Retail markets have peaks and valleys in customer traffic. Turning the slower months into growth for your college store can be the difference between an average year and a great year. However, this is easier said than done. Start with developing a plan for the slower months. Sometimes the tried-and-true events work best. People know what to expect and how everything works. That same familiarity, though, can be an antithesis of excitement. This year, embrace change and do something you have never done before.
Create a connection between you and the students that goes beyond anonymously selling merchandise by fostering your relationships with the campus community, giving back to your customers in fun and creative ways, and not being afraid to try new ideas. As your store’s reputation for hosting great events builds, customer loyalty toward your store will grow. For example, the University of Washington had 10,000 attendees to their annual Campus Thank You Celebration in its ninth year, but they never would have gotten there had they not taken the first step—creating the event.
When planning an event your store can host, start with asking yourself what’s popular with the students right now, what do I want to achieve with this event, how much can I spend on the event and where is my store’s weak point when it comes to customer engagement. Perhaps you need to boost sales or maybe you want to give back to the community like the University of Washington. Once you identify an area of focus with a clear goal in mind, you can start planning what type of event will work.
Publicity events are meant to boost interest in your store by increasing your visibility. Get people talking about your store by doing something they have never seen or something that creates excitement, like giving away a prize with a higher perceived value.
For example, Aims College Bookstore held a March Madness event even though they don’t have a sports team. What they did was capitalize on the excitement of the event by holding a three-point competition. The winner received a tablet and the runner ups received a store gift card. They didn’t ask the participants to buy anything. The goal was to engage the community in a fun event that got people talking in a favorable way about their store.
Another example is the Western Oregon University Bookstore that held a Dr. Who event. The store planned an event and contest that coincided with the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who. They built a Tardis and a Dalek with materials they had around the store. Students came by the store to see and take pictures with the display and a few even dressed up as the Doctor. The event ended with a trivia contest that let the winners walk away with the replicas built for the store display. They identified a fun niche market in their community and was able to increase their traffic by embracing it.
Sales events don’t always have to be the same time and time again. Offering discounts always drums up interest, but how can you make this sale stand apart from the others? Try something new. Hide coupons around the store offering various amounts off of purchases. Create a sale around a random “holiday” like national talk like a pirate day. The more fun it is, the more memorable it will be.
Del Val College Bookstore had the right idea with their Midnight Madness sale. Deciding to hold a sale in the prime-time for college students paid off in a big way. It was offered one night only and all sales were for a limited time period. They were able to create a “Black Friday” type mentality by setting known time restrictions. They advertised a week before the event and students lined up outside an hour before the doors opened, excited to experience something out of the ordinary.
Another even more out of the box idea that tripled sales for Dakota State University’s Trojan Center Bookstore was the Pawn Stars sale. They had a lot of older merchandise that just wasn’t moving. They took a risk and tried a themed event where the students could haggle for cheaper prices. Prior to the event they shared videos about how to negotiate on their Facebook page. On the day of the event they were shocked by how many first offers they were able to take. Overall, the customers received about 30% off merchandise, but had a great time making their own bargains.
Community building events don’t have to have big prizes or be flashy. They are simply ways for the store get to know their community a little bit better. You could host a movie night or teach the students how to make something off of Pinterest. The idea is to engage in a fun way that makes them see your store as more than just a place to buy spirit wear or course materials.
The University of Dayton Bookstore holds an annual Iron Chef Ramen Cook-Off. Contestants use low-budget ingredients in creative ways and it has become a favorite amongst their students. Students, faculty and staff are all invited to participate. The store provides the noodles as well as other ingredients for the dish and each contestant can bring $2 of additional ingredients. A crowd gathers and cheers on the chefs and a panel of local “celebrities” judge the creations.
Wartburg College Campus Store replaced their trade book section with a European-style board game section, hoping to boost sales. From the interest in the games, they started a game night to cater to the different campus gaming communities. Students, faculty and staff sign up in advance to attend the monthly game night. They keep it informal and some people just drop by to say hello.
Take these ideas and inspiring stories and make them a jumping off point in planning your own event specifically designed with your school and students in mind. Involve your staff in planning and executing the event because the more excited about it they are, the better they will sell the experience to the customers in your store. Good luck!