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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Leverage the weaknesses of the Big Box Craft Store to grow your business!

Most customers have come to expect a lackluster experience when they visit large corporate owned retail stores. My recent trip to a local JoAnn Fabric Store is typical: I walked into the store, full of hope and expectation, jazzed up on a new project idea. I wanted to try my hand at making silk paper and was looking for the adhesive recommended on the "how to" websites that I had been reading. I went straight to the customer service counter and asked if they carried the product. The young sales clerk looked at me blankly for a moment, said that she had never heard of the item, and moved on to the next customer. I was not ready to give up the quest and politely asked her if there was someone else she could ask. The light bulb appeared to go off in her empty little head and she dutifully picked up the phone and proffered the question. I could hear the voice on the other end say "I have never heard of it" so I whispered to her that it was an adhesive commonly used in paper making in the hopes that the info would spark some product recognition. Nada. The store didn't have the specific craft item that that I needed but it sure was overflowing with lower end basic craft items and imported home goods. C'est la vie!

I still wanted to purchase some magazines, so I ventured over to the display, picked up a handful of craft publications and went to the register. The cashier was nonplussed when I paid with a business check, telling me that she didn't "know what the crap she was supposed to do with a business check." HUH? Aside from the crudeness of the response, this cashier has been working at the store for over a year...certainly long enough for me to recognize that she wasn't a newbie. She made a phone call to determine the procedure, sighing loudly at the inconvenience. Upon hanging up the telephone she shared the following tidbit: "This company has so many damn rules for everything."

Wow. Now THAT was fun......NOT!

This encounter falls within the range of "normal" for big box craft stores---it is certainly typical of my visits. In fact, as I was leaving the store I turned to the woman who was checking out next to me. She had watched the exchange and I asked her if it was apparent that I was "screaming in my head." She laughed in commiseration, noting that she always left Joann's feeling frustrated. I went home and immediately ordered the product on-line. No muss, no fuss and I will have it by week's end.

My foray into JoAnn's demonstrated once again that (1) customer service counts and (2) behemoth corporations have a difficult time marketing to the "experienced" crafter, focusing instead on the most basic of the basics. It is easy to look for another craft provider when the Big Box alternative is so inadequate.

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Leverage the weaknesses of the big box store to turn shoppers into fanatical advocates! The customer service side of the equation is easy to fix and past posts have addressed the issue. The ability to do what is necessary to attract the serious crafter is a bit more elusive for many. Big Box stores come with Big Box Financing and have the deep pockets to facilitate expansive inventory. However, the "expansive inventory" is generally wide but quite shallow, leaving the crafter unable to find specialized product or crafty education. You may lack the big budget, but you can make up for it by being more sensitive to customer needs. Be amenable to special orders for customers where possible. Keep a spiral book by the register that is specifically reserved for "wish list" items. Call the customer when that product has been ordered and when it arrives. Find specialty vendors that carry product not warehoused by the Big Box competitor. The Big Guy will beat you on price and on the volume of product, but it is easy to beat them on specialty items.

Keep on top of craft trends! Large corporations respond very slowly to trends, while small independent stores can nimbly and swiftly react to a fluid marketplace. I recently spoke with Crafty Pod diva and author extraordinaire Diane Gilleland (a copy of her latest e-book is pictured at left). I was participating in my first Podcast and Diane was interested in the state of the brick and mortar craft store. One of the questions that Diane asked was whether the retail craft store has been impacted by the growing internet craft community. There has certainly been an impact, but it has been a boon as well as a bane! While many shopkeepers bemoan the internet because of low priced internet competition, the savvy retailer will use the internet to reach out to prospective customers. Participate in on line forums to enhance visibility, post free patterns to generate interest, utilize all aspects of social media, and keep up with the latest and greatest craft techniques and innovations.

