Monday, May 24, 2010

Increasing Retail Sales by Increasing Length of Stay

There is a maxim in the retail world that states what many commercial corridor managers often overlook…there is a direct correlation between how much time people spend along a commercial corridor and how much money they spend there.

So how do you extend the duration of a shopper visit to your district?

  • The first question you need to ask is ‘who’ is your typical shopper? Families with children, young adults on an evening out, a tourist from another city? Extending the duration of a visit requires different strategies depending on who the customer is.
  • Think about your district in terms of an itinerary for each of these shoppers. Do you have enough for a four hour visit for a family of four? In addition to shopping, is there a place for the kids to grab an ice cream cone? Are there any kinds of family entertainment options? Can you encourage family entertainment programming on the street (street performers, jugglers, etc.)? Do you have a small theatre where you can establish family based performances? On the other hand, if you thinking about attracting young adults, do the bars and restaurants in your district offer live entertainment? Do they offer wine tastings or book readings? These are all ways to create itineraries that extend the length of stay of your target market.
  • In-store events and activities are another way to keep shoppers shopping. Why do you think Home Depot or Michael’s (an east coast-based craft store) offer in-store classes to their customers. Because they know if they keep folks in their stores longer, they will increase sales. Do you have a fabric or craft store on your street? Do they offer classes? Can you help them promote these classes in conjunction with a lunch discount at a local cafĂ© so that both merchants benefit from the increased traffic? Length of stay also affects parking patterns. That is because the longer people stay, the more likely they are to visit a few stores, and the less important it becomes to park in front of a particular store.

Before you begin tackling this challenge, you need to take stock of your district and understand who your current shopper is. First, consider issuing a customer survey to find out how much time, on average, customers spend in your district. Second, think through 'who' your target shopper is. Do you know where they live? Do you know what kind of leisure activities they like to participate in? For instance, I am currently working in a district that lies right along a well used regional bike trail. Creating itineraries for cyclists is very different than creating itineraries for a young couple out on a dinner date. Our efforts to create a set of activities to lengthen stay will therefore look different depending on which customer is our target customer. And finally, take stock of what you currently have to offer the customer and consider developing a few new itineraries using the resources you have on hand - notably the existing retail stores, restaurants and opportunties for activities that already exist in your district.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Power of Community Relationships

As commercial district managers, we sometimes forget how critical it is to build trusting relationships with community leaders. We go about our days dealing with the logistics of getting a street closed or managing our next big event without realizing that our work would be easier and more successful if we took the time to reach out and network with local community leaders, religious leaders and government officials. These relationships can help grease the wheels of many projects, and when nurtured can reap rewards in terms of higher attendance at your events, expeditious approvals, additional funding for projects...the list goes on. Not every commercial district manager is adept at building these relationships. I have seen many district managers spend days holed up in their offices doing office work when they should be attending to relationship building with critical community stakeholders. It takes a certain kind of person to do this kind of outreach, and district management entities are often stymied in their efforts by frequent staff turnover, which makes it difficult to establish the relationships that ultimately help the organization become more effective. So, what are some strategies to building these relationships over time? There are a few simple often overlooked ways in which district managers can begin to develop and maintain relationships over time.

  • You have to give something to get something. Doing someone a favor or going out of your way to help is a surefire way to make friends and gather ‘chits’ that you can get back later. If someone invites you to an event, do your best to stop by. If you can use your email lists to help others promote or drive traffic to an event, do it.
  • Support community events and non-profit causes. Develop relationships with local non-profits by helping them raise funds. For instance, you could help facilitate a fundraising event in a local retail store. In one instance, I worked with a locally owned bookstore that hosted wine/cheese fundraisers for local non-profits. They found that these events not only generated sales, but also raised awareness of their store – not to mention helped build customer loyalty. In other cases, a non-profit event in your district, such as a 5k run/walk for charity, is another way to drive retail traffic and sales. In return, the local non-profit will be on board with helping promote your events and activities when they happen.
  • Develop relationships with local religious leaders. The built-in constituency that attends local services can be very helpful. When you need to announce events, or need to conduct consumer surveys, having the local pastor mention this during announcements can make the difference between collecting 50 survey responses or 400.
  • Attend political events as an individual and advocate for your organization. Many political leaders have discretionary funds or influence funding decisions that can help your organization. Attending political events – yes, even in the evening – meetings and gatherings can help make sure that a local political leader is in your corner when you need them to make a call, expedite approvals or even push for funding on behalf of your organization.
  • Identify civic institutions and participate, if possible. Where I live, there are local community boards that have the power of approval or influence over certain things like street closings and sidewalk eating permits. Knowing who the players are on individual committees and spending time explaining your organization and your efforts BEFORE you need an approval can be helpful in the long-run.

No one said that relationship-building wasn’t time consuming. It often doesn’t happen during regular 9-5 working hours and can't always be done directly on behalf of our non-profit organizations that are required by law to remain apolitical. But there is no point ignoring the fact that our organizations live and breathe in the local community and political realm. This means that our jobs sometimes take us to evening meetings that we don't get paid for, sometimes require personal investment and contributions to organizations (and maybe even political campaigns). At the end of the day, the rewards in terms of your organization's success are well worth the effort. In the end, you look better by being effective at getting things done, your organization is more effective, and your board is happy - a win/win for everyone.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Retailers Get Creative about In-Store Events and Marketing

Great piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal ("Hybrid Stores: Can Shopping be Fun Again?") about how some retailers are turning the old retail model on it's head to get customers in the door. A clothing store that throws DJ parties with photo booths? A boutique with a cafe in front? As retail sales have slowed down over the past two years, retailers are looking, in some cases, to share rent with other businesses, and in others differentiate themselves from the crowd by providing more than just a shopping experience. They are hoping to provide something more akin to a full blown an entertainment experience.

Turning this growing 'experience' economy - a term we'll use to describe retail shopping and shoppers who want more than just the opportunity to spend money - into retail sales for your district takes some creative thinking. I'm working in a community in Pittsburgh where local merchants rave about the local 'soup crawl' . These merchants disagree on almost everything, but what they do agree on is that the soup crawl is one of their most successful shopping promotional events. These kinds of activities help highlight the unique nature of our traditional commercial districts - and allow traditional commercial districts to compete more successfully with local malls.