Saturday, March 22, 2014

Doing Business When Your Street is Closed

Winter is finally giving way to that other season - Construction. Orange cones are popping up everywhere.

And shortly after that, if you're a downtown business, you'll probably be facing Festival Season - that time of year when the city shuts down the street for a car cruise or an art fair or some other event.

Either way, at one point or another, if you have a Main Street business, your business is going to have to deal with a street closure. How you deal with that will be critical to your success. Here are some suggestions for keeping the till humming while the streets are closed.

CONSTRUCTION

This is usually a long-haul situation and requires some smart strategy. The key is communication.

  • Communicate with your fan base the best ways to approach the store and the best places to park.
  • Communicate what is happening with the construction. Give blow-by-blow accounts and updates.
  • Have fun with the construction. Post trivial facts, goofy pictures, interesting finds. Get your fans to post their own pictures. Play guessing games - take close-ups or partial pictures and have them guess what machine it is. Turn it into a focal point that might make people want to stop by and gawk.
  • Set up a shuttle (you can partner with other businesses affected by the closure) to help get your customers in to see you.
  • Offer delivery services for the time the construction is taking place.
  • Expand your hours so that you are open at times when less work and disruption is taking place.
  • Roll out a red carpet - yes an actual red carpet - to get people over muddy, dirty, disrupted areas.

Don't just assume business as usual. Plan for a small fall off, but be proactive in your approach to make it as convenient and fun as possible for your customers to do business with you.

FESTIVALS

Street closures for festivals are a different beast and require different tactics. First, they are usually short-term events that take place during your typically busiest times - Friday nights and Saturdays. Second, they draw a lot of people, but not necessarily your regular customers, and not necessarily anyone who wants to shop with you. At the same time, they disrupt your regular customers and keep those people away.

Therein lies the key. The people on the street are not your regular customers. What would you do differently to try to turn these people into your regular customers? The first goal is to get them off the street and into the store.

  • If you sell jewelry, put out a sandwich board and offer "Free Ring Cleanings". Get those customers in the store looking at the shiny, bright, glittery stuff in your cases while they wait for your polishers to make their rings sparkle. 
  • If you sell clothing, put some racks on the street of your unique offerings that will entice someone to stop on by.
  • If you sell candles, get that aroma wafting out your door and onto the street. You'll attract attention in no time.
  • If you sell baked goods set up a fan inside the door so that chocolate chip cookie scent reaches the end of the block.
  • If you sell shoes, put out a sign showing how to check your own shoes for wear and tear. Have a sizing specialist standing out front to engage the folks on the street. Offer a free shoe-polishing stand.

No matter what you sell, there is something you can do to engage with the festival goers and either get them in the door today or at some point down the road. You just have to be creative and proactive. Open the doors, put out a banner and make sure people know you are open for business. Do something in conjunction with the theme of the festival. Sign them up to your mailing lists, your birthday clubs, and any other program you offer. Use this opportunity to farm for new customers. There are a ton out there. Most of all be ENGAGING. Have fun with the event.

Street Closures are a reality. How you deal with them will have a direct impact on your bottom line. You can wallow in misery complaining about the lost business or you can let your creative juices flow and look at them as an opportunity to do things differently.

You know which one will pay off in the long run.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I knew of a hair salon that was half a block off the beaten path of a major festival in her town. Rather than lament the street closures combined with no foot traffic at the front door, she had her staff on the street handing out coupons for free ice cream cones inside her salon. For the cost of some ice cream she was able to get a ton of traffic that always resulted in new clients and new appointments.

PPS Also remember that those festivals do serve a purpose. First they make your downtown seem more active and vibrant. That message sticks with people throughout the year. Second, they attract people to downtown that might not go otherwise. Fear of the unknown keeps people from shopping in new locations. Third, they often serve to raise funds for charities and non-profits, the same ones that would be hitting you up double if not for the events. Embrace them and enjoy them and make them work to your advantage.

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