Offer classes that teach skills that complement and build upon your existing product base. Many Big Box stores have discontinued educational programs, providing a great opportunity for the independent craft retailer. However, I often hear craft store proprietors complain that no one signs up for classes, leaving them frustrated and reluctant to put together new educational opportunities. Other shopkeepers report that classes generally have a waiting list. Why the difference? Content, advertising, and timing.

Content
: The empty classes are often boring and uninspiring. A bead shop that offers the same stale basic stringing class every Saturday morning is not going to generate excitement. A bead shop that offers a class on covering a journal with silk paper and bead embellishment is a different story! Many owners are reluctant to step outside of their comfort level....once a bead store, always a bead store, and nothing more than a bead store. This is only a problem for those who want to stay in business. Advertising: Customers will only sign up for classes that they know about. Promote them in your newsletters, through bag stuffers, and via phone call reminders. Timing: It is September 29 and several of my customers are still working on the October class calendar. These are the same folks who are disappointed when the class does not fill up. People are busy. Life is hectic. My October schedule is already jam packed and I would find it impractical to fit in a last minute class. Do everything you can to make it EASY for your classes to fill up: great content that is adequately publicized in a timely manner! Feeling uninspired? Etsy, 1000 Markets, and Art Fire offer up a visual smorgasbord of amazing crafty goodness to get your creative juices flowing.

Craft stores used to be the hub of the craft community. Many stores have unknowingly abdicated that role to the internet craft community, where crafters "hang out" and exchange project ideas, run contests, craft challenges, and the like. Bring 'em back! Make sure that you have a comfortable place for people to gather, fight against the homogenization of the craft world by offering innovative and exciting product and educational opportunities, and consider sponsoring craft challenges and contests. The craft retailer who masters these skills will have me turn off my computer and happily drive past the nearest Michael's, Hobby Lobby, and Joanne's to pull into her store parking lot!


Other news:


I am a bit of a blog junkie as I constantly peruse the internet for items of interest. A few weeks ago I happened upon the blog of Arlene Watson, an accomplished felt artist with a strong Etsy presence. Arlene does a great job of marketing herself through her blog and her work is sublime. She recently did a post on some felted soap she had made for an upcoming show. Felted soap is fairly commonplace, but Arlene's use of packaging made the ordinary EXTRAORDINARY. It serves as a wonderful reminder that a tiny bit of extra effort can make a world of difference.

After all, although any felted soap is lovely...there is a big difference between this......





and this..................



Take the extra step, reach a little higher, try a little harder....you will be the one to reap the rewards!


A big thank you! This has been a very difficult week for me as we buried a furry family member. I have been humbled and gratified by the outpouring of love I have received from my internet buddies. You cannot know how helpful and comforting you have been.


"Alaska" 1996 - 2009

My good pal has left us and I am hiding at home licking my wounds. I found Alaska hiding in a ditch in the middle of a raging downpour in January 1997. She was wearing an old collar and a tag that only had some of the identification numbers visible. I managed to track down the owner and called him with the expectation of a joyful reunion but was horrified to learn that the owner not only did not want her back, he had deliberately "dumped" her because she was getting "too big." The gentle giant was not even a year old and had traveled many miles as she steadfastly tried to find her way home. She was frightened and confused when I found her. We opened our hearts and our home to this amazing animal, who became a mother to the rest of my brood...both the two legged and four legged variety. Alaska was a loyal and devoted friend and I will miss her
.


Coming next week: LAST MINUTE HALLOWEEN PROMOTIONS FOR YOUR STORE!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keep Calm and Carry On.....small changes can lead to big retail success.

During World War II t the Ministry of Information commissioned a series of propaganda posters designed to reassure frightened citizens that all necessary measures were being taken to protect the nation. The first poster read: "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory" and a million copies were posted throughout the country. Shortly thereafter 600,000 copies of the second poster, which read "Freedom is in Peril" were printed and distributed in a similar fashion. A third poster was printed, but the 2.5 million copies were held in reserve and never released. These posters were intended to be disseminated only in event of extreme crisis, such as an invasion. The poster read simply, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

As my kids would say....."True that." Seriously. If British citizens could be urged to "buck up and get on with it" in the face of eminent peril, small business owners facing a down economy can certainly be urged to do the same! The economy is a challenge. Most of my customers report much lower sales numbers this year. Of course, I have heard of some stores recording banner years, but that is the exception, not the rule. Many of the folks I talk to are complaining about the economy, their sales staff, their inventory turns, and on and on. Clearly, they have identified the problems.

