Local ShoppingDoes Your Store Have Community Charisma?

Does Your Store Have Community Charisma?


Please note that some of the examples in this article happened pre-pandemic, before masks and social distancing were the law of the land. We’ll get back there someday!

Much of our time each year is spent visiting retailers, interacting with shoppers, and perusing stores. In our 31 years together we’ve seen the good, the bad and the really ugly. The retailers we meet can be placed in one of three categories: Those who get it, those who don’t, and those who never will. 

Retailers who get it are golden, they will always find their way to grow and thrill shoppers. Those in the second category can evolve into category one, but the ones who never will? These are the retailers who take to social media to complain about the lack of sales, about customers who annoy them, vendors that cheese them off, and the things their community won’t do for them. Sadly, most of these retailers won’t be in it in the long run. 

When we started our company we decided we’d need an office, so we got a map of the area and put a pin in the dead center of our two towns and St. Charles, Illinois became our new home. St. Charles is a Currier and Ives kind of town that loves its community. We have an active business alliance that plans year round events that draw thousands of people from all over the Fox Valley. Most businesses embrace these events, others not so much. 

You can’t win if you don’t play 

The annual Scarecrow Festival attracts thousands of people each year.

Take the annual Scarecrow Festival, for example, a three day event where over 150 hand-crafted scarecrows, made 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, plus special deals from local businesses – there’s a lot to do. The downtown is jam packed with people, so it makes us crazy when we see signs like this one: 

You have tens of thousands of potential customers walking 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 during the event? 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 passers-by about their business, held a raffle to collect email addresses, and passed out coupons. Don’t kid yourself and think people won’t notice when a business doesn’t participate in a community event because they do. 

Start here 

We do our Circles of Excellence exercise at least once a quarter, you should too because it keeps you out of those “but we’ve always done it that way” ruts.

Begin by drawing a circle on a flipchart, and then list all of the things inside of it that you HAVE to do for customers. These are no-brainers that include parking close to the store, associates who know their stuff, project sheets on your website, etc.

Now, draw a larger circle around the smaller one. This outer circle represents the extra things that you do, like free gift wrap, classes, spontaneous sales or featuring a Customer of the Week on your social medias. Now, focus that outer circle on the things you can do to make your store a stand out. Here’s the thing: once customers get used to the perks in the outer circle those perks get relegated to the inner circle. This is why it’s so important to do this exercise with your team at least once a quarter. And before each community event. 

So what can you do to jumpstart your community charisma? Here are some ideas from our recent travels to help you get the ideas flowing: 

Set up a selfie station 

Terri King, owner of My Secret Garden, a Bay City, Michigan gift shop, suggests you jump into community events with both feet, “When there is a festival in my town 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.” That’s the attitude! The only opportunities you’ll miss are the ones you don’t take. 

We like that Terri is a fan of selfie stations (that’s her in the photo above sporting the blue tail) because we are, too. People of all ages today practice Lifestyle Marketing: sharing where we are and what we’re doing on social medias. 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. It’s a Christmas wrapping paper background, props and sign and a whole lot of fun. 

Grab a prop, strike a pose and be sure to use hashtags. Your hashtags should always include #nameofyourstore 

Sometimes all you need is a cardboard frame to make a selfie special. Any print shop can make one for you or you can do it yourself. Note that this one includes the company’s address and hashtags. 

Rich really enjoyed that impromptu trip to Walt Disney World. At least he would have had if he had actually visited there. We turned this photo at a local Costco into a selfie station. What a missed opportunity for the retailer. 

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

Life size cardboard cutouts of celebrities are always a hot. Georganne took this selfie – shown actual size – with Shaq at a JC Penney store. 

“Everybody’s talkin’ bout my tight pants…” The Jimmy Fallon store at Universal Studios Orlando dedicated each of its windows to mannequins taking selfies.

Customers can’t resist a Selfie Contest. 

Up your exposure by hosting a selfie contest. Your copy might read: “Take a selfie in our store and receive 10% off of 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 could win _________________.” 

Change your selfie station and/or props seasonally to encourage shoppers to share photos often. 

Sign on 

A FedEx commissioned survey found that 68 percent of customers admitted to making a purchase after a sign caught their attention. So if every smart retailer knows that signs on that sales floor encourage purchases, so why are so many stores under signed? And when displays are signed why are those signs so boring? It’s okay to have fun with your in-store signing; insert your personality and make them your own! 

Knight’s Ace Hardware in Franklinton, Louisiana stops traffic with its marquee sign; owner Hunter Knight lets his team get creative. This one is a play on the popularity of Popeye’s consistently sold out chicken sandwiches. 

Starbucks at the Las Vegas Convention Center suggest customers choose a coffee size based on the number of hours they slept the night before. It was definitely a conversation starter. 

The Antieau Gallery in New Orleans promoting free shipping as a Christmas Miracle. 

Sidewalk chalk lets you stop traffic and take advantage of normally unused space. There are companies that sell expensive adhesive floor signage; this is easier and it’s free. 

The Little Traveler in Geneva, Illinois reminds us that shopping in a brick and mortar store is way more fun than sitting behind a computer. 

Clean as a Whisker Pet Spa in St. Charles, Illinois does an unexpected twist on “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This pup approves. 

If you have been to Quilt Market in Phoenix there’s a good chance you visited Phoenicia Specialty Foods, a grocer not too far from the convention center. The Phoenicia does a great job with signing, highlighting important information about products. We love that there are also signs celebrating the people who work there.

Easel signs are hot right now because they give you street level exposure and they are easy to change. Use them to highlight events going on in-store or to give your customers a laugh. This one is from Pearl & Sons Furniture Design.

Jeans and a Cute Top Shop, St. Charles, Illinois

Batchen Street Coffee, Elgin, Scotland

 Cross-Promote with other businesses 

One of the things that was clearly evident during the 2019 Holiday Homecoming Weekend was the retailers’ support of one another. We saw a lot of cross-promotion going on in all sorts of businesses. This told us that a group of merchants got together prior to the event to help each other increase their visibility. 

Cross-promoting works, that’s why we’re seeing all those plugs for Disney movies on shows like Good Morning America and Dancing with the Stars. Airlines partner with hotels and car rental companies. In the movies you’ll see characters drinking from cans of Coca Cola – that product placement is cross-promoting, too.       

It’s to your advantage to choose a partner with the least amount of shared customers. The ice cream shop that’s right next door to you isn’t a good fit because you probably already share customers. But the dry cleaners down the street or the hair salon on the next block? Perfect. Find partners that have customers who can use what you sell and exchange ideas on how to promote one another. 

This is a 3-way cross-promotion: Pearl & Sons Furniture Design promotes both Jeans and a Cute Top Shop and Ginger Root Hair Salon. It’s displayed at the cashwrap making it easy for associates to tell shoppers about the other stores.

This display is a good example of a 2-way cross-promotion. 

Blue Goose Market recently added a wine bar so local merchants were helping spread the news. We like the “Where are you going in your new Cute top?” tie–in to the host store. 

There were ballerinas – living window displays – in shops and restaurants all over town, provided by the Beth Fowler School of Dance. In each window dancers engaged shoppers, enticing them to come inside. In turn the businesses cross-promoted the school’s upcoming presentation of The Nutcracker.

Starbucks windows created a barrier so shoppers came inside for a beverage and a mini-performance. 

Community is important to today’s customers. You get points for being a good corporate citizen, points for protecting the environment, for recycling, upcycling, selling Fair Trade and sustainable goods, and for the charities you support. So the next time your community has an event look at as an opportunity to engage shoppers and meet potential new customers. So someone might as to use your restroom, you’ll survive!






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