A Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting In-Store Events That Generate Foot Traffic, Loyalty, and Sales

Providing a remarkable customer experience is critical to retail success, especially in an age where customers can shop online and on mobile. To truly engage the modern consumer offline, retailers must offer experiential in-store visits that shoppers can’t get when they’re browsing the web or tapping on their phone.

One way of doing this is by hosting retail store events. When done right, this strategy can draw people into your store, increase awareness, and even generate sales. If you’re thinking about throwing one for your store, keep reading. We’ve put together insights and words of wisdom from merchants and retail experts to help ensure that your next in-store event is a hit:

Planning and preparation

Select the perfect type of event

What kind of event should you host? The best way to answer this is by turning to your customers. Who do you cater to? What types of activities do they enjoy? Address these questions first to get a general idea of what kind of event would work for your store.

On top of that, here are other factors to consider when deciding on an in-store event:

Historical information – Look at previous in-store events that you’ve organized. Which ones were a hit and which ones didn’t gain much steam? Needless to say, you should stick to the types that proved to be successful.

Don’t have a lot of experience hosting events? That’s ok. Take notes and treat it as a learning experience. Consider Flourish Boutique, an apparel store in Granger, IN. According to shop owner Vanessa Cooreman Smith, event-hosting for them was initially a trial and error process, and they had to throw a number of functions before figuring out what works for their store.

“Now we have it down to a science,” says Vanessa, and today, Flourish Boutique is always on top of launching events that keep people coming back.

Competition – Do some research on your competitors and see if they’ve thrown any events in their store. Figure out what made them successful and find ways to incorporate those elements into your own functions.

Timing – Take into consideration the season or time of year when you’re planning to run the event. If you’re throwing it in February for example, you may want to incorporate Valentine’s Day. Having an event later in the year? Consider a holiday theme.

You should also factor in seasonal changes as well as the schedule of your target market. “Be mindful when picking your date that it’s not too close to a holiday, in the snowy, or rainy season, or on summer weekends when everyone travels to their beach homes,” advises Jackie