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Planning your Intro

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | January 20, 2017
Most businesses get hectic during the Christmas season.  Of course retailers are busy, but restaurants see an uptick and many service businesses also see increased traffic as people are assessing family insurance, accounting, wills, investments and other needs.  Once the holiday season is over, people assume businesses are “slow”, but that isn’t necessarily the case.  Everything that businesses couldn’t get to during the hectic holidays come crashing down as entrepreneurs play “catch up” during January.  Plus, businesses have inventory, a quick conversion to Valentines Day, tax season, the impending spring, etc…  
Lost in the work load are all the upcoming events and activities that may drive people to your door.  A little planning on your part now can pull people into your locations and capitalize on area opportunities.  Take some time and read through the list of upcoming events (and suggestions for event capitalization).
Various Dates- ESU Athletics- The number one tourist attraction in Emporia is sports.  Emporia State athletics brings in a number of different people from far and wide for basketball, baseball, track and various other activities over the course of the semester.  CLICK HERE for scheduled activities, and then reach out to locals to “contextualize” event attendance (get your ESU gear here before the big game against ____; grab dinner before the game/celebrate after the game here, etc.).  If you use certain area media with an extended base, or you use targeted social media, you can reach out to the fans of opposing schools traveling to Emporia.
February 10-11- Sunflower Gymnastics Invitational.-  Sunflower Gymnastics has quietly created one of the largest athletic events in Emporia, a two day tornament that has 400 participants.  Because of the nature of the event, people may want to walk around the area adjacent to the Civic Auditorium (downtown), and visiting parents may view this as a shopping/dining opportunity.  Using signage that welcomes people, loading specials on the Etown App, seeking sponsorship opportunities with Sunflower Gymnastics and simply thanking participants for coming to Emporia are helpful ways to drive customers and encourage repeat traffic.
February 14- Valentines Day-  People just assume that folks HAVE to do something for this holiday, but there are a lot of folks looking for activities and opportunities.  Keeping people in town and spending at your business takes some work on your part.  Window displays, traditional advertising and social media are part of the puzzle.  Creating special Valentines packages, dusting off the Christmas “wish lists” that contain items some of your customers didn’t receive, or developing specialty events that run counter to the holiday (singles events) may drive traffic.  It takes a plan.
March 8-11- State Basketball- State basketball championships in smaller towns are a BIG DEAL.  Some communities that head to Emporia for championships will bring EVERYBODY (or, at least it will seem that way).  League tournaments, sub state, March Madness…  All of the local “name” tournaments are an opportunity to drive shopping and dining.  HOWEVER, you have to remember that a lot of the people visiting Emporia don’t know our local businesses.  The names of our unique offerings need context for those people visiting, and we need to work hard to visibly welcome folks to town.
March 11- Pub Crawl – This is a relatively new addition to the spring list.  The St. Patrick’s Day events aren’t new.  There is a group of wonderful volunteers associated with the St. Patrick’s Day committee that have made that event happen for years, but the concept of a “crawl” that gets people to walk around an area provides businesses with opportunities is fairly new.  As people are walking around, what are you doing to pull people in to your business?  Are you supporting the St. Pats parade?  Are you hosting ancillary events?
March 25th- Longest Lunch-  Another new addition to the list of area activities, the Longest Lunch encourages people to visit a variety of local food based businesses to obtain specialty dishes and enter for the chance to win prizes.  People in the downtown area walking around equals opportunity!  CLICK HERE for the group Facebook Page and determine if there is a way you can work cooperatively to draw additional dollars.
April 16- Easter- Clothing, baskets, goodies, locations for families to meet, photography- Easter is a family holiday that can draw people into Emporia to visit family from a great distance.  Sunday holidays are tough for some businesses, but a focused marketing strategy can help you drive sales prior to Easter at full price.  Reminding people how they can use your business for that particular holiday is important, and I’m not just talking about restaurants and retailers.  When families get together for holidays, it’s a good opportunity to talk about insurance, legal issues (wills and trusts), investments, accounting, healthcare decisions, real estate and more.  Some creative marketing can draw people in a day or two in advance of Easter to talk about family matters.
