While retailers like to hold events year-round, summertime, with its pedestrian-friendly weather, is when stores really get creative.
Kitchen a la Mode owner Ben Salmon recently took advantage of the street-facing picture window in his South Orange, N.J., store and parked himself beside it with a knife sharpener. “Start your Memorial Day Weekend with an edge” he posted on Facebook. That post, and the picture window, was all the publicity he needed.
“I’m digging the ‘live window’ events,” Salmon says. “The last two weeks are the first time I’ve done my events in the front window. It is super interactive and brings people in.” Buoyed by the warm weather passersby flocked to Salmon’s store, dull knives in hand.
“I literally sharpened knives for five hours straight,” Salmon says. “It was a huge success. I couldn’t believe the turnout.”
It certainly made an impact with customers. One shopper, posting on the Kitchen a la Mode Facebook page noted, “I saw you from across the street and haven’t been able to get Sweeney Todd out of my head since.” Salmon’s knife sharpening brought new meaning to the term “window shopping.” And has made him a believer in hosting events in full view of his neighborhood.
“I always offer knife sharpening, but I’ve never done it ‘while you wait’ in an event like this before,” he says. “The immediate gratification was super compelling to people, apparently.”
“Events are critical to retail sales; if we can get people in the door, we can make a sale,” says Jill Foucre. Both of Foucre’s stores in Glen Ellyn, Ill., kitchenware store Marcel’s Culinary Experience and gourmet food store Marche, host events during the summer.
“We have lots of things going on in the summer, both as community events and things we do in the store,” Foucre adds, noting. “Events include our sidewalk sale at the end of July and a big jazz festival in downtown Glen Ellyn that closes Main Street for a day and is right outside our doors.”
Marche is a vendor at the local Farmers Market every week. “Marche will also be a vendor at the outdoor summer concert series at the McAninch Center at the College of DuPage,” Foucre says. “We will have several special events in Marcel’s this summer and our cooking classes for both kids and adults all summer long.”
Sidewalk sales are also big event business for retailers during the summer. Martha Nading holds two every year at her store, The Extra Ingredient, in Greensboro, N.C. The sales open and close the summer season for the store. She held her first sidewalk sale in early May.
“We will hold another one on Labor Day weekend,” she says. “These sales are VERY successful for us. We use them as our opportunity to clean out. We mark down at least 50 percent.” And she plans ahead for the sales during buying trips. “We also purchase close outs and markdowns especially for our sales,” she adds.
Many retailers say they host sidewalk sales in conjunction with community groups or the local Chambers of Commerce as sort of a “strength in numbers” approach. Anne Dowell’s Hutchinson, Kan., store Apron Strings works with a city-wide group that promotes the store events in her area.
“We have a downtown storefront, so we participate in local downtown events, including sidewalk sales,” she says. “We have created a marketing group that will communicate with others in the group so when there are events likely to bring in a large group–such as sports events or wedding shows–we can offer specials, give-aways and other incentives to visit our stores. It’s an intentional ‘word of mouth’ guide to our local hidden treasures.”
Sidewalk sales and other events also build customer ties, Dowell adds. “We like the vibe from our customers when we participate in community events. Those events remind them why they like shopping small and local. They like to come in and ask us about our products and we give them informative answers. They don’t get that kind of service at chain stores.”
Anthony Pechal, a manager at La Grange, Texas-based La Petite Gourmet Shoppe, agrees holding events gains consumer attention, and gets them into the store. “We participate in events such as Shop Small Saturday and other related events that help bring in our local customers,” he says. “Our store is rather large and contains a wide array of products, therefore local events are a big boost to our store since people get the chance to see all that we have to offer.”
For other retailers, events are a time to give back. Caren McSherry, owner of Gourmet Warehouse in Vancouver, founded the city’s Chocolate Challenge to help underprivileged children in her community. The event brings together the top chocolatiers in the Vancouver area featuring both live and silent auctions to raise money for local child hunger charities.
“We have just completed our 6th annual event, with total proceeds going to feed kids on the downtown east side,” says McSherry. “It is our way of giving back to the community.”
In Pittsburgh, KC Lapiana is also community focused. “We try to have many events,” she says of her store, In The Kitchen. “We look to the community to see if we can partner with what they are doing and of course we create our own events,” she says. “We’ve been having a lot of success with our vendor promotions.”
Like other retailers, Lapiana says sidewalk sales are common during the summer months. She kicked off an event on Memorial Day. “We partnered with a Veterans Association for Red Rose Saturday. We collected actual photos of service men from our area from our customers and we put all the pictures in the front window to honor the servicemen and women that weekend.”
In Ellsworth, Maine, Rooster Brother owner Pamela Elias is one retailer who doesn’t do summer events beyond the occasional wine tasting. Located in a tourist town, Elias is concerned about reaching out to locals, not just summer visitors passing through on their way to Acadia National Park.
“We have drawings, but not in the summer,” Elias says. “The drawings very often involve products like LeCreuset pots and if we do the drawing in the summer, inevitably the pots are won by out-of-area visitors who expect us to send it to them. We are also so busy in the summer that we save the drawings for times when we want to ‘draw’ more people into the store.”
Elias says she’d rather spend her time focusing on store business.
“Our general feeling is to spend our energy on making the store, including the products we sell, the coffee that we roast and brew, and the service we give our customers the best as possible,” she says. “The events that we’ve tried, other than the drawings, have seemed to be way more trouble than they’re worth.”
Providence, R.I.-based retailer Jan Faust Dane has a more positive spin. She uses events at her store, Stock Culinary Goods as a way to collaborate with her vendors via popup stores-inside-the-store. For example, Stock hosted a nascent wannabe shop, PV Donuts, whose quirky take on donuts proved to be so popular with customers that PV was eventually able to open its own retail space.
“We have at least two makers in a week who sell their products or bring their products in to talk to customers about the line,” says Dane, whose store also carries a wide range of locally made housewares. She says pop-up events are a win-win situation for the store.
“These events are turnkey. We don’t have to do a lot and the vendors promote us and we’ve helped to incubate these amazing places.” Events she says are part of the process of being a store owner. “I would say the popups have been great for us.”