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You Can’t Catch if You Don’t Cast

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | April 18, 2019
Over the next few weeks, downtown Emporia will fill with several thousand visitors from all over the world.  These people will shop, eat, and partake in entertainment options that will result in a significant boost for our local economy.  For businesses that work at converting visitors to spenders, the next few weeks could be a tremendous growth opportunity.  For those that simply expect thousands of people to walk through their door and spend without putting forth any effort, the next few weeks could be a frustrating disappointment.  If you want to be a business that generates sales from local visitors over the next few weeks, consider some of the tips below:
1. Welcome people.  This sounds simple, but a lot of people mess this step up.  You should definitely create window displays (Check out our contest) and generate welcome signs (our Welcome Wagon chalking event is always a hit), but a sign isn’t the same thing as a “welcome”.  The Midwest is known for hospitable citizens, but we can sometimes seem standoffish to outsiders.  If you want visitors to feel welcome, you have to put your best extrovert foot forward and enthusiastically welcome people to your business and to your community.
2. Make sure your business type is obvious.  It’s hard to tell what some businesses do from their name or signage.  If people are new to an area and have limited time, they probably aren’t going to waste their effort on businesses if they aren’t clear what a business sells.  Take a look at your store front, and find ways to make your products/services obvious to potential shoppers.  If you need help, contact Emporia Main Street.
3. Great experiences create great ‘word of mouth”.  People far from home love to talk about the businesses they “discovered” that provided unique experiences.  Find a special prop that highlights your business that people can use to take a “selfie” and post to social media.  Create something interactive that gets new customers involved.  Highlight unique items or services that generate the “we are the only place you can find this” buzz.  Provide fun education about your special items that make customers want to share information.
4. Don’t forget the locals.  People from Denmark have no idea what local businesses are popular and which ones aren’t.  People visiting are attracted to places with people.  Run specials or events that encourage locals to patronize your business during activities.  The locals will get a kick our of the increased traffic, and the visitors will think your business is “the place to be”.
5. Meet visitors where they are.  You can’t stay locked up inside your four store walls and expect to form relationships with visitors.  Get out and participate in the events and activities that draw people into town.  If you see someone that looks “lost”, stop and talk to them, introduce yourself, and invite them to your business.  Encourage your staff and customers to act as advocates for your business (you can’t be everywhere at once).  Busting out some custom staff t-shirts to emphasize your brand might not be a bad idea during local events.
6. Form mutually beneficial partnerships with event organizers.  Many businesses get too focused on the actual event when trying to formulate relationships with local organizers, and they don’t get focused on what motivates the event organizers.  For some events, monetary sponsorship is the name of the game.  Other groups are focused on values that are more complex.  Finding ways that you can form a relationship, in a manner that both sides agree with, is key to building a sustainable relationship.  Simply expecting events to throw you a bone when they have a thousand other things to worry about will lead to disappointment.  However, businesses that go out of their way to work to build and grow events through mutually beneficial activities should expect some consideration.
7. Support core goals.  Attracting relationships with event organizers generally starts with supporting their core goals year round.  It’s a little easier to talk to the Hispanics of Today and Tomorrow about Cinco de Mayo and Day of the Dead if your business is supporting the Latino community and their goal of providing educational support throughout the year.  Building a culture that supports event growth is a great way to get noticed, meet leadership, and create sustainable relationships that will ultimately result in more customer traffic.
8. Be an information resource.  When your lead in with a customer is “how can I help you today” (or some variation thereof) people automatically give a defensive response and wander off.  When people come in for local events, it provides businesses with the opportunity to communicate differently.  Asking people if they are finding everything okay, where they are from, how they are doing (within the context of a competitive event), or other basic questions can start a conversation.  When you add valuable information, you have suddenly created a communication conduit that can lead to sales.  Remember, no business exists as an island.  When businesses are just out for “me” everyone (including the “me” business) suffers in the long term.  When businesses can point out areas of interest, unique businesses, and answer basic questions, they retain visitors to the community and encourage repeat businesses.
9. Contextualize your sales.  We really can’t emphasize this enough.  If you want to sell products or services to visitors, you have to determine what products/services appeal to visiting customers, and then customize your sales approach for the visiting group.  The people visiting for a Cinco de Mayo party will be different than hyper athletes preparing for the Dirty Kanza.  If I sell bath supplies, I might emphasize a gel mask for hangovers or a margarita bath bomb for the Cinco crowd.  If I’m selling to a DK rider, I may want to emphasize after sun treatments, or bath items that can help muscles relax after a long ride.  Your sales approach cannot be “one size fits all” during events.  You must find ways to become relevant to your visiting customer base.
10. Offer services that make spending easy.  If people are traveling from a distance, can you ship items?  Are you collecting email addresses so you can follow up with your on-line store sales capabilities once people return home?  Are you emphasizing your social media platforms so you can continue communication that may lead to future sales?  Can you hold items in your store with customer information “tagged” on the item so people can enjoy an event and then swing in for a pick up when it’s time to go home?  Do you take debit/credit cards (a lot of people don’t carry cash)?  Do you have ways to expedite the checkout process during busy times (visitors can’t always wait)?  Do your store hours coincide with event hours (people obviously can’t shop if you are closed)?
If events drop a few thousand people in proximity to your business, it is up to you to convert the visitors to buyers.  But, you can’t catch a customer if you won’t cast your store reel.  Your efforts over the next few weeks will determine if events are a help or a hindrance for your specific business.  Innovate and determine strategies to effectively target visitors, and convert the increase in foot traffic to an increase in sales.  If you are stuck, and need some ideas, your Emporia Main Street is here to help.  Simply contact us.

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.