Marketing can be a tricky game for small-business owners who don't have a lot of cash or the expertise to devise grand marketing schemes. That's why smart business owners take advantage of easy marketing opportunities whenever they arise.

A simple way to snag customers is to take advantage of the crowds created by city events like parades, marathons, street fairs, etc. With a little planning and some creative flair, the increased foot traffic can equal increased sales and repeat business. Marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, president of the National Marketing Federation and author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars, offers her tips for getting people off the street and into your store during random city events.

  1. Plan a corresponding contest or event. Make your store a special destination for people attending the city event. In the weeks leading up to it, start promoting a contest or special occasion that will take place inside your store either before the event starts or immediately following it.

    "A Halloween parade, for example, is a good opportunity to hold a kid's costume contest that you can promote through your advertising or local radio station," Gordon says. "Award prizes just before the parade starts so that people coming to the parade will have a reason to come into your store and see their kids compete."

    Peter Rossing, owner of Muse Art + Design in Portland, Ore., came up with a special contest of his own to attract a local street fair's attendees into his small art and supply store. The annual street fair, which in past years had taken place directly in front of his store, had been moved down the street and away from his storefront, so Rossing, 43, devised a plan to make people aware of his business.

    In the six weeks leading up to the event, Rossing promoted a special contest where people could submit artist trading cards, 2.5-by-3.5 blank cards that could be drawn or painted on, to be judged for prizes. The winner would be announced at the street fair. Rossing also set up a table at the fair for people to create cards that day and participate in other free art-related activities. By the end, Rossing received more than 400 entries that he displayed on the building outside his store for people to vote on.

    The contest, Rossing admits, didn't drive sales that day, but it did drive foot traffic and generated positive feedback from people who were impressed with his giveaways and family oriented activities.

    "It was more about generating word-of-mouth and goodwill and community awareness than necessarily [about] sales that day," says Rossing, who considers the contest a success. "Just the fact that we got so many people on the east end of the street [where my store is located] was huge."
  2. Merchandise your store entry. Attract people into your store by creating window displays full of fun items that directly relate to the event. People attending a Christmas parade, for example, might duck inside to buy a Santa hat or reindeer ears to wear during the parade. No matter what type of business you have, you can easily stock up on inexpensive impulse buys that appeal to passers-by.

    "As customers bring these to the register," Gordon says, "it will give them a chance to get a good look at your other merchandise," which is a tactic Rossing is considering for next year's street fair.

    "I could probably clean up and make a lot of one-day sales," he says about displaying low-cost, impulse-buy items.
  3. Join the event. One of the easiest ways to get noticed is to actually participate in the event. If it's an event that has booths, set up shop with a sample of attention-grabbing merchandise. But don't stop there--give your customers a reason to come into your store after they've left your booth by offering coupons, special discounts or prizes that have to be redeemed in-store by a certain date.

Getting customers to come into his store is a tactic Randy Pearn learned after years of participating in the Oklahoma City marathon where his The Athlete's Foot franchise is located. Every year Pearn, 54, sets up a booth at the marathon expo, which is held two days before the event in the downtown convention center. Close to 100 vendors set up at the expo to take advantage of the crowds of runners who come to pick up their race packets and circulate the booths.

The first year Pearn participated he brought a Fitprint® machine, a pressure-point scanner used by The Athlete's Foot to determine the exact shoe size, support and cushion a person needs. The Fitprint machine was a success--"We scanned people's feet nonstop for two days," Pearn says--but nobody came into his store as a result. Now, Pearn gives people a reason to come into his store by simply displaying a DVD in his booth that explains the Fitprint system to pique their interest. In addition to handing out coupons and directions to his store at the booth, he also includes coupons inside the race packets that every marathon participant receives.

"That works much, much better," Pearn says, noting that 65 people came in this year to redeem his marathon coupons. "If people come into the store and experience our expertise firsthand, we'll hopefully have customers for life, not just for one day."

With a little creative planning, you too can turn random passers-by into customers for life. Find out what events are taking place in your city and turn the crowds into sales with these simple marketing tactics.