How to drive traffic to your store

Written by Nate Hendley

There are all sorts of ways to encourage customers to spend more at your store, but you have to get them inside first. Unless your shop is in a popular urban mall or at the corner of the busiest intersection in town, driving traffic to your location should be a prime concern. PROFIT asked retail experts to outline the most effective ways to get more customers to walk through your door.

Turn a sale into an event

You know your annual summer sale? This year, turn it into a major event — even if the discounts haven’t changed a bit.

Promote the sale in advance with flyers, and by training staff to tell customers about it. For sale day, supply staff with T-shirts or buttons; festoon your business with banners; and play music just a bit louder than usual.

The idea is to let people know that “there’s some excitement happening” at your business, says Joe Jackman, chairman and chief creative officer of Perennial Inc., a retail consultancy with offices in Toronto, Montreal and St. Catharines, Ont. Shoppers, he explains, are naturally drawn to stores that appear to be buzzing with activity.

Hire a celebrity pitchman

Securing Hollywood’s A-list is probably beyond your budget, but consider hiring a local celebrity to make an in-store visit. A gardening center, for example, might hire the local newspaper’s gardening columnist; a high-end fashion retailer might ask the editor of a fashion magazine to appear. Guest lectures or workshops are especially effective at driving traffic.

A few ways to promote the event:

  • Place signs in your store and windows. See if the celebrity has any press material he can provide, such as photos or posters.
  • Ask the celebrity to promote the event. If he’s a radio personality, perhaps he could mention the event on his show. Wishful thinking? No — you can make it a condition of the appearance.
  • Create inexpensive flyers and hand one to customers who make purchases in the weeks before the event. Hand out the flyers on the street, as well.
  • Contact your local newspaper and ask them to list the event in the community events calendar.
  • Build excitement about the event by holding a free promotion beforehand. For example, every customer who makes a purchase gets her name entered in a draw for a free autographed book by the celebrity.

Sell hot products

Stocking unique, must-have products is a good way to get noticed and generate buzz about your store. Examples: a hardware store owner might stock a super shovel that makes snow clearing vastly easier; a paint store could offer an instant-dry oil paint. How do you find such must-have items? Scour new product catalogues and work closely with supplier sales reps to determine what the hot new item of the season might be. Take calculated risks.

Promoting the fact that your store stocks the item is the hard part. Consider a newspaper ad or a local television ad paid in part by the manufacturer. Signs outside your store also work well, as do outside product demos.

Make your exterior sing!

People walking by are potential customers, and you only have a second to grab their attention and make an impression. Wow them with your window display, and hire someone to clean your windows and sign, remove graffiti and repair minor damage.

Hit the streets

Walking around with a sandwich board and handing out flyers are traditional ways of boosting traffic and, in general, they work well for low-cost food and beverage items.

They aren’t as effective, however, when trying to promote high-end products such as jewelry or expensive clothes.

Simple demographics explain why this is the case: while a majority of pedestrians would probably appreciate a coupon for a free coffee or fast food, pricey luxury items have a much more narrow appeal.

“You wouldn’t have someone doing a sandwich board for Holt Renfrew,” notes Chris Johnston, principal and senior consultant with the Toronto branch of JC Williams, a retail consultancy. “On the other hand, it may make sense with [a sandwich shop].”

Send in the clowns

Hiring clowns, musicians or other performers can be a good way to attract traffic. It is imperative, says Jackman, to hire performers who are brand appropriate, or you risk turning people off. So don’t hire Barry Manilow for your skateboard store opening.

Prepare for success

“Some retailers discover they can create so much excitement that they are unprepared for the traffic they generate,” warns Jackman.

If you announce a two-day sale on a special item, then make sure you have enough of the item on hand. Nothing looks more unprofessional than running out of stock within the first hour of a week-long sale. Finally, don’t forget to staff your store adequately as well.

Read other pointers on How To contribute to your business success!

© 2004 Nate Hendley

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