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Feed the Need

Can serving up food and drink improve your sales?

At the end of a popular bike trail in Purcellville, Virginia, Linda Singer's Final Draft Booksellers lures bicyclists with drinks, nutrition bars and delicious fudge-and of course, her wide array of tomes.

"The food component of the business complements bookselling," Singer, 40, says. "People come in for something to drink and say, 'Oh, books!' Or [they] come in for a book and pick up a cup of coffee. One drives sales of the other."

Call it "shopper-tainment": the trend of adding more benefits to the shopping experience, including food and drink. Says Edgar A. Falk, author of 1001 Ideas to Create Retail Excitement (Penguin), "Food centers can build revenue and goodwill, encouraging people to spend more time and money in your store."

Don't have a culinary bent? Take a cue from Millennium Music, which leased part of its Charleston, South Carolina, store to a branch of Kaminsky's Café. The cafe has a full bar and menu as well as a stage where live performances go on virtually every night, attracting a big happy hour crowd. Says operating partner Kent Wagner, 39: "The synergy with the store has helped business and our goal to [be] a full entertainment destination."

Even though accidents can happen when food and merchandise mix, Falk thinks food is still a good idea for retailers seeking an edge. "Something [could be] damaged because a customer spilled on it, but that's usually a small price to pay," he says. "If your merchandise is expensive, have one section for eating and another for shopping."

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the April 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Feed the Need.

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