Retailers up the ante with fashion shows, wine, food
Nashville Business Journal - by Eric Snyder
Date: Friday, December 3, 2010, 5:00am CST
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Gibbs Jr.
Mila Grigg, president of Moda Image Consulting, speaks to shoppers during an after-hours event at the Dillardï¿½s at CoolSprings Galleria this fall.
Shopping is often little more than an impersonal transaction. Some retailers, however, are catering to their customers with music, wine and advice.
With a goal of building stronger relationships with customers, retailers are using in-store events to draw in more shoppers ï¿½ and more sales ï¿½ amid an extremely competitive retail scene.
Events can help increase sales and reinforce a retailerï¿½s brand, but they also offer lessons for other businesses. Even if you deal with clients, events can be a way to share new products or services, show gratitude or lure those wary of high-pressure sales tactics.
Ladies night out
Mila Grigg, president of Moda Image Consulting, convinced the managers of the Dillardï¿½s at CoolSprings Galleria to allow Grigg and 150 of her clients and invited guests to have free rein of the store, and to pay her for the privilege.
After walking in on a red carpet, guests, attending for free, heard Grigg speak about her favorite clothing items in the store. Shoppers were then allowed to explore for two hours, getting advice from Grigg on whether items worked for their figures.
In two hours, Grigg estimates those 150 customers spent $30,000 on merchandise. Having a third party endorse an outfit, she said, made it easier to plunk down cash.
Brant Musgrave, a Dillardï¿½s district manager, said allowing Grigg to host an event was an easy call, as it allowed the department store to reinforce its brand as customer friendly and fashion forward. Lacking the ï¿½coast-to-coastï¿½ presence of some retailers, events help Dillardï¿½s stand out and connect with its customers.
Wine and cheese
Brett Corrieri, proprietor of Corrieriï¿½s Formaggeria and Vinea Wine & Spirits and a corporate chef at Mafiozaï¿½s, all in the 12 South neighborhood, was frustrated that his wine-store customers didnï¿½t know about his cheese shop located directly behind it and vice versa.
To get some cross pollination, Corrieri began hosting free wine tastings outside of the cheese shop during warm months. During the colder months, he charges for wine tastings inside Mafiozaï¿½s.
The events help promote all three entities, and at a better bang-for-the-buck compared to traditional advertising, Corrieri said. He said the events, particularly the free tastings, also serve as a thank you to the neighborhood, where many customers stroll from their homes to the shops.
The events are of the soft-sell variety: a list of the wines and their prices is displayed. If a guest shows an interest in the wine and has questions, staff from the wine store helps him or her learn more. If guests just want to sip chardonnay while talking with their friends, theyï¿½re left alone.
This is a key aspect of hosting a successful retail event: Customers donï¿½t want to feel like an event is just being held to sell them stuff, said Lynni Megginson, a Washington, D.C.-based retailer-turned-interior designer and author of ï¿½The Absolute Guide to Planning Fabulous Retail Events.ï¿½ Event guests, she said, want to feel comfortable, almost like theyï¿½re at someoneï¿½s home.
Britt Beemer, founder of South Carolina-based Americaï¿½s Research Group, said the main keys to any successful retail event should be kept in mind by any business, even those not in retail.
ï¿½People always love to be the first to see new things,ï¿½ Beemer said. And events, retail or otherwise, should be fun. ï¿½Fun and new still works, every time,ï¿½ he said.
Planning your event
Hosting an in-store event is a powerful tool for retailers to increase and connect with their customers. They also, however, place the retailerï¿½s name and reputation on the line, even if the event is being thrown by an invited guest such as a fashion coach.
ï¿½ Be discriminating. Many events are based around a vendor doing an in-store demonstration. Be cautious in choosing whom you allow to do this. ï¿½Theyï¿½re either going to make you look silly, or theyï¿½re going to make you look fantastic,ï¿½ said Brant Musgrave, a district manager for Dillardï¿½s.
Repercussions from a failed event can be permanent. ï¿½If things donï¿½t go well, the consumer will never give you a second chance,ï¿½ said Britt Beemer, a South Carolina retail consultant.
ï¿½ Offer a discount. ï¿½Even the high-end customer expects something for their time,ï¿½ Beemer said. Discounts not only bring customers to a store, but they help bring them back. Consider leaving your guests with a discount offer for a return visit.
ï¿½ Timing is everything. Lynni Megginson, a Washington, D.C.-based interior designer, held her home-decor storeï¿½s events on Thursdays. This allowed her customers, mainly mothers, to talk about their experience at the Friday school pick-up lane or at the weekend country club. Event customers, Megginson said, ï¿½become your own little team of ambassadors.ï¿½
But beware of your surroundings. Before scheduling one event, Megginson neglected to check the school calendar. Turned out that Thursday was part of a long break.
ï¿½ Eric Snyder
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