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Events Put Your Store on the Map

Howard Scott |

Most people probably don’t tie the words “event” and “self-service laundry” together. After all, yours is a service business, where people come in at their convenience. The laundry’s long hours are designed to promote this feature. Furthermore, cleaning clothes is a mundane task that doesn’t offer much, if any, social interaction. Finally, few operators have time for such frivolous — your description, not mine — activity.Let’s look at the other side of this picture. For example, we all know that some marriages were the result of a casual Laundromat encounter.Simply, events invigorate your laundry, creating a kind of buzz and giving it pizzazz. Events entice prospects with an incentive to try your store. Even if events aren’t particularly profitable, they distinguish you from the competition. They put you on the map.Let me give you an example from another industry. My local natural food shop has a table at the entrance that holds free samples. Two or three bowls or plates provide morsels that range from almond butter to pita chips. Next to the free offerings are the products’ boxes or bottles alongside a content statement nicely framed in a Plexiglas stand and a description of the discount offered. This is how the store introduces new products.I know what you’re thinking: The operation loses money from this type of event. Well, it does devote time to setting up displays and using the product, and the offering must be maintained throughout the business day. But I, for one, enjoy going in there and sampling the offerings, and often go out of my way to stop by. Sometimes I remember something that I need, and would never even think of walking into another natural food store.In short, I am an “owned” customer. I buy all of my natural food purchases at this store. I’m sure many patrons are like me and enjoy this type of interaction.FIND YOUR MARKETFor those in the self-service laundry business, the equivalent is hosting special events. I can think of three offerings: a singles’ night, an afternoon senior citizens’ day, and a morning (perhaps 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.) early-bird discount.Each event segments a market. The singles’ night will attract people who want to be with other singles. The senior citizens’ day attracts older folks who want some company. The early-bird discount attracts individuals who want to save money and are willing to be a bit inconvenienced.PLANNING TIPSSome effort is required. What can you do for each event to attract customers? For singles’ night, you might offer a few bottles of cider or soft drinks with cheese and crackers. Put up a sign that says, “Welcome Singles.” If you have a really young crowd (20-somethings), hang posters of appropriate icons. If you find your customers are a bit older (35-55), put up appropriate posters of icons from their youth — the Beatles, for example. That’s a minimum offering.You want to kick things up a notch? Set up activities that get people involved and try to get them talking to each other. Run a contest asking 10 trivia questions involving historical events or popular culture, and give prizes to the high achievers. How about listing 10 inventions and have the people match the inventions to the inventors? Match a popular song to the year it debuted. Every hour, announce that attendees must turn to their neighbors and introduce themselves. You might even invite a relationship counselor to speak and answer questions.Organize a continuous game, where individuals drop in and out as they choose. Host a Karaoke night. Experiment, vary the events, participate in the activities yourself on occasion.Hosting speakers is a possibility because there are many individuals interested in becoming consultants. The long list includes life coaches, fitness trainers, business advisors, financial experts, spiritual mentors, and relationship counselors. Most of these professionals would address your customers at no cost in the hope of spreading their ideas and winning customers, or just to increase their exposure.To locate volunteers, you can try your local Toastmasters chapter. This national organization is devoted to improving public speaking, and its ranks are full of consultants wanting to build up a niche trade.The goal is to create interaction. Get your patrons involved. Encourage them to talk to each other. Try to make them laugh.For seniors’ afternoon, offer cranberry juice and cookies. This is also a chance for you or your wife to display your homemade cooking skills. Put up posters of golden oldies — Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, etc. Infiltrate the group by introducing yourself and chatting for a bit. Occasionally feature a speaker. With this crowd, think about bringing in a tax preparer or a Social Security advisor. A healthcare professional might be ideal for this group. Let these people speak and answer questions for an hour or so.For the early-bird special, simply offer a bargain. For example, give out a $1 coupon to every customer who puts coins in a machine. Or hand out some type of token redeemable for a free dry. Obviously, the day you choose is going to be your slowest day of the week, and you’re trying to increase volume. No posters are necessary for this bargain event.GIVE IT TIMEBe patient with promotions. Success won’t happen overnight. The first few events probably won’t register much of an increase in business. Don’t lose faith. Slowly but surely, word of mouth will spread your message. Besides, the first sessions will be spent perfecting your offering as well as honing your maestro personality. Tinker with each offering until it runs smoothly. In time, the events will make your store locally famous.Free publicity helps. Local newspapers, radio stations, and cable TV will always announce special events, especially those involving speakers. Talk to local newspaper editors. Visit radio and cable TV stations.They’ll probably insist that you create the message yourself. Typically, newspaper editors want copy via e-mail. Then, you might invite a reporter to do a story about your event. Try to gain the added publicity of a photo feature.And don’t forget, events can energize a business. 

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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