For those in the antiques business, hope springs eternal. Dealers look forward to a new year, hoping for profitable merchandise, good inventory turnover, and new customers. Some dealers will spend the year hoping; others will make a plan and work to make the plan a reality.
Central to gaining more customers and making more sales is building store traffic. An antiques business has the same challenges as other retailers: how to build awareness for their business and get more customers in the door. This month, I’ll share some promotions that retailers in other businesses have successfully used; perhaps a few of them will work for you, too. Here are my “11 Promotions for 2011”:
1. Create space for community/club events. This idea comes from a used book seller in Maryland, who has a room behind his store that he loans to community groups for their meetings. Toastmasters, the local bridge club, and (of course) local book clubs all gather at his shop on a regular basis. He provides coffee and cookies for each meeting and makes it a point to get to know each of the club members, who invariably become regular customers and spread the word about new items.
2. Get a radio show or podcast. No, really; podcasts are popular, but this promotional concept doesn’t involve creating a huge following by becoming a national radio star. Instead, the idea is to reach the friends and family of your existing customers. You know who your collectors are; interview them about their hobby: just get them talking about how they got started, what they look for, etc., and ask them a few relevant questions. Nothing fancy. Record the interview on a digital recorder, and upload the file to one of the dozens of Internet radio sites. Many of the sites will help you get set up, and the cost is miniscule compared to traditional radio. Your collector will tell everyone they know that they’re “going to be interviewed on the radio”, and all of their friends and relatives will tune in to listen. Get them to post a link on Facebook so you can increase your message’s range. You and your antiques business will become a hit with your collector’s inner circle.
3. Write a book. This is easier than it sounds. When you interviewed your collectors for your radio show, you got them to release the rights to you. If you simply compile your interviews into a book form, you have a book. Use the book to build your mailing list: offer it to customers in your store or as a free digital download on your website or blog. Being a “published author” lends credibility to your expertise, and will likely get you an interview with the local radio station or newspaper. If you’re unsure of your writing skills, you can find ghost writers and editors online.
4. Start an article marketing campaign. Turn your expertise into Google page rank for your website by writing articles and posting them to online article directories. Articles that are well-written, timely and keyword-oriented can show up on the first page of Google within hours. Why? Because people are looking for the information. Article writing works well for those who give thoughtful consideration to their articles, assemble them correctly, and distribute them effectively. Best of all, the articles stay around for years and continually publicize your business.
5. Sponsor a sports prize. Chances are good that your town has amateur sports teams. For the cost of a small insurance premium, you can offer a cash prize for a hole-in-one, a grand slam home run, or bowling a 300 game. Car dealerships use this promotion regularly. The concept of prize indemnification includes almost every type of event that involves an element of chance and skill. Pick a well-attended local event and you will likely be interviewed on radio, TV and newspapers. For the price, you can’t buy that kind of press coverage.
6. Take your antiques business on the road. Pity the poor civic club program planners: They have to find new speakers and presenters for every meeting. Rotary, Lions, Garden Club, and others are constantly on the lookout for new speakers. Assemble a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation that explains the history, usage and points of connoisseurship for one of your favorite items, and I guarantee clubs will invite you to speak.
7. Take advantage of bad weather. Whenever snow starts to fall, radio stations crank up their “bad weather openings/closings” reports. Is your store closed? Is your store open? Either way, chances are good that your local radio station will announce your decision, and plug your business at the same time.
8. Charge for your seminars. Be honest: what sort of turnout do you get at your “free seminars?” The general public believes that free seminars are worth every penny you charge for them: Zip. Here’s an interesting twist: events like these are better attended if you charge for them. Also, stop calling them “seminars.” The word is overused. Instead, call them clinics. Bring in a paid expert and charge admission. You’ll get more people and might make a few bucks in the process.
9. Let the public know that you are traffic-friendly. Did you ever notice that stores post signs for what they won’t do? NO bathrooms, NO meter change, etc. Instead, post signs if you are willing to give change or give the public access to your restrooms. If you don’t want to offer your facilities, please don’t post any signs at all; nothing deters traffic more than an unfriendly sign posted in your window.
10. Join the parade. Parades attract big crowds and typically have no entry fees. Most dealers have access to a utility trailer which can be turned into a rolling advertisement. Your float decorations can be re-used year after year. Parades are one of the cheapest goodwill-builders that a dealer can employ.
11. Cross-promote your antiques business. Team up with a non-competing but complementary stores and display each others’ products. Some prefer to call this arrangement a “strategic alliance.” Whatever it’s called, the idea has been around for years. It’s still being used because it is still effective. Each retailer is exposed to the customer base of the partner store. The key to success here is to choose your partner carefully. The cross-promotion has to make sense in the mind of the customer. No retailer ever has enough creative display ideas. Many stores borrow antique furniture to lend a certain look to their store. Look at all the stores around your community to see which would be a good fit for a cross-promotion.