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What to Do When You've Built It and No One Comes

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What to Do

In a small enclosed mall near my home in Seattle, there used to be a little gourmet ice cream shop. The two women owners were very dedicated and worked long hours. But business was terrible because there wasn't much foot traffic at the mall.

Today, though, business is great, and so is their lifestyle. The pair closed their store and bought an ice cream cart. Now, they sell their homemade ice cream treats at every busy, community event in town, from school dances to 4th of July parades. The foot traffic is incredible, they make tons of sales, and then they're off work for a week or two. The profit is all theirs, with no big retail rent to pay.

When you've got something to sell, being stuck in one place isn't always a winning idea. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

If customers don't come to your store, one thing you can do is bring your store to them. Restaurants have already jumped whole-hog into this area with traveling food trucks.

Julia Hutton decided to do this in her own retail business, and now she's developed a way to help other retailers sell on the road, too. Hutton's bike-accessory shop was stymied by slow sales. So she created a retail-friendly trailer, the Extreme ReTrailer, she could use to pack up her merchandise and take it to major bike rallies around the country to sell. Her sales at the events blew the doors off what she could ring up at her traditional shop -- Hutton says she made more in a weekend than her store pulled in in a week.

Now, she is marketing the trailers and helping other retailers take their shops on the road, too. As Hutton found out, hitting events can be a great strategy, as niche events can deliver a concentrated audience of exactly the people who want your products.

The ReTrailer reminds me a bit of the reusable, temporary Starbucks store unveiled in Seattle recently. Like the ReTrailer, its stackable, modular containers allow the java giant to test out locations and quickly move to hot spots.

Another option is to put on home "trunk shows," where you bring select merchandise out to shoppers. A lot of companies have hit it big with the home-party format, so that's another option to try.

Retail trends change fast, as do the "hot" retail locations in any particular town. Even so, it's easier to take advantage of the latest trend if you're not locked into a long-term lease.

How have you used unconventional methods to find more customers? Leave a comment and share your ideas.

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