At Newman Outfitters, a retail store that sells backpacking, camping, hiking and other outdoor equipment, shoppers are treated to a steady stream of special events. "We're doing many things to distinguish ourselves from other stores and enrich our customers' enjoyment of the outdoors," says Chris Newman, 46, co-owner with his brother, Gary, 50, of the Shaker Heights, Ohio, store.
Earlier this year, the Newmans joined the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in sponsoring a special viewing for customers and museum members of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which presents the best outdoor films.
They hosted two slide-show presentations by Ed Viesturs, one of several climbers featured in "Everest," the first big-screen film about climbing Mount Everest. The standing-room-only shows persuaded the brothers to sponsor a third event, a slide-show presentation by Arcaceli Segarra, a female climber who is also in the popular film.
Special event sponsorships, says Chris, are affordable and easy to manage. The brothers' share of the Banff Mountain Film Festival sponsorship cost $2,000. Advertising costs were minimal; they promoted the event through store posters, small advertisements in a local sports newspaper and mailings to museum members.
"The payoff is hard to quantify, but we believe it's very good," says Gary. "We hear people talking about the shows and feel there's a buzz in our store as a result of these promotions."
Special events work just as well for other retailers. At Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, for example, owner Elaine Petrocelli, 58, offers writers' workshops that draw students and faculty from as far away as France and South America. Besides book signings and lectures, the bookstore holds discussion groups and for-fee classes on topics like first-person writing and mystery writing. "Our customers go out of their way to come here," Petrocelli says, "because what we do is different from anyone else."
Easy Does It
There are infinite ways to mix entertainment and retailing to create just the right entertailing concept for your store. "Whatever you do, however, make sure it's appropriate for your store and customers," advises Davidowitz. "Next, be interactive. Customers want to participate in what's going on."
Some of the best ways to inspire customer participation are the easiest. Serve coffee, show videos, let customers swing a bat or hit a few golf balls. Let children play computer games. Invite an expert or celebrity associated with your merchandise to meet and mingle with shoppers. Start a club that gives your most loyal shoppers special privileges. Sponsor a seminar. Host a public-service event or fund-raiser for a local charity at your store.
"Allow your customers to participate," echoes Marketing Developments' Eichelbaum. "Let them test your products right next to your merchandise display."
A computer software retailer, for example, could invite patrons to test new programs on computers next to his or her software display. An athletic shoe retailer might set up a display of running shoes with gigantic graphics of the Boston Marathon in the background and a video featuring runners from past marathons. The owner of a store selling musical instruments might make room for a ministage so shoppers can perform for a brief session, or install video screens to broadcast musical entertainment. "This livens up your store by providing customers direct experience with your product," says Eichelbaum. "It also provides entertainment and energy for other shoppers."
A great entertailing idea may not cost you a dime if you know where to look for help. "Identify someone who's doing what's appropriate for your retail store and make a deal with him," explains Davidowitz. "For example, get the owner of the best coffee store in town to [set up and run] a food cart in your store. Let him sell great coffee and gourmet cakes. He gets the money from his sales and pays you rent for the space. Your customers enjoy themselves and spend money in your store."
In the end, the most creative entertailing concept won't make up for what customers want more than anything else: top merchandise, fair pricing and outstanding customer service. Warns Davidowitz: "When all the smoke clears, entertainment can get customers into your store, but you still have to offer them a great value."
Carla Goodman, who writes frequently about business marketing, always shops where the entertainment is best.