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  • Taking It Outside - Staging Sidewalk Sales Events

    Sidewalk Sales. Streetside Sales. Yard Sales. Tent Sales. No matter what you call them, their appeal is the same - to take advantage of sunny weather, increase sales volume, and draw attention to your shop.

    Remember sidewalk sales? There was a time when small town merchants joined together for a big, common, sidewalk sale. Customers loved them - and they still do. But you don't have to wait for other merchants to jump on the bandwagon. You can create your own streetside sale and clean up - year after year.

    A "Giant Tent Sale" or "Sidewalk Sale" is a proven way to build traffic, create happy customers, and add significant sales dollars.

    Before you schedule one, check with your landlord and/or city permit and zoning department to find out about the necessary approvals to stage an outside sale. Many municipalities won't allow outdoor signs, flags, or banners without a special permit.

    Ideally, you should have a nice canopy shading the sidewalk in front of your shop, but if not, set up several large umbrellas to provide shade for your shoppers.

    It's Not All Discounts

    Don't make the mistake of thinking that all merchandise in a sidewalk or streetside sale is discounted or remaindered. In many cases, up to 50 percent of the sales can be from regular merchandise at or near full margin.

    Putting together this kind of successful promotion takes some planning, but the payoff can put some real sizzle in your summer sales. Here are some pointers you might employ that have proven successful for other florists:

    • Customize It. Use a theme that has meaning in your community. If there is an annual festival or event, tie in to that name or theme. If people in your town call their own personal sales "garage sales", use those words. If they think of such events as "yard sales," try that.
    • Provide Variety. Sure, you should use this event to move out excess inventory, but be careful that your promotion doesn't take on the look of a junk sale. If you can, buy closeouts, or even save discontinued items or lines from earlier in the year to add to the merchandise mix at your sale. If you have a lenient customer satisfaction policy, you might have returned merchandise that you can sell. If you have slightly damaged items, include a "dings and dents" section. However, any damaged item should be clearly marked.
    • Sell to Everyone. Make sure there are products of interest to women and men. It keeps family customers at your sale longer if there is something for everybody. Don't forget the little ones, either. Kites, spinners, balloons, plush toys, and other such merchandise will attract them and their parents.
    • Impulse Buys. This can be a great opportunity to sell a lot of fresh merchandise at slightly reduced prices or at full retail. Display full-margin merchandise where it's handy to grab them off tables or out of buckets as shoppers make their way to check out. Place these items at or near the register or along the path to it.
    • Entertain. Food and drink are expected, and can also be an opportunity to work with community organizations. There may be some local group, perhaps the American Legion or R.E.A.C.T., that will set up a food stand as a fundraiser. You can support them, and publicize community involvement, by donating food and drawing a crowd, and also avoid the headache of doing it yourself.
    • Freebies. Giveaways are harder and harder to find, but still available. Try the traditional items, such as paper fans, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, and hats for sales that reach a certain level ($25 or $50, for example). Offer free balloons or give away inexpensive bud vases "while supplies last."
    • Spread the News. Get the word out. Place an ad in the local newspaper. Put up posters in your shop and around town advertising your sale. Use catchy phrases to grab your customers such as, "Pick 'em while they're fresh - one day only," "Great bargains inside and outside the shop," or "Discontinued and one of a kind items at unbelievable savings." Emphasize urgency with these messages: "Up to 75 percent off," "Limited quantities," "Shop early to get the best bargains."
    • It's Show Time! If possible, raise a tent on your parking lot, not just for shelter but as an attention-getter. Put the tent or big umbrella up the day before the sale, along with banners and flags to attract everyone driving past. Set large signs in vibrant colors along the sidewalk or street curb so that people will know something important and exciting is taking place. An advantage to using a tent is that your sale won't be affected by the weather. If the weather takes a bad turn, your merchandise and your customers will be protected from wind and rain.

    Christmas in August

    Sidewalk sales are great vehicles for selling leftover seasonal merchandise. Devote one section of the sale to the previous year's Christmas inventory, marked from 25 to 50 percent off.

    Selling your holiday holdovers makes more room for new merchandise, frees up your storage space, and satisfies your bargain-hunting customers.

    Studies show that 65 to 70 percent of current sales and profits are derived from products and services your shop has been selling for the past three to five years. Therefore, remember to mix in merchandise that isn't discounted. Moderately priced items will spur more cash sales.

    Cash is the primary currency during such a sale so have a full cash drawer ready to make change. If possible, have a cashier stand outside as well as inside for your customers' convenience. Entice customers to come inside with provocative window displays and signage.

    Keep your higher priced items inside with signs designed to lure customers indoors. A sign proclaiming, "Beautiful silk and dried arrangements for lasting beauty" with an arrow pointing to your shop will entice customers to have a look. Another sign announcing, "New shipment of home dÿcor items," outside the shop's door should help steer shoppers inside, too.

    Prop your shop door open to encourage browsers. Have experienced salespeople working outside and inside.

    Summer After Summer

    During the event, don't forget to take notes about what seemed successful and what you can do better at the next sidewalk sale. Stage the sale with the primary intention of drawing people to your shop and selling slow-movers and discontinued items, along with some impulse buys, and you shouldn't be disappointed with the results.


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