Looking to the past for ideas that can be updated for the present is a solid promotional tactic.  Identifying current promotions that can partner with store fronts is another way we can develop new promotional tools.  The old “sidewalk sale” that ran in the middle of the work day went the way of the “one breadwinner per household” years, but we can see an updated version in the Great American Market or Midnight Madness events.  Business luncheons to find out what’s going on in the community have evolved into social media groups.  Phone trees have been replaced by bulk e-mails.  Paper newsletters have gone electronic.  Charity auctions have pre-event photo galleries.  Printed directories have been replaced with mobile web searches or community mobile applications.
The basic concepts of what we “used to do” are still there, but the ideas are updated to incorporate new technologies.  Other trends that highlight group shopping, home based “parties” and shopping rewards can partner with existing businesses to create a “win-win” promotional environment.  Below we will cover two basic promotional types: one that we have recently tested, and one that we will test in the near future.  We hope one or both of the promotional tactics encourage you to try something new with your business to draw in more (and different) customers.
1.  The Not at Home, Home Based Party –  For female shoppers, the home based business party is a regular occurrence.  People are invited to someone’s home to view the latest in (insert product or service here).  Hosts of the party generally get some sort of merchandise and prizes or “specials” are a regular part of the party atmosphere.  Add some food, music and libations to the company of friends and a good time is had by most.  I say “most” because I don’t know too many people that enjoy cleaning up before or after a party.  And, with household gatherings less common than they used to be, some people find it a little weird to attend an event in someone’s home (especially if they don’t know them REALLY well).

So, what do you do if you want to host a party, but you don’t want to bother someone at their home?  You could always rent a facility, and their are several different temporary rental opportunities in Emporia (contact Emporia Main Street for some ideas), but you might have a better option.  Why not find a friendly store front to coordinate your party with?  Your hosting can pull more people into a storefront business, and the familiarity of a storefront environment can encourage people to attend. Facilities are already set up to receive the public, and a home doesn’t need rearranged to accept guests.

Although home based businesses probably don’t want to approach a storefront that sells the same things their business does, the potential exists for cooperative opportunities.  Beyond retail, service businesses and restaurants can work with small social groups to get on a “rotation” or act as a consistent site host to encourage recognition and even generate sales.  Some local restaurants host civic organizations on a continual basis to boost weekly sales totals, and some craft groups rotate restaurants for social crafting time.  Store front businesses can even reach out to other store front businesses to cooperate in rotating “parties.”  This low cost promotion simply requires friendliness and the willingness to reach out to some area groups.  Contact Emporia Main Street for some ideas on businesses you can team up with.
2.  The Store Crawl –  The Midnight Madness late-night shopping event through Emporia Main Street contains some mapping materials that highlight participating merchants.  The Eek Town Trick or Treat event also has a map that showcases area businesses distributing candy.  In the same genre of those activities is the “Crawl”.  Several people are familiar with a bar crawl, where participants “hop” from one bar to another as they journey through a community.  Progressive dinners with area restaurants are a popular way to get “foodies” in your doors.  Specialty businesses that sell a niche item can participate in regional versions of a crawl, like a yarn or quilt hop.  Based on a suggestion by a local advertising sales representative, we are tweaking the crawl concept to fit a more eclectic mix of businesses.
The Main Street “stroll” will feature different businesses that people are encouraged to stop in. Businesses can give away food, products or (the most popular alternative) sample a wine or other libation.  The community we are basing this event on had a punch card denoting if the participating consumer tried red or white wine in a particular store, receiving a ticket punch after they sampled.  The first iteration of this event will test local women’s groups to participate in a ticketed “stroll”.  Future versions will target smaller visitors groups or will reach out to established target market groups from other communities.  Hours for the event may extend slightly past a businesses traditional closing time, but the event won’t extend to midnight like a late-night shopping event.  Eventually, prizes may be given based on signed receipts from businesses to encourage shopping/dining/purchased services.  A portion of the ticket prices will be distributed to participating businesses to help offset expenses.  June 21st is our date for testing the Main Street stroll, so if you have a business that might want to participate, or you have a group that would like to be our test “strollers”, contact Emporia Main Street and we can discuss this event in greater detail.
Eventually, we hope to utilize our proximity to larger metropolitan areas to draw people into our community and expose them to our unique businesses and features.  People from a larger city aren’t going to leave their Arby’s to come eat at ours, but we have people that travel a pretty significant distance to eat at some of our restaurants and specialty food retailers.  The same logic applies to our unique merchandise retailers and service providers: people probably won’t make a specific trip to Emporia if they have the same brand right down the street.  However, if we can expose people from larger areas to our unique businesses, we may pull people off the interstate, turnpike or highway system on a more consistent basis.
Read this article and much more in this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!