For the University of Pittsburgh Stores’ Steven Wilson, events are a powerful college store marketing tool. He manages The Pitt Shop, one of the University of Pittsburgh’s two standalone apparel stores. Situated on a main thoroughfare that links the university and downtown Pittsburgh, The Pitt Shop attracts students, faculty, staff and city-dwellers looking for the latest in Panthers attire. We sat down to talk to Mr. Wilson about marketing bookstore events for a wide range of customers.
How does The Pitt Shop drive foot traffic?
We’re a community-facing store, so it helps to be creative. We primarily draw students, faculty and staff, but we also have customers come in off the street who aren’t associated with the university. We do these spontaneous mini events. They’re the littlest events but they have impact. We have one coming up — guess the amount of candy corn in a jar. When the customer signs up, we get their email address for our mailing list. We may spend $5 or $10, but what we get back for future events pays off.
What kind of mini events have brought the most success?
We hid hot chocolate packets throughout the store in December and had people come in and search for them. That was popular. We did hearts for Valentine’s day. People who find the most hearts or packets win a prize. Normally, we give away a sweatshirt or something else at a similar price point.
Where do you get your ideas for bookstore events?
My assistant manager is really creative. She comes up with ideas that work, partly because they don’t cost too much. You can set them up so easily. There’s nothing to lose. A sweatshirt or t-shirt only costs you $20. You don’t need a lot of sell-through for the event to have an excellent return on investment.
How do you market spontaneous events?
Social media is the best avenue for communication. Let’s face it, there’s really nothing bigger. If you can get a small ad out there on Facebook or another channel, you’re going to bring people in. That generates word of mouth. The combination of the two is best. But it starts with social media.
How do you build unplanned events into a bookstore marketing budget?
I normally budget about $100 a month for social posts. I don’t always use that amount. But it’s in the budget. Some months we might spend $5 or $6 and get a huge return. At other times, we’ll invest $50 in boosting a post. It depends on how much reach we want.
Does the bookstore do larger planned events?
We participate in annual events with the other University of Pittsburgh Stores. There is a second Pitt Shop, plus a standalone giftshop Maggie & Stellas’s Cards & Gifts and our main bookstore, The University Store on Fifth. One of our biggest events is called Open House. All the stores participate over the holidays. We run promotions, bring in vendors and have snacks.
How do you market bookstore events like Open House?
It helps when it’s linked to the holidays. Some of the people who come to Open House definitely have Christmas shopping on their minds. They have friends or family who are either alumni or students and they want to buy them Panthers gear. Or, if they are students, they come to buy presents for their friends and family back home.
Word of mouth is the main driver for those. They already have a reputation. People have Open House on their calendar. They look forward to it. We still do a social post and get the word out in an email blast, so that we can bring in new people. But most of the people who attend have been looking forward to attending for a while. They want to come to see the different specials and try the refreshments.