Walking to my car, I heard loud music. This was not exactly what I expected in Grants Pass, Oregon on a warm Saturday July evening. I had just returned from an exhilarating jet boat excursion to Hellgate Canyon and enjoyed a ranch style dinner on the Rogue River.
The music was getting louder and louder as I approached the parking lot. It was coming from across the street. It was an automobile dealership, Mock’s Ford, and it was alive with action. There was a band playing, with folks of all ages dancing to the music, a barbecue filling the area with its popular aroma, and yes, people were buying cars. The excitement and activity drew me like a magnet to metal.
In front of the sales office, a local radio station, Cruisin’-FM, was conducting a live-remote broadcast allowing all in attendance to be involved. I located the dealership president, Don Carr, and during our chat he told me that they had sold almost as many cars so far that weekend as they usually sell in a month. To top it off he said, “We’re not giving these cars away.” Carr created a weekend partnering alliance with his community and won big.
How would you like to sell your products at that rate and still make a profit? You might be saying, “That’s great for selling cars, but what about me?” The answer is to get involved with your community in a way that serves people and created high-level exposure for your business. You’ll need to be creative and develop some fun, helpful, exciting community activities. Remember, being unique is not an absolute necessity, but it’s very helpful.
Creativity in Retail
Creativity has always been, and will always be, the retailer’s call to battle. Creativity is also one of the key ingredients necessary to create value in the eyes of your customers. The way the national big box category busters (i.e., Wal-Mart, Circuit City, and Office Depot) develop perceived value is through selection and low price, not necessarily service. If you are an independent retailer and you’re trying to do battle in their arena, they will clean your clock. But, creativity is not necessarily a word that big boxes, at the local level, understand.
For years, Baby boomers have been the pig in the python in our economy. They were heavy-duty consumers in the 1980s, buying their first houses and filling them up, buying luxury cars and all the outward trappings of success. In the 1990s they traveled and purchased RVs. Now, with most of the Boomers having grandchildren, they will buy almost anything if they perceive it’s a good value. Also, determine what they perceive as value-added in how you run your business and give it to them—they’ll reward you with profits through their loyalty. Don’t forget about the X and Y Generations. While many were part of the dot com bust, they still seem to spend freely.
Create a unique position for your business in the minds of your customers and your competition in the marketplace is greatly diminished. Remember though, unique means one of a kind, (not just a bit different) and that’s what you must be if you plan to survive and prosper throughout this decade and beyond.
Earl Nightingale, co-founder of Nightingale-Conant Corp., the worlds largest producer and distributor of audio and video learning systems continually offered this suggestion for creativity: take a yellow pad each morning and spend a quiet hour thinking about the major challenges for the day. He would go to work listing all ideas he could think of—no matter how crazy, impossible, wacky or boring the idea might appear. “Some ideas you’ll use and many you’ll toss out,” he would say. The important thing is to capture the ideas and take action on the ones you believe will assist you in achieving your goals.
So, how does all this creativity and uniqueness talk help you to partner with your community? You can’t just copy what others have done and make it work for you. You can, copy the process used but not the results. Your community is uniquely different, your neighbors have special needs, and you must use your creativity to find a winning combination.
Here’s how to get started. Head for your chamber of commerce, if you’re not a member yet, and join! Ask for their list of clubs and organizations. Do any interest you? I know you don’t have time for that kind of stuff. Trust me, you do! It’s all in how you choose to participate. There are more ways to participate than just showing-up to their meetings and events, be creative.
Volunteer to chair a fundraiser, one that you can have at your location—yearly! The event can be in your store, in your mall or center, on the sidewalk in front of your store or in your parking lot.
- Flea market or rummage sales are about the easiest to put on and quite profitable, find an interesting twist though. You can arrange to have leftovers picked up by a local charity.
- Community holiday theme party such as a Halloween costume party. Do this after hours, charge for attendance and give the profit to your organization. During the day offer a discount for those who shop in a costume.
- If you are on a busy street try a Saturday barbecue, possibilities are endless.
You might be wondering why you need to have these activities in conjunction with a community organization—for PUBLICITY! In the example I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Carr paid for all the advertising. When you work in conjunction with a local group you get public service announcements (PSA) free of charge and you ALWAYS mention the location (yours) in the news releases.
If you want more help in doing news releases or publicity, head for the public library and go to the non-fiction # 659 section. While you are at the library, stop by the reference desk and ask to look at the Gale Directory of Print & Broadcast Media, you’ll find the address and phone number of all the media in your area. They are whom you notify for your up-coming event.
Another idea might be to head a local organization that you care about from your place of business. Be sure it’s a high profile organization; this can bring you closer to your community. It will give many potential customers another reason to visit you.
Local Exposure Without Joining Community Organizations
For you die-hard’s who want exposure to the community but refuse to join a local organization, here are some ideas. Hold a parking lot aerobics class (in warm weather) three days a week at no charge; allow everybody to participate. The ones who enjoy the benefits will love you and who knows how many hundreds of people will take notice as they drive by.
Try working with the local city government and have a bus stop in front of your store or better yet, as one ski shop in Camarillo, California did, organize a city sponsored bus service to the beach in the summer (the pick-up was at the shop). Be creative and have a winter service too.
Work with your school district; offer incentives to students who achieve high grades, as does a surf shop in San Diego, California. Many schools and cities have work programs for youth; get signed up with these kinds of programs. Go to the source, ask local school principles how you might assist, let them know that you want some exposure in trade. Many of the franchise chains have jumped all over that idea. Also, don’t forget about sponsoring youth sport teams.
Take notice as to what your community does already. Ask yourself, “How can I add to the activities currently in place?” Take time every morning to view and list your options in solving your challenges and things will appear simpler and solutions will become known. Be sure to understand the value your customers are looking for in that which you offer and find your uniqueness. Achieve these things and you will get a greater piece of your area’s retail pie.
Six Additional Ideas To Partnering With Your Community:
- Show the community that you care by words as well as deeds.
- Write articles that will be of interest and assistance to your community in your business area of expertise. Then offer the articles to the print media.
- Get on a local radio or TV show and talk about the state of the swimwear industry or how the different styles flatter different shapes.
- Use the Public Access equipment that the federal government requires cable TV businesses to provide and produce a video for broadcast. The cable companies will teach you how to use their equipment. Remember the production needs to be “informational.”
- Contact your state highway department and join their “adopt the road” program. Your store cleans a mile-section quarterly and you get your name on a sign on the highway for all who drive by to see.
- Hold pasta feeds for sports teams. Consider local high school or college teams, and remember to tell the media.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.