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Focus on the solutions! Once you have identified the problem (bad economy, lackluster customer following, etc.) it is time to stop talking about it and direct your attention to formulating a solution. The bitching and moaning simply make you feel justified in your failure and get in the way of productivity. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. Get proactive rather than reactive and do some strategic planning to refine your business. Michael Gerber, author of The E Myth, writes about the three important stages of business development: Innovation, Quantification, and Orchestration. (Note: if you do not have this book, get it!)

Craft store inventory is largely commodity based. That is, Product X is the same in your store as it is from the store down the street or the internet reseller. So what makes you different? The manner in which you sell product X! It is what you do that is inherently you---your branding, your employees, your store ambiance. Is it time for an Innovation? Savvy business owners incorporate innovations as a means to simplify the business process by breaking it down to its critical essentials. A successful business innovation answers the following question: What is getting in the way of my customer receiving what he wants from my business? Innovation asks "what is the best way to do this?"

Oftentimes, it is the smallest and least expensive innovation that can prove to be most effective. For example, look at the way your employees greet your customers. How often have you heard one of them ask "May I help you?" You may even do it yourself [Insert sound of Booing and Hissing here]. I know that when I go into any store - in any city - in any state - it is uniformly the greeting of choice. My response is equally predictable: "No thanks, just looking." The salesperson is then free to go back to texting her boyfriend, pricing product, or ringing up another customer, secure in the knowledge that she has done her job. I am free to think evil thoughts about the incompetency of the staff.

Weird Factoid: a google search for "my local bead store sucks" comes up with over 23,000 hits! I spent some time perusing the posts and many of those complaining focused on the fact that their presence wasn't acknowledged by the sales staff. Substitute the word "yarn" for bead and you get over 16,000 hits!

How much money is the ineffective customer greeting costing your company?

The Innovation: Train your staff to greet customers differently. Mr. Gerber suggests the following: "Hi, have you been in before?" The customer will respond yes/no and your staff will then have the opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to engage on a deeper level. If the answer is "Yes," you can say "Great! It is good to have you back! We have recently created some awesome new customer programs, like (fill in the blank: Bounce Back coupons, Buddy Referral system, etc.) and if the answer is "No" you can say "Great! We are so glad that you stopped in! We have some great customer programs (enthusiastically fill in the blank here).

Cost to you: Nothing. Cost to your employees: The pain of change. Oh, well...they will get over it. Mr. Gerber believes the new greeting will put money in your pocket to the tune of a 10% to 16% sales increase and my own experience ratifies his belief.

The Quantification: You cannot judge the effectiveness of an innovation without the ability to quantify it. In other words....if you cannot measure it then you cannot manage it! How can you determine if changing the store greeting is the reason behind your sudden increase in sales? Quantify it by determining the following:

1. the number of people who came into the store before the innovation was adopted;
2. the number of people who actually made a purchase and the average dollar value of the purchase;
3. the number of people who came into the store after the innovation was adopted; and
4. the number of people who actually made a purchase and the average dollar value of the purchase after the innovation was adopted.

