Christian Retailing

Create events with ‘lifetime value’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kathleen Samuelson   
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 09:58 AM EDT

How signings and more can help your store reach long-term goals

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What if you threw a party and no one came? The very thought of nobody showing up for a specially planned event or appearance can make any retailer cringe.

Setting the stage for an in-store event takes time, energy and expense, so some Christian retailers don’t think it’s worth the bother. But what does motivate people to come to book or gift signings, theological debates, author talks, mini concerts, spoken-word readings or holiday events? To find out, we spoke with veteran retailers who have a successful track record with events. Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel but to learn from the experiences of others how best to engage your customers and community through well-planned events.

DON’T DROP THE BALL

In-store events require planning and preparation—some more than others. However, the overall process is similar.

Use the planning stage to build excitement and involve your staff. Wayne Hastings, senior vice president of marketing and research and development, Worthy Publishing Group, suggests that “special events are fun for staff members, as they give them something different to do and help plan.”

Brian Hill at Lighthouse Christian Supply in Dublin, California, advises bringing marketing into play early.

“Planning and marketing—both are just as important as the other,” Hill said. “It’s easy to get focused on planning the event, making sure everything is perfect and then drop the ball on the marketing and end up with a great event but no one there to enjoy it. On the other hand, you can market great but drop the ball on the planning and end up with a well-attended event that’s a letdown for the attendees.”

Hill encourages retailers to “know where their strengths and weaknesses are and either get help or focus on not dropping the ball in the area you are weaker at or enjoy less.”

Nancy Ford, owner of Words of Wisdom Christian Bookstore in Swansea, Illinois, start working with her team in August on their Kids Christmas Event, which they hold the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

“Use every channel you have for marketing,” Hill said. “I’ve found that the more people you involve in the event who are outside of the store, the better the marketing tends to go. It goes back to grass-roots marketing. If I invite people in for story time with kids, it’s marketing, but if Sally invites her neighbors and church in to hear her read to the kids, it’s great!”

ADD A UNIQUE TWIST

Get creative with your in-store events. Put a twist on a book signing, involve the community in a concert or get your customers working on a kids program. This is an opportunity to put your store on display.

Cindy Finter, events coordinator at CLC Christian Bookstore in Moorestown, New Jersey, recently held a signing with best-selling Amish-fiction author Beverly Lewis.

“In order to accommodate the number of people we were anticipating, we had to think strategically about the setup of the store in order to handle the traffic flow,” Finter said. “Refreshments are also a consideration for an event this size. The refreshments are basically finger foods—carrots, cucumbers and cookies—along with water and a punch.”

By placing a greeter at the door, Finter also made sure guests felt welcome. She also suggests that retailers “consider the needs of (their) author and publicist,” being sure to provide them with refreshments too.

Hastings cites two kinds of store events that draw healthy traffic and encourage  customer involvement.

“One is a special sales event that not only has extraordinary prices but also amazing in-store features,” he said. “Many vendors will help with this kind of event. Stores can involve local churches and have youth band concerts and so on. Partnerships with a local charity or ministry—perhaps sponsoring a pancake breakfast in the parking lot—can help draw in the community.

“The second is working with local churches on events that are both in the church and followed up in store—for example, working with publishers and sponsoring an author to speak at a local church. The community is invited to the event, and the store handles book sales and features the author at a book signing. This idea also works for musical artist visits.

Hastings mentioned one store that bought concert tickets and gave them away with the purchase of a pre-release CD.

“The artist came to the store the day after the concert and sang acoustically,” he said. “(The store) sold a ton of CDs, even in a digital-download world.”

GET THE WORD OUT

Social media makes getting the word out about your in-store event easy.

“The store needs a complete and full strategy for all of the popular social media networks as well as radio, church bulletins, emails to current customers, and especially their own website and owner-written blogs,” Hastings said. “In some markets, local TV may also be appropriate.”

Hill uses email, social media, posters and bag-stuffers to promote in-store events.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your customers to advertise for you,” Hill said. “Encourage them to share your social media posts and maybe even give a prize for sharing.”

For CLC’s event with Beverly Lewis, Finter used Facebook, email, local community calendars in newspapers and radio station community bulletin boards.

“We also printed up posters to display throughout our store,” Finter said. “For an author this well-known, we took posters to several area churches and local libraries to reach community that might not be connected with our store but who are Beverly Lewis readers.”

Hill notes two important attendance drivers for events.

“I’ve found that in-store advertising and personally inviting customers to attend is critical,” Hill said. “Putting a flier in their bag is one thing, but handing them the flier and inviting them is much better.”

LOOK FOR ‘LIFETIME VALUE’

Naturally, it’s best to determine costs in the event-planning stages, stick to a budget and still meet your goals.

“Determine your goal(s) for the event,” Hill said. “If the goal is to bring new customers, then how much are you willing to spend to attract the number of new customers you expect? Don’t forget about the intangibles. If you put on a great event, and the attendees tell their friends what a great time they had, then you’re getting some great marketing out of it as well.”

Finter uses free community boards and prints posters and bag-stuffers at her store’s corporate headquarters.
“Certainly sales and ROI (return on investment) are important, but underlying that is the lifetime value of a customer and what the event does to change the customer’s perception about shopping at that store,” Hastings said. “The objectives need to be both short- and long-term. The store should want a smashing event in the short term—sales and profits that day or week—plus create a long-term perception in the customer’s mind that they want to come back themselves and tell their friends to shop there. The event must be customer-centric and caring—it represents your store’s brand. Create something people will remember.”


Kathleen Samuelson, a professional writer and editor, served as the publications director for CBA for nine years. She now freelances and works in the defense/aerospace industry.

 
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