In-Store Events Open the Doors to New Business Hyper Local Focus Gives Independent Retailers a Competitive Edge

National chains and big box stores have superior marketing muscle, but independent retailers have one unique advantage: they’re insiders. Indies are part of the community and that identity goes a long way toward building new business and retaining customers. One marketing tactic that maximizes your community connection is the in-store event – especially when it has a hyper-local focus. A hyper-local focus can involve anything from showcasing area artists to partnering with a community cause to featuring a local influencer or celebrity at your event.

Doing marketing for a regional leader in retail real estate, I talk with many indies who consistently score big with in-store events. Read on for some ideas I’ve picked up about the good things that happen when you open your doors for a special happening – especially if the focus is hyper-local.

1. Know Your Target Audience
Stick to this basic marketing principle. Know who you want to reach. Is the goal to build your current base or add a new kind of customer? When you have a clear picture of your target, you’ll be able to create an event that will draw them in.

2. Establish Your Event Budget
How many dollars can you devote to promoting and executing your event? Note: a successful event doesn’t have to be lavish. A modest one that’s repeated regularly can deliver results. Real life-examples: a wine store that does a small sampling event every Friday or a cafe that celebrates every “Hump Day” with a free cup for its first 25 customers.

3. Event Ideas with Proven Results

You’ll want to put your own creative stamp on your event, but here are some concepts you can build on:
-Demonstrations and how-to’s (local experts are a plus)
-Mini-classes (how to mix a cocktail, design a centerpiece, pair wine and food)
-Showcase of local artists or craftspeople
-Concert by local musicians
-Causes and charities (be an event host, donate a portion of your sales on a designated day, or serve as a collection point for contributions)

4. Essential Ingredients of Successful Events
Each successful event is unique, but there are some common elements:
-A fun atmosphere – no hard selling
-Free samples
-Coupons for purchases or services
-Door prizes
-Photos and videos for social media
-Data collection: get contact information from your guests for future promotions

5. Promoting Your Event
Even the best planned event can’t succeed if no one knows about it. Include these proven tactics (both high-tech and low-tech) in your promotional plan:
-Facebook invitation with RSVP
-Boosted Facebook posts
-Instagram and Pinterest posts
-Banners, balloons, and signage
-Email outreach (especially if you want to build on your current base)
-Special invitations (phone calls or post cards to top customers)
-Local media – including your local online platforms. Events connected with
community causes tend to attract media coverage.
-Facebook Livestream: demonstrations and how-to’s are ideal for streaming.

6. Following Up on Your Event
The event isn’t over when the door closes. Continue the momentum with:
-Social media posts featuring your videos and photos
-Thank you emails to attendees (include a coupon)
-Local media: send images of your successful event to print and online outlets – having a local “name” present will help get placements.

The holiday shopping season is just around the corner. That’s a perfect time to stage an in-store event. Think about connecting to a community cause or tapping into special holiday concerns: decorating, fashion and beauty, entertaining, or maybe just how to shed stress (free chair massages or chocolates, anyone?) For more hints on staging in-store events, you might want to check out these two articles:

Indie Retailers: Here’s How to Get More Out of Social Media

Beat the 5 Major Roadblocks to Online Success

As an executive with a regional leader in retail real estate, I chat with many independent retailers. Some are our tenants; others are attendees at various trade events. They’re in all kinds of retail businesses, but they share one thing: they want to get more from social media. They’re on board with it, but not entirely satisfied with what it’s delivering. Their concerns commonly involve five key “challenges.” Here are the answers I share with them.

1. Making Time for Social Media
Yes, social media is free – like a free puppy. It doesn’t require money but it demands time. And time is in short supply for any independent retailer. Here’s what I suggest for making the most of that valuable resource on social:
-Focus! Limit yourself to a few platforms. Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are where most of your customers are.
-Create a monthly calendar for posts, so you aren’t scrambling every few days.
-Free yourself from the task of posting day-by-day. Use Facebook’s scheduling tool or Sprout Social, Hootsuite or Buffer. Input a batch of your social posts, specify their publishing dates and times, and let these tools do the posting.
-Schedule too packed? Delegate social to a staff member.

2. Creating Compelling Posts
“I don’t know what to post,” is probably the complaint I hear most from indie retailers when we talk about social. I always respond with the 80/20 rule. That is: only 20 percent of your posts should be your special offers and promotions, while 80 percent should be content that entertains or informs. Bottom line: people don’t like to be “sold to,” what they like is useful information. Examples of alternatives to the hard sell:
-Trends about the products/services you offer
-Advice on using the products you offer
-Staff “picks”
-Local events (local businesses like yours are community boosters)
-Product spotlight (what’s new, what’s popular)
-Meet the Staff (introduce your employees)
-Fun polls and quizzes (good way to research your market)
-Endorsements of neighboring businesses
Remember you don’t have to be the originator of all your social content. Link to relevant online articles or sites.

3. Engaging Your Audience
Many of the retailers I talk with tell me they’re discouraged because their social posts seem to just “go into the air.” No one engages with them. There are a number of ways to tackle this problem. I suggest:
-Get visual. Images, graphics, and especially video are the main drivers of social engagement. Put your iPhone or camera to work and include an image or video with every post. Explore using free or low cost stock photos, too.
-Respond to all posts. After all, social media is about being social.
-Post frequently (3x per week minimum). You have to be seen often to get noticed.
-Include a question in your post to encourage response. How about staging a
contest to get the audience involved?
-Study your analytics to see which posts “work” and which “don’t.”

4. Building a Following

“How do I get more followers?” That seems to be on every indie retailer’s mind. Some ways to build your followers include:
-“Boost” your posts on Facebook to reach more users.
-Consider a sponsored post on Facebook or Instagram or a promoted pin on
Pinterest for wider reach.
-Make sure to include an invitation to “Like” or follow your business in the
signature block of your email.
-Follow the advice in Points 2 and 3 above.
-Be patient. Big followings are not built in a day.

5. Using Social to Build In-Store Traffic
Although they appreciate its reach and power, many smaller retailers have trouble seeing exactly how having a social media presence drives traffic and ultimately sales. As a marketer, I think this question is similar to the ones raised about the impact of brand advertising on sales. It’s hard to make a direct connection, but we do know that recognizing and feeling positive about a brand does influence purchasing decisions. That said, I recommend that indies do some of the following when looking for a link between social presence and the bottom line:
-Compare your analytics with sales during those periods when you’re promoting heavily on social.
-Ask your customers how they heard about your store or your special sale.
-Extend exclusive offers to social media users and track the results.

Retailers – large or small – have an edge on the social platforms. According to a recent survey by Sprout Social, retail is one of the most liked industries on social media. So, indies, take advantage of that popularity and get your social going.