecting customers to buy rarely happens, but encouraging them to buy nearly always does."

Q. What's the next event you have planned for your own retail store?

A. We're having an [annual] event for L&M Design's anniversary on May 2. I knew I had to keep this event fresh. I analyzed the pattern of events we've been hosting, and then added a totally different factor. We're having a special guest at the event. We're bringing in Beatriz Ball, [designer and manufacturer of handmade metal ware], who does very few public appearances. She'll be signing her pieces during the event.

Beatriz is a personal friend through our professional affiliations. We retailers have to put ourselves in a position where we can call in favors. Remember that vendors rely on us as much as we do on them, and that we're all in the same boat—trying to drum up business. By cultivating relationships with your vendors everyone sells more product. This event is an opportunity for our clients to meet someone that people feel is famous, talented and glamorous. They want to rub elbows with her, and they'll go out of their way to meet her.

The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but Beatriz will only be there from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We'll have goodie bags worth more than $200 each for the first 50 customers. Every item in the goodie bags was donated through cross-promotions. You can bet the store is going to be packed from the minute we open the door! We’re sending out hand- addressed "save-the-date" letters to our top 100 customers, written with "wonder words" that are appealing and seducing and romance the customer. We're getting the word out early, playing up the glamour aspect of the entire day and telling our customers that we couldn't have done 11 years without them, so they can't miss this party.

An important note: Make sure that your featured product will enable you to have a profitable day as well as a day that your customers will continue to remember. Some of Beatriz Ball's pieces sell for $300 to $400. When the designer is there, it makes it easier for customers to part with their money. No one wants to appear to be a spendthrift when the artist who created the piece is right there.

Q. You're also doing a cross-promotional event with a hair salon during May. What's happening during that event?

A. I am a big, big, big believer in cross-promoting. The best resources for cross-promotions are businesses that deal with the same clientele. I was getting my hair highlighted by my salon's owner, and we were brainstorming about a cross-promotion we could do. We decided to do the promotion for the entire month of May. For every $100 spent in my store between May 1 and May 31, customers will receive a gift card that gives them $20 to spend at Salon Red, [and vice versa.] Our stores are just 60 feet away from one another, so customers can use the sidewalk to come here. If they have $20 free to spend, I guarantee that they're going to walk in my door! They'll get to apply that $20 toward [an item like] a lamp or picture frame. That could be $20 off a $300 purchase. I'm crazy not to do something like that! Plus, I'm building my database and introducing new customers to the store. It also gives me the ability to track purchases made with the cards. What's more, the salon owner gave me 50 $20 Salon Red gift cards to put in my anniversary goodie bags.

Cross-promoting is something that any retailer can do. Find like- minded businesses with the same clientele…and make them your allies. You should be dealing with the owners of these companies because you need to talk to the source when doing a cross- promotion.

Q. How does this type of cross-promotion also benefit your sales staff?

A. It gives my staff the ability to drive their sales numbers up. The whole idea of cross- promoting is to give employees the ability to sell better without a hard push. For example, a customer might buy a picture frame and candlestick totaling $85. The staffer can then say "If you get your total to $100, I can give you $20 to spend at Salon Red." Spending $15 to get $20 free is a no-brainer.

Q. What events might retailers offer during the months of May and June?

A. First, let me talk about breaking events down month to month. Any store owner needs to be looking at the calendar in a businesslike fashion, as well as considering psychological factors that affect shoppers. For example, April is a terrible month to have events because people are so wrapped up with getting their taxes done. In May, people want to be outside. There are graduations, engagements and weddings are coming up. Focus [events] on May and June, before kids get out of school and people take off for summer vacations at the end of June.

Have an event for brides and mothers. Partner with a bridal shop and do a seminar on entertaining ideas for a bridal shower like how to do flower arrangements. Give every woman a personal invitation and a coupon for $25 to spend at your store.

Customers want to know how to entertain with confidence. Do a fun event that gives them ideas for entertaining using your store's prettiest summer platters and vases. Customers will buy these products if you show them how to use them.

Have a beach party themed like a grownup Beach Blanket Bingo. Or have a girls' night out that features items from great lines like Tag or Mud Pie. Be sure to play Beach Boys' music!

If your store carries glassware, ask a local restaurant to show customers how to make its signature martinis. Prepare the martinis in glasses YOU sell. If possible, include a coupon for a free drink or appetizer from the restaurant.

Q. What suggestions do you have for early fall events?

A. [Remember that] August is another terrible month for events because customers are dealing with back to school and college. September is a "woo hoo" month because the kids are back in school and moms have their lives back to themselves again.

Although it might be 90 degrees outside in September, it will be 50 to 60 degrees soon. People will want fur throws, hot drinks and earthenware. A Holiday Home show in September is a great event. Do your research when you go to the summer markets, and ask vendors to allow you to photograph their displays. Before you put your holiday product out, give customers a sneak peek. People love the glamour associated with market, and love getting first dibs on something that's not been seen yet. Last February, I did a Dallas trend report at a store event. I gave customers trend information by using visuals, and advice about not being afraid to add reds or a punch of black [when decorating]. One customer was interested in a lamp I'd shown. She said: "When that lamp comes in, call me. I have to have it!"

Try an event about fall entertaining like different but easy ways to do a tabletop display or create a fun Halloween table. Or invite a guest chef to give your customers Thanksgiving food ideas.

Q. What advice do you have for other retailers who are struggling in this down economy?

A. We all have to do what we have to do to get though this. I think that hosting good events that excite customers and keep them coming in the door and keeping [events and merchandise] fresh are what it will take to get through this slump. My ideas are really just a place to jump off. You have to be true to yourself and your personality. If you're not, people can see right through that. Follow your instincts. At L&M Designs, we're trying to find ways to remain positive. We know things will turn. When they do, we'll be right there waiting.

Note: For a special $70 discount on the price of "The Absolutely Essential Guide to Planning Fabulous Retails Events!," log on to, click on "Shop Now," select the book, complete your billing information, click "Continue" and enter GIFTBEAT in the coupon code box. You'll pay $125 plus tax.

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