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Small Business Center

How to Create Community Charisma

October 5, 2021

By Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender, Kizer & Bender Speaking

Editor’s note: Some examples in this article happened pre-pandemic.

Retailers who get it are golden; they will always find ways to grow and thrill shoppers. Those who don’t get it can evolve. But the ones who never will, who take to social media to complain about the lack of sales, customers who annoy them, vendors that cheese them off and the things their communities won’t do for them — most of these retailers won’t last.

When we started our company, Kizer & Bender, we got a map and put a pin in the dead center between our two towns. St. Charles, Illinois, became our office home. St. Charles is a Currier & Ives kind of town that loves its community. An active business alliance plans year-round events that draw thousands. Most businesses embrace these events, others not so much.

Take the annual Scarecrow Festival, which attracts thousands each year, for example. It’s a three-day event where over 150 scarecrows handcrafted by local businesses are displayed in a downtown park. The festival also features live entertainment, food, amusement park rides, kids activities, an arts and crafts show and deals from local businesses. The downtown is packed with people, so it makes us crazy when we see signs like this one.

Thousands of potential customers will walk past your store, and you’re closed because of parking or because people will ask to use your restroom or because you think shoplifting will be an issue. We get it, but we also know the businesses that are open benefit from the exposure. The retailer who hung this sign could have stood in front of the store, told passersby about the business, held a raffle to collect email addresses and passed out coupons. Don’t think people won’t notice when a business doesn’t participate in a community event.

We encourage our retail clients to do Kizer & Bender’s Circles of Excellence exercise at least once a quarter and before each community event to stay out of those “but we’ve always done it that way” ruts. Draw a circle on a flip chart and list inside of it all the things you have to do for customers. These are no-brainers like providing parking close to the store, employing associates who know their stuff and posting project sheets on your website. Now draw a larger circle around the smaller one to represent the extra things you do like free gift wrapping, classes, spontaneous sales or featuring a Customer of the Week on your social media. Focus on things you can do to make your store stand out. Once customers get used to those perks, they move to the inner circle.

Here are ideas for selfie stations, creative signage and cross-promotions to get the ideas flowing.

Selfie stations

Terri King, owner of Bay City, Michigan, gift shop My Secret Garden, suggests jumping into community events with both feet: “We throw the doors open. We drag things out on the sidewalk, create photo ops, dress in costume and have a blast with all the energy.” King is a fan of selfie stations. People of all ages today practice lifestyle marketing: sharing where we are and what we’re doing on social media. Selfie stations are an easy way to make your store a part of the story.

Pearl & Sons Furniture Design added a selfie station in a corner of the sales floor with signage that includes a hashtag with the name of the store.

Even a cardboard frame can make a selfie special. Any print shop can make one, or you can do it yourself. Note that this one includes the company’s address and hashtags.

The TV show Friends celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019, and Central Perk selfie opportunities popped up everywhere. This was in the window of an AT&T Store on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.

Copy for a selfie contest might read: “Take a selfie in our store and receive 10% off your next purchase! Visit us between (date) and (date), take a selfie in the store and post it on Instagram. Tag us at @(your Insta handle), include the hashtag #___________ and you also could win _________________.” Change your selfie station and/or props seasonally to encourage shoppers to share photos often.

Creative signage

According to a FedEx-commissioned survey, 68 percent of customers admitted to making a purchase after a sign caught their attention. So why are so many stores under-signed? And when displays are signed, why are those signs so boring? It’s OK to have fun with your in-store signage; insert your personality and make them your own!

Hunter Knight, owner of Knight's Ace Hardware in Franklinton, Louisiana, lets his team get creative with its sign, including this play on the consistently sold-out chicken sandwiches at Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen.

A Starbucks at the Las Vegas Convention Center suggests customers choose their coffee sizes based on how much sleep they got.

New Orleans’ Antieau Gallery promoted free shipping as a Christmas miracle.

Sidewalk chalk takes advantage of unused space and is free and easier than adhesive floor signage.

Clean as a Whisker pet spa in St. Charles, Illinois, puts an unexpected twist on the “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” sign.

Easel signs offer street-level exposure and are easy to change. Use them to highlight in-store events or to give your customers a laugh. This one is from Jeans & a Cute Top in St. Charles, Illinois.

Cross-promotions with other businesses

Clearly evident during St. Charles’ 2019 Holiday Homecoming weekend was the retailers’ support of one another. The cross-promotion in all sorts of businesses indicated that a group of merchants got together prior to the event to increase each other’s visibility. Cross-promoting works, which is why ABC shows like Good Morning America and Dancing with the Stars plug Disney movies and airlines partner with hotels and car rental companies.

Choose a partner with the least amount of shared customers. The ice cream shop next door isn’t a good fit because you probably already share customers, but the dry cleaner down the street or the hair salon on the next block is perfect. Find partners whose customers can use what you sell, and exchange ideas on how to promote one another.

Pearl & Sons Furniture Design displays both Jeans and a Cute Top and Ginger Root Hair Salon at the checkout counter, making it easy for associates to tell shoppers about the other stores and their offers.

When Blue Goose Market in St. Charles added a wine bar, other local merchants Like Jeans & a Cute Top helped spread the news.

In shops and restaurant windows all over St. Charles, Illinois, Beth Fowler School of Dance ballerinas engaged shoppers and promoted the school’s upcoming presentation of The Nutcracker.

Community is important to today’s customers. You get points for recycling, upcycling, selling Fair Trade and sustainable goods and supporting charities. Next time your community has an event, look at it as an opportunity to engage shoppers and meet potential customers. If someone asks to use your restroom. you’ll survive!

This article originally appeared at http://www.retailadventuresblog.com/2021/02/does-your-store-have-community-charisma.html.

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