Creating a destination

July 11, 2014
Written by Brian Minter
Christmas starts in July, gains momentum in September, and by early fall, it’s well underway. Lighting, music, décor, “Santa-tizing,” gifting and fundraising are universally displayed to the max, so how can our small industry create an impact? We have a few things in our resource bags that we tend to overlook because we are too often overwhelmed by the largesse of others.

your display  
Post photos of your displays to social media to attract more customers.

 
One key resource is the people connection: we know who our clients are and what they like. The greatest opportunity we have is to create an environment and experience they not only want to enjoy themselves, but one they also want to bring their family and friends in to share as well. Before we go off in all directions, we need to focus on the business aspect of our events and promotions. Like Disney, we need to create an environment where purchasing something is, for the client, taking some of the experience home.

Every year we do a fundraiser for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) called “Pet Photos With Santa,” where folks bring their pets into a Christmas scene and have a professional photographer take their photos for a fee. Folks come back a few days later to pick up the photos. I’m continually amazed at the people-pet connection these days. Other than the odd dog-cat, dog-dog encounter, the event has gone smoothly for years, and the goodwill and positive feedback it generates is fabulous. It also brings in many folks who love to watch – it’s especially entertaining when donkeys, snakes and llamas show up! You can enhance this experience with an area for pet gifts, which will also be welcomed by anyone with a pet.

For those shops that sell ladies fashion, seasonal evening fashion shows are a must, but do them with a twist. Infant and kid Christmas designs are barnburners for any grandmother – she’ll have no resistance at all! Cutesy rules, and funky hats, scarves, footwear, sweaters, PJs and accessories are all irresistible. A big part of this experience is appropriate music and the right type of appetizers and drinks. You’ll need a permit for alcohol but fun, seasonal drinks work well too. Consider charging for the event – it is, after all, entertainment – and you can offset that charge with special promotions, coupons for future savings and gifts.

The key to all promotions is, of course, the viability in terms of the return on the investment of time, energy and expenses. One of the most successful promotions we have ever done was to bring in two live reindeers for two weeks before Christmas. They were the real McCoys, having been “stars” in the Christmas movie “Elf.” The response to this promotion was phenomenal in terms of exposure, with front page newspaper and radio coverage and community interest. Folks still comment about the event and although the cost of the event was significantly higher than the financial return, it did position us as a community leader in family entertainment.

We also hold an annual two-day Christmas craft and antiques fair at the beginning of November that draws thousands of visitors. It’s a great community event that helps local crafters and brings new people to our store who otherwise might not come, such as non-gardeners. It also allows all these attendees the opportunity to experience Christmas displays that are retail ready in time for the fair.

Christmas season  
It’s never too early to begin planning for the Christmas season.

 
One of the seasonal experiences we host every evening from Dec. 10 to Dec. 24th is offering rides on a real miniature train through the entire perennial, cool colour and Christmas tree areas. These areas, as well as the store, are decorated with Christmas lighting and themed vignettes. As part of a fundraising component, we have local celebrities driving the train, and this has resulted in significant community support. We add to the entertainment value by inviting community choirs, as well as professional singers, and by having fun food, such as popcorn, available. This holiday event has become a family tradition in our region and even draws seniors groups that bus in from some distance.

One of the most sophisticated garden stores in our region, Southlands, goes totally over the top in value-adding Christmas products, creating a reputation as a must-see Christmas destination. Virtually everything is sold as a design add. Paperwhites are placed in antiqued clay pots, mossed and laced with red-stemmed dogwood branches. Cut branches are only sold sparkled, “raffia” and flared for multiple uses. Their unique, fabulously designed outdoor containers and wreathes are hugely differentiated from mass-produced products. It’s a pleasure and inspiration to visit this store!

We all design creative displays in our stores, and many are outstanding … but only our customers see them. The more savvy stores are now posting these displays on Pinterest. Not only are these posts generating greater levels of exposure when they are re-pinned, but they are also reinforcing the creative genius of your staff and your store. Social media exposure is invaluable, and when others are promoting and endorsing you, it’s marketing you can’t buy.

All of these events build great community goodwill and Christmas spirit. They also generate a lot of fun and happiness. All require a significant amount of effort, but on the other hand, they can position you as “the Christmas location” in your community.

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