With graduation just around the corner, The College Store at Hobart and William Smith Colleges wanted to take the time to say thank you to their loyal customers before they transitioned to the next phase of their lives. In an effort to show their appreciation, the store recently hosted an exclusive celebration called Senior Salute.
“We wanted to find a way to thank them for their patronage and really recognize their accomplishments,” explained Lucille Smart, director. “We also have several products and services available for graduation, so the event served as an easy way for students to access all of them at once.”
To spread the word, the store set about cross-channel marketing Senior Salute. Smart and her staff started their advertising efforts by mailing a ‘Save the Date’ to students three weeks prior to the event. Then, a week later, they sent a similar mailer to their students’ parents letting them know what their son or daughter was invited to.
“Our hope was that parents would encourage their students to take advantage of all the discounts we had going on and it definitely seemed to work!” she said. “We had parents calling and asking if we could assist their student with certain things and there were even a few parents who attended; it was great!”
They also distributed posters in high density senior areas, hung signs in-store, posted information on their website and social media pages, and sent out email reminders. Then, to reinforce all the exciting offers students could receive at Senior Salute, the store sent one last invitation a week before the event with a special token included.
“We gave them a Wooden Nickel that could be redeemed during the event for free raffle tickets,” Smart said. “It was just another way that we hoped to bring in traffic.”
All of their marketing efforts paid off, however, with a line of students waiting outside the store for Senior Salute to begin!
In fact, the event, which was held from 5-9pm after the store had closed to the public, had over 50% of the senior class in attendance! To enter, students had to show staff their campus ID at the door and be checked off of a list of those with senior status obtained from the Registrar’s office.
“The fact that it was exclusive to them helped make it even more special,” she added.
To create a celebratory atmosphere, the store was adorned with a festive décor complete with custom balloons imprinted with Senior Salute as well as a cap and mortarboard. Adding to the fun, the store catered dinner which included pizzas, chili, hummus and pita bread, fruit kabobs, and cheese and crackers.
There was dessert, too! They served cookies in shape of a diploma and mortarboard frosted with the color of each college and a sheet cake with a congratulatory message.
“I had a few students tell me that they were almost teary-eyed when they walked in and saw everything,” Smart described. “It made them feel as though they had been acknowledged as seniors, and that was the ultimate goal!”
Along with an appetizing menu, the store had lots of specials, which helped to drive both sales and interest. They offered 20% off storewide, with a few exceptions such as textbooks, electronics and special orders, plus an additional 15% off select product categories each hour, with a limit per product category per student.
“For instance, from 5-6 pm students received an extra discount on t-shirts, 6-7 pm was hats, 7-8 pm was sweatpants, and during the final hour it was sweatshirts,” she explained. “Many students stuck around or came back later in the evening so that they could receive the discount on a certain product.”
The strategy was certainly effective as the store saw strong sales every hour.
“We did three times the volume of sales in those 4 hours than we do for an entire day, typically,” Smart said. “It was absolutely fantastic!”
Beyond sales, students also had the opportunity to win prizes through a raffle. With the help of over 54 vendors, the store was able to give away 52 gift baskets valued between $45 and $197!
“Our vendors were just amazing! Their generosity helped us offer so many great prizes and we’re planning to send them thank you cards to show our appreciation,” Smart said.
Once they redeemed their Wooden Nickel, students had the chance to put their raffle tickets in a bucket beside each basket so that they could choose which products they were most interested in winning.
They also received one raffle ticket for every $10 in purchases, with the store “rounding up” generously. Students frequently had long strands of tickets in hand as they viewed the basket choices before making their selections.
“We had quite a variety including a college chair, diploma frame, college jewelry and imprinted items, all in an equal distribution for both Hobart College and William Smith College,” she said. “Students really liked that they had the chance to choose where their tickets went; it gave them a sense of control in the process and they were very excited!”
With all the festive activities, Senior Salute added up to be a huge success for the store!
“It was all positive buzz that night,” she described. “The mood was absolutely jovial and students were so happy to have time to visit with friends that they typically don’t see very often in a fun environment."
Even after the event, students had lots of good feedback to share, according to Smart.
“We did a survey after the fact to see what students thought,” she explained. “We asked five quick questions: what did you like best, what did you like least, what would you add, what would you change and what other thoughts would you share with us. We had a great response with an overwhelming amount of compliments and very helpful, constructive feedback!”
In fact, the event generated so much buzz that underclassmen are already asking if the event will be available to them when they graduate!
“It was a definite success!” said Smart. “We now expect Senior Salute to become a signature event with both participation and sales growing every year!”