Profiting from a Captive Audience

Howard Scott |

Take advantage of customer wait to entertain or stimulate

PEMBROKE, Mass. — Let’s think out of the box for a minute. Your business regularly requires customers to come in and wait for an hour or two. That means you have a “captive audience.”

These are people who would like to be entertained in some way. Sure, you may have a TV and some video games they can play, and there are magazines they can browse, but all this gets tiresome in a short while. Why not use the “captive audience” notion to provide entertainment, to stimulate curiosity, and even to profit from the arrangement?

Sell a unique product. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with cleaning clothes. It should simply be something not found in other stores. Coming up with a unique product or product line requires you to put on your thinking cap or do some research out in the field. How do you do research?

Attend a gift show. On the East Coast, there is a huge gift show annually at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. There are large shows in Chicago and Los Angeles every year. Go to craft fairs, where you will find products that are not sold in traditional retail stores. Unity, Maine, hosts the Common Ground Fair every September. On the West Coast every July, there’s the Oregon Country Fair. Both feature vendors that make unusual, one-of-a-kind, handmade products. Keep your eyes and ears open to finding products to sell.

In my neck of the woods, a couple formed a business called Something Else by Peterene, making diffraction-foil and depth-illusion bookmarks and postcards for museum stores around the country. But after 20 years, they retired, and the business died. Now in retirement, they want to re-establish a business in a small way. They are looking for someone to buy their products. This would be a perfect opportunity for an area operator to take them up on their offer. Buy a little display that can sit on your counter or on a table. Sell bookmarks and postcards.

The thing with these products is that they’re visually enchanting the more you look at them. They’re mesmerizing, shimmering, and iridescent. So, a customer waiting for his wash to finish wanders over and plays with a few items. The next time, he asks the attendant a few questions. The third time, he buys an item. Then he makes periodic purchases, giving them to friends and family, and occasionally buys a half-dozen items to give as gifts. Voila, you’ve created a revenue stream that adds to the bottom line.

How about featuring a line of amusing wooden signs? I know a woodworker who turns out signs that say, “I hope my ship comes in before my boat rots,” and has a rotting deck on the bottom of the sign. Another says “The really blended family,” with an electric blender alongside the copy.

What other products would qualify? Sell a line of funky greeting cards—slightly “salty” ones, perhaps. Again, they’re something that isn’t sold in many stores. How about unique, handmade birdhouses or hummingbird feeders? Many crafters turn these items out and have no place to market them. How about a line of cosmetics made by a local beekeeper? Such a line includes face lotions, body gels and sunscreen. Your shop might be the perfect outlet.

The rationale for selling something not connected to garment cleaning is that you want to make your store interesting. And what could be more interesting than having an unusual product to peruse? There doesn’t have to be any more rationale than that.

Of course, to sell retail products, you must have an attendant. But even if you don’t employ an attendant, you might come in for an hour a day and sell out of a locked case.

Another idea is to offer an unusual service. How about encouraging a school tutor to use your facility? Perhaps your store would do because it’s a convenient location and is available day and night. You could set up a small table with two chairs. After an introductory time, the tutor could pay you for the space. Or not pay you. You might decide to sacrifice profit for being community-minded. Such do-gooder activities will also bring you more trade business.

How about having a glass case for hobbies and collections? Your customers could display their spare-time pastimes. One person arranges a set-up of car models for a month. Then another arranges his old-time baseball cards. Yet another person displays his collection of World War II memorabilia.

How about allowing members of a small book group to come in every other week to discuss their book selection? This won’t garner revenue, but it will show your public-spiritedness. Besides, it adds to the atmosphere of having people around. I’m talking a group of a half-dozen on a slow Tuesday morning. Set up six chairs in a small circle on your premises. Patrons will take note of such activity.

How about allowing a musician to come in weekly to play for the customers? Perhaps a guitarist who sings, or an accordionist who whistles tunes. There are many people who aspire to do music and would love to perform before a small audience. Customers would appreciate the entertainment. If the musician starts to draw a crowd, you could create limits.

A captive audience. The more you think about the possibilities, the more you discover.

Yours is one of the few businesses that has a captive audience that typically stays around for a while. Make hay from that fact.

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a former business owner, longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at dancinghill@gmail.com.

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