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Does your store have ‘community charisma’?

Today’s consumers want to feel connected to the businesses they purchase from – and being part of the local community goes a long way towards earning their trust and con dence, write RICH KIZER and GEORGANNE BENDER.

Much of our time each year is spent visiting retailers, interacting with shoppers, and perusing stores. In our 31 years together we’ve seen the good, the bad and the really ugly. The retailers we meet can be placed in one of three categories – those who ‘get it’, those who don’t yet, and those who never will.

Retailers who ‘get it’ always find a way to thrill shoppers.

Those in the second category can evolve into category one, but the ones who never will are the retailers who take to social media to complain about the lack of sales, about customers who annoy them, suppliers that cheese them off, and the things their community won’t do for them.

Sadly, most of these retailers won’t survive in the long run.

Connecting with community

When we started our business, we decided we’d need an office. We got a map of the area and put a pin in the dead centre between the two towns we lived in, and St Charles, Illinois became our new home. St Charles has a strong sense of community and an active Business Alliance that plans year-round events that draw thousands of people from all over region.

While most businesses embrace these events, some don’t – and that’s their first mistake.

What these businesses lack is ‘community charisma’; they feel separated from the people who should make up the majority of their customer base and don’t generate much customer loyalty or goodwill.

Terri King, owner of gift store My Secret Garden in Michigan, is one of the retailers we have visited over the years.

She suggests retailers jump into community events with both feet, saying, “When there is a festival in my town, we throw the doors open. We drag things out on the footpath, create photo ops, dress in costume and have a blast with all the energy.”

The only opportunities you’ll miss are the ones you don’t take.

You can’t win if you don’t play

One example of a great community event is the annual Scarecrow Festival. Over three days, more than 150 hand-crafted scarecrows made by local businesses are displayed in the town park.

The festival also features live entertainment, food, rides, kids’ activities, an arts and crafts show, plus special deals from local businesses – there’s a lot to do.

The town is jam-packed with people (or it was, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will be again in the future).

What is frustrating is the stores that decide to close during the festival while there are tens of thousands of potential customers walking past!

This decision is justified by the limited parking available, because people will ask to use the store’s restroom, or because the store owner thinks shoplifting will be an issue.

All of these concerns are understandable, but closing the store serves no benefit.

The retailer could have stood in front of the store and told passersby about their business, perhaps holding a raffle to collect email addresses, and hand out coupons for special offers.

The bottom line is that people notice when a business doesn’t participate in a community event, and there are real benefits to participating.

Assess your charisma

We have developed an exercise called ‘Circles of Excellence’ that we recommend business owners carry out every quarter.

Begin by drawing a circle and inside list all of the things that are essential to serve your customers – such as staff who have excellent product knowledge, a clear, informative, and functional website, and parking close to the store.

Next, draw a larger circle around the first one; this outer circle represents the extra things that you offer, for example free gift wrapping, classes and other in-store events, spontaneous sales, and social media promotions.

It’s most important to focus on the outer circle – these are the factors that make your store stand out and create your ‘community charisma’. However, once customers get used to the perks in the outer circle, they get relegated to the inner circle.

This is why it’s so important to do this exercise at least once a quarter and before each community event.

The power of participation

So, what can you do to jumpstart your community charisma? Here are some ideas from our recent travels to help you get the ideas flowing:

Harness the power of selfies – People of all ages today practice ‘lifestyle marketing’, sharing where they are and what they are doing on social media. For that reason, ‘selfie stations’ with props are an easy way to make your store a part of their story.

Sometimes all you need is a cardboard frame to make a selfie special. It should include your business’ name, address and hashtag.

Alternatively, you can increase your business’ local exposure by hosting a selfie contest. Your post might read: “Take a selfie in our store and receive 10 per cent off your next purchase! Visit us between (date) and (date), take a selfie in the store and post it on Instagram. Tag us, include the hashtag, and you could win (prize)”.

Change your selfie station and/or props seasonally to encourage shoppers to share photos often.

Make your signage work harder – A survey commissioned by courier service FedEx found that 68 per cent of customers said they had made a purchase after a sign caught their attention.

The next time your community has an event, or another local business proposes a cross- promotion, look at as an opportunity to engage shoppers.

Every smart retailer knows that signs on that sales floor encourage purchases, so why are so many stores ‘under-signed’? And when displays are signed, why are those signs so boring?

It’s okay to have fun with your in-store signage; express your personality!

Chalk on the footpath is another option for signage as it stops foot traffic right outside your storefront, takes advantage of unused space, and is free.

Many retailers have embraced easel signs too because they give a store ‘street level’ exposure and they are easy to change. Use them to highlight events going on in-store or to give your customers a laugh.

Another way to build good-will and community charisma is to put up signs celebrating your employees.

This helps build a rapport with your potential customers, improves your staff morale, and makes your business feel more relatable and friendly.

Try out cross-promotions – Something that always stands out is when retailers support one another, and cross-promotion can be a very effective and affordable strategy for increasing the visibility of your store.

Repetition is a key part of advertising because it helps customers recall your business, and cross-promotion means shoppers will be reminded several times.

Large companies that own multiple businesses often use cross-promotion to their advantage. In the US, Disney owns the television network ABC, so advertisements for Disney films are regularly played in the commercial breaks of ABC shows.

Another example is airlines cross- promoting with hotels and car-rental companies. Product placement in movies and TV shows is yet another form of cross- promotion.

On a local level, cross-promotions between small businesses can be even more creative. One example we encountered during a holiday season was a dance school that began providing ‘living window displays’ to stores all over town.

The dancers would interact with shoppers and perform in the window, enticing them inside, while the businesses cross-promoted the school’s presentation of The Nutcracker.

While this cross-promotion may seem a little unexpected at first, it is to a retailer’s advantage to choose a cross-promotion partner without many shared customers to reach new and untapped markets.

The ice-cream parlour next-door isn’t a great fit because you probably have many customers in common simply by proximity – but the hairdresser or nail salon down the street could be perfect.

Find businesses with customers who would be interested in what you sell and exchange ideas on how to promote one another.

The bottom line

Community is important to today’s customers; you attract positive reviews for being a good corporate citizen, protecting the environment, recycling, producing sustainable goods, and supporting charity.

You also earn their loyalty by weaving yourself into the fabric of your local community.

So, the next time your community has an event, or another local business proposes a cross-promotion, look at as an opportunity to engage shoppers and meet potential new customers.

And if someone uses your restroom without purchasing anything? You’ll survive!


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Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender

Contributors •

Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender are retail strategists, authors and consultants. Visit: kizerandbender.com

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