April 22nd- The Taste- The Taste is one of my favorite events, even if I don’t get to “enjoy” the event like the general public.  For clothing retailers, this is a chance for people to get “dressed up”, and you can market accordingly.  Sending Emporia Main Street digital ads can help us reach out to participants with specific messaging.  For bars and certain food vendors, people will “pre-game” at various restaurants and then often go out afterwards.  Attending the event to encourage patronage is a good way to encourage people to visit your business afterwards.  Marketing through Main Street is a good way to encourage patronage before hand.  For food vendors, you can participate as a vendor during the event and potentially expose your business to a new audience in an inexpensive marketing environment.
April 24-30- Glass Blown Open Activities-  The Glass Blown Open is the world’s largest disc golf tournament.  Whenever you have 1,500 people hit a community during the school year, opportunities exist.  In past years, the participants of the GBO have had a big impact on “consumable” types of businesses- restaurants, grocery stores, bars and specialty retailers.  Having the Dynamic Discs store downtown, the GBO Block Party and registration events can pull people in proximity to your business.  Welcome signs, disc baskets, chalking sidewalks, visitor specials and working with Dynamic Discs on sponsorships can give you a solid introduction to potential customers.
May 6- Cinco de Mayo- The Hispanics of Today and Tomorrow have worked hard to bring an expanding event downtown and expose a wonderful cultural celebration to the masses.  Between the food, the dancing, the music, the food (did we mention the food?) and all the other family friendly events, Cinco de Mayo continues to grow and develop scholarship funds for local students.  This year has a few additional wrinkles that will please the crowd (stay tuned).  Whenever we have large events in the downtown area, it is a great opportunity to capture foot traffic.  Whether you have an event at the festival or you welcome overflow crowds, a little prep work can ensure your business can market to a target audience!
May 14- Mothers Day- Gifts, lunch/dinner, cards and quality time are the hallmarks of Mother’s Day.  Traditional media advertising that is supplemented with social media and “in-store” ads help support patronage of your business.  Remember those “wish lists” you had for Christmas?  Mother’s Day is a great holiday to break those out again so folks know what to buy for mom.
May 20- Flatland Cruisers Car Show- Another Emporia tradition from the Flatland Cruisers Car Club, the car show brings people from a distance that stay all day long (weather permitting).  While some will stay permanently attached to the vicinity of their cars, others will take the opportunity to explore the area.  Working with the Flatland Cruisers by donating prizes for drawings or adding sponsorships is one way to get involved.  You can also invite people into your business with car related merchandise or car based “scavenger hunts” to pull visitors off the street and into your businesses.
Graduations…- Local high schools, Emporia State University, Flint Hills Technical College and other area institutions all have graduations that hit in May.  Promoting (now) that you have rental spaces available for graduation parties, and specialty services (like catering) is important.  Go beyond creating “Great Grad Gifts” slogans, and develop a specialty section in your store.  Highlight gift cards/gift certificates, and pick up some graduation cards for easy packaging.
June 3- Dirty Kanza- The Dirty Kanza is one of the top five races of its type in the world.  Thousands of people descend upon Emporia on June 2nd and 3rd, though many are here for a couple of weeks prior to the race getting acclimated to gravel roads and Kansas winds.  The DK draws a lot of families into town that are looking for “stuff to do”.  Restaurants are busy, businesses that sell mementos gain traffic and many businesses that have a presence at the finish line party have a fantastic day.  A few things that you may want to remember: a lot of people travel a long distance to get to the Dirty Kanza, so retailers need to be prepared to highlight shipping products “home” (wherever that may be).  Talking “biking” with riders and their families is always popular, and when combined with welcome signs, sidewalk chalking and Flint Hills (or Emporia) products, you can develop sales.  Remember that the Midwest mentality is one of our best selling points with DK riders (and their families), so spend a little extra time educating your staff about local attractions, make sure people have a basic understanding of DK related events(where they are and when they are) and make people feel like part of the Emporia family.
Each of these activities pull people into the community, and enterprising businesses (with a plan) can take advantage of the additional traffic.  But, these events can sneak up on you… Welcoming people to the community, educating your staff about what is going on, and creating marketing/advertising plans that help capture the attention of specialty traffic is a simple way to increase consumer visits and sales.  Take some time to write down events and activities that are potentially important to your business and create a “battle plan” to ensure you are successful over the next few months!

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.