If Retailers took the time normally reserved for frustration and self pity (been there myself!) and spent that time quantifying all of the numbers that relate to their business, they would soon find less to complain about! Most store owners instinctively have a feel for which days of the week are "good sales days" and which are "bad sales days" but they haven't quantified it. Does a particular employee work on the good day? Are afternoons busier than mornings? Did the newsletter go out the day before the best day? Start asking questions and the patterns will reveal themselves...you will get the information you need to quantify your success. Some questions to get you started:

1. How many customers come into to your store each day?
2. How many in the morning?
3. How many in the afternoon?
4. How many people call your business each day?
5. How many call to ask for pricing information?
6. How many want to purchase a specific product?
7. How many of product X is sold each day? Product Y? Product Z?
8. What time of day did those products sell?
9. What were your sales receipts on each day?

and so on and so on! Remember...if you can't measure it, then you can't manage it! Quantifying your innovations is what enables you to make FACT BASED decisions rather than relying on hunches. In the old days when I approached my partner with some great new business plan she wisely asked if I was "smoking Hopium" again...you know...wanting the plan to succeed so much that I ignored the realities associated with implementation. No more Hopium for me...if it works on paper, then it will work in reality! Keep track of the statistics, follow the advice they provide, and move into Orchestration.

The Orchestration. Ahh...this is where beautiful things happen. Once you innovate a process (new customer greeting) and Quantify the impact of the innovation (Wow! Sales really ARE up...) then it is time to ORCHESTRATE the process by eliminating any discretion at that level of your business. The new greeting is now a rule and it is to be THE greeting used for every customer who walks through the door (unless it is a regular customer who you know and recognize). You have removed chaos and inconsistency while establishing order and routine. Now you don't have to think about it anymore. Keep doing it until it no longer works, and when it no longer works, it is time for a new innovation! Way to go!

Now look at other areas of your business...what other innovations do you need to implement? The economy might be tepid, but it is providing you with an awesome opportunity for growth. Embrace the opportunity for change as a means to achieve success and prepare yourself AND your business for the growth that will come you way. You can do it! Keep Calm and Carry On!

Great Promotion Idea:
I recently read about a retailer who held a remarkably innovative promotional event:

The Retailer ran a month long promotion whereby customers got a fixed percentage of their sales receipts back as a rebate. The catch? The rebate came to them in the form of a check made out to another brick and mortar craft retailer in the community. What a way to build karma points all around! You are happy with the sales, your customer is happy to have "found money" to spend at another craft retailer of her choice, and the other craft retailers owe you one! Happy sigh.

The Crafty Retailer's Current Promotion:
Lots of folks who shop with Access Crystal were able to take advantage of an awesome "Bounce Back" coupon last week. This week Aussie Threads and Fibers wants in on the fun and is offering a $10 off coupon to all new customers who place an order by September 25, 2009. Better yet...all existing customers who place an order by September 25, 2009 will receive a $15 off coupon! YOU MUST REFERENCE COUPON CODE TCR0922! We love our customers!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

MORE Marketing Ideas for the Financially Challenged Craft Retailer!

The response to last week's post was interesting....it generated more hits than any previous post, and also resulted in a unusually high number of follow up emails and phone calls from readers. Clearly, retailers are recognizing a need to do more than dust off the inventory and unlock the front door in order to generate the sales numbers required to keep the bill collector at bay.

It isn't hard to come up with a marketing plan. Simply brainstorm with your employees or business partner over a glass of wine or two and you will be amazed by how quickly your list grows. Nope, the HARD PART comes later---when it is time to quit talking and put your plans into action. How many of you have the knowledge required to lose that annoying extra 15 pounds? I bet every single one of you knows HOW to do it. After all, it is EASY...in theory. You simply need to eat less and exercise more. So why do so many women (including me) choose to do otherwise?

The answer is obvious: Implementing a Diet and Exercise Routine takes work and discipline. It doesn't matter what your mirror reflects back, it doesn't matter that your jeans no longer fit....you will not take action until you are ready. There comes a point where the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of accepting change and you find that you are ready. The same is true in business. Unfortunately, a refusal to take the steps that are critical to your success can have more dire consequences than simply looking bad in a pair of jeans. It is no fun to watch your sales slide, or lay awake at night worrying about how you are going to meet payroll.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

You already know what you need to do, but I will spell it out if I must: the time is NOW to become a "shoppertainment" expert. Provide your customers with the fun and inspiration necessary to engender fanatical loyalty. Your new role as party planner might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but it will grow on you, I promise! Get out your marketing calendar (I will send you a copy of the one I use if you need a sample) and finalize your store promotional events through the end of the year.

Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:

1. October is National Popcorn Popping Month. Rent a machine for a day, week, or entire month and offer your customers a snack! Worried about them touching the merchandise? Then give them a bag on their way out the door. Mention it in your newsletter and include a recipe for Kettle Korn or Caramel Corn!

2. Use your newsletter as a resource for your customers. After all, if the content is all about you and what you need (ie, customers to spend money in your store), you will lose readership fast. Include extras like seasonal recipes or fashion news to keep them interested! One of my customers included the pictures and the blurb from last week's post on The Uniform Project in her recent email. Not surprisingly, the addition of a fun factoid resulted in a much higher click-through rate.

3. October 2 is National Denim Day. Consider offering a coupon for every pair of jeans donated by a customer and then donate the clothing to charity. Don't forget to write a press release!

4. October 26 is Mother-In-Law Day. Sponsor a contest for the best/worst Mother In Law stories and post the entries on the store bulletin board. Have customers vote for the winner.

5. HALLOWEEN, HALLOWEEN, HALLOWEEN. October promotions are no-brainers. You should have a lot of fun with this holiday and inspiration is merely a mouse click away. For example:

Crocheted and Felted Candy Corn Bag is an easy project for beginners.

Monster Embroidery patterns from Sublime Stitching's Jenny Hart would be fun to use to embellish a T-Shirt or hand towel.

A wealth of creative ideas can be found at Instructables which provides an exhaustive repertoire of DIY craft projects to inspire you and your customers.

6. Teach a new skill--for FREE--every month. When I had my bead store I taught a particular stitch every month and offered a free pattern for folks to "learn on." We met every Wednesday for "lunch bunch" and worked on the project together. It was great fun and built a wonderful sense of community. There was no pressure on anybody to spend money, because I was confident that the seeds I was planting would sprout and go on to bear fruit. My evil plan worked and we had a lot of fun ---and sold a lot of beads--in the process.

7. Ask every customer who walks in your door what other crafty projects she is working on. I found some of my best teachers/in store demonstration resources this way. For example, I learned that a customer I had been working with for years was actually a very accomplished glass artist. I promptly scheduled her to conduct a hot glass demonstration. We didn't carry any hot glass products, but the artists sold a ton of art beads and we sold a lot of supporting products. WIN-WIN

8. Schedule a class or a demonstration outside of your genre. Just because you do not have the deep pockets of a big box craft store doesn't mean that you can't offer a similar variety--- you just need to do it differently. After all, most crafters craft in many mediums, often at the same time. During the last week I knitted, felted and beaded. Tomorrow I am spending the afternoon with a nephew who is home schooled and we are playing with clay. I am willing to guess that your customers are equally versatile and want to learn other mediums. Bring in teachers who complement your inventory, even if they are outside of the genre. For example, a bead store customer of mine just scheduled a class in making silk paper. The teacher will bring the paper making supplies but it is understood that the project must be heavily embellished with beads. You can bet that the proprietor will have lots of embellishment beads ready to sell! The customers are exposed to something new and the store owner is able to test drive a new inventory possibility with little expense. WIN-WIN

9. November 3 in National Sandwich Day....so feed your customers! November 3 falls on a Saturday...get a deli to partner with you for this event and make it BIG!

10. Craft a charity event. "GO KNIT" is one of the best promotions to come across my desk recently. It was the brainchild of Seasalt, a UK clothing company that wanted to raise money for a charity that provides a haven for pets whose owners have died or become incapacitated. Seasalt put out a call to the knitting/crochet community to donate handmade scarves to be displayed in the shop window. All proceeds from the sale of the scarves went to the charity. Community response was enormous. C'mon...who isn't a sucker for pets? No one wants to imagine Fluffy heading to the animal shelter after a lifetime of pampered love and affection simply because her owner had to be hospitalized. The charity tugged at heartstrings and compassionate crafters answered the call. The event raised close to $5000 for the charity! Almost any craft store could adapt the concept. A bead store could easily promote the event by substituting jewelry for scarves and the baubles could be displayed in the window of the area's toniest boutique. Seasalt received international press for its efforts and there is no reason why you need to reinvent the wheel. It is a great idea...swish it around in your brain and adapt it so that it works for you!

Now get busy...there is work to be done! Please take a minute to drop me a line and let me know what spectacular fun YOU have planned for your store this Fall! Give up the goods and you will have a chance to win a $50 Gift Certificate.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Marketing ideas for the Financially Challenged Craft Retailer

Labor Day has come and gone. The calendar is clear: you are entering into the most critical shopping months of the year.... months that can make or break a retailer's bottom line. Are you ready? Have you taken the steps you need to generate buzz and excitement?

No? Uh Oh. I know, I know....you have been focused on getting the kids back to school. Money is tight and sales activity is down. You have been saving all of your cash for for new inventory and don't have anything left for marketing.

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Get busy! Fortunately, it takes more imagination and elbow grease than cash to turn your store into a happy hub of activity. Women enjoy the social aspect of crafting. Make your shop a place of "uncomplicated joy," where conviviality and community encourage a loyal fan base. Your promotions do not need to be limited to your store "genre." You can simply host a Friday Night Ice Cream social to get folks through the door! After all, the Ice Cream cone was invented in 1903 and is celebrating a birthday on September 22. Plan a party!

Push up your shirt sleeves and consider some other inexpensive marketing opportunities:

1. Partner with a neighboring business to share a marketing event. Is there a restaurant or clothing store near your shop? Offer to exchange coupons with them. You will give every single customer a discount coupon to that establishment and they will do the same for you. Take the initiative! Put together a coupon prototype for both businesses and schedule a quick meeting with the business owner to discuss it in greater detail.

2. Turn a "competitor" into an ally by scheduling an event that showcases both stores. For example, the Yarn Garage recently co-hosted a felting workshop with a nearby quilt shop, Quilter's Haven. Each store "owned" part of the project and both stores were able to benefit from the marketing to the "cross over" crafter.

3. Sponsor a "meet up" group in your store so that like minded crafters can fraternize. Provide snacks and the location and put zero pressure on the group to spend money in your store. You are planting seeds that will grow over time. Women like to socialize when they craft. The Quilting Bee concept of yesteryear is relevant in 2009.

4. Sponsor the prize for the monthly challenge event at your local craft guilds. One of the fun benefits of belonging to a guild is the opportunity to participate in "craft challenges." I was a guest at a spinning guild meeting recently and bags of fibers were being put together for the next challenge. The attendees were all anxious to participate and it is always fun to see the different projects created from the same set of materials.

5. Have a monthly creative challenge in your shop. Offer small kits that contain identical materials for participating customers to purchase. The materials must be used in the finished project, although other materials can be incorporated as well. Ask your vendors to sponsor prizes that will generate enthusiasm and excitement among the participants. One on-line retailer who has taken this concept and made it part of her brand is Scarlett Lanson of The Beader's Muse. Her contest is called "Use the Muse" and she has vendor's lining up to sponsor the event.

6. Schedule a "pick your discount" day, replete with food, drinks, and a festive atmosphere. My daughter and I were recently in a shoe store that had a large discount wheel prominently displayed by the entrance. We were encouraged to spin for our discount and spent more than was budgeted when we scored 25% off our purchase price. You could do something similar by putting the discount amounts in balloons or stacked in a deck of cards. Make sure to have a few "50% off" chances scattered in with the 10% and 20% chances to really generate enthusiasm.

7. Offer a flat fee "Class Pass." Jet Blue hit a home run with its latest marketing effort: $599 will buy you one month of flights...go anywhere, any time and pay only international fees and taxes. Consumers responded in droves and the press provided lots of free publicity. You can do the same thing with your classes. A flat fee entitles the purchaser to attend any class she wants for a month, exclusive of material fees.

8. Promote the fact that accessories are an economical way to change an outfit and show your customers how it is done. Check out The Uniform Project fundraiser where Sheena Matheiken has pledged to wear the identical dress (she owns seven) every day for a year, changing the look dramatically via savvy accessorizing. You can offer a less dramatic alternative with a store mannequin.

9. Designate monthly "themes" for your store to promote and use as customer talking points. For example, make October the month to be GREEN...feature projects that recycle, reuse, or upcycle in an effort to create something new and relevant. An old sweater can be felted and used as the base for a handmade purse or pillow. Grandma's costume jewelry can be "repurposed" into a more modern piece of heirloom jewelry. End the month with with a big event...a customer craft GARAGE SALE. Encourage patrons to bring in their stash "overload" to sell for store credit. Everyone who participates prices their goods to sell and you simply ring up the sales. Don't forget to issue a press release about your month of money saving craft events! The newspapers will love the timeliness of the story and you will love the publicity.

10. Make it a homemade holiday by having a store ornament exchange. No one appreciates the value of a personally crafted gift like another crafter. Display the creations in the store prior to the Exchange Event. The pattern for the cute Santa ornament at left is available free here.

11. Better yet, turn the ornament exchange into an ornament auction to benefit the local Children's Home. You can make it an evening "in store" event with food, drink and a silent auction. Get other craft stores involved in the event--each will benefit from the cross over crafter. Notify the press!

12. Sponsor a contest. Most people look to the holidays with equal parts nostalgia and trepidation. Ask participants to describe their best/worst holiday gift and have customers vote on a winner.

13. Another contest idea....have a holiday dessert extravaganza!
Participants bring in a festive dessert and customers vote on a favorite. Put together a book with the recipes to give out as a gift. Tap your vendors for the prizes. We are constantly giving out goodies to help customers with their events. It is an expected part of the business and I am always surprised by how few ask. ASK!

14. Promote a monthly "Bring a Buddy" event. Customers are encouraged to bring in a Craft Newbie for some "uncomplicated joy." Offer a free instructional project and a 20% discount to both individuals.

15. Plan a "Conditional Rebate" promotion. These events are guaranteed to generate incredible publicity for your store. Run an in-store promotion where every single customer who makes a purchase from your store between Thanksgiving and Christmas will get a chance to win back their purchase price if it snows 6 inches on Christmas day. Doesn't snow in your area? Pick a different weather event. There are companies who underwrite insurance for such occasions. Prepare a press release and watch the excitement build!

Remember...you should be hosting a major marketing event and 2 or 3 minor events EVERY SINGLE MONTH! The events can be promoted via e-mail newsletter, customer phone calls, and the "bag stuffer." Stores that do not have a weekly bag stuffer are wasting a great opportunity. This one page (or half page) flyer is handed out at the register and describes all of the crafty fun that is on the schedule for the month. It gives your employees some talking points and reinforces your status as the place to craft.

Here are some upcoming dates to consider for an "off the wall" promotion event:

September is the "National Month" for the following: chickens, coupons and Hats. This is National Waffle Week! September 20-26 is National "Keep Kids Creative" week. October is National Breast Cancer awareness month. Craft stores will be pushing everything pink, but consider something a bit edgier....how about a contest for the best beaded bra? Crocheted bra? Think outside the box to keep things fresh and you will outshine the competition.

OTHER NEWS:
Tip of the Week: Get to know SCORE. The organization is comprised of retired executives who offer free/low cost counsel to small businesses. It is TRULY an incredible resource. I have worked with the group in the past and have nothing but good things to report. Check out the SCORE website .

Coming next week: More creative ideas to flesh out your marketing calendar for the fourth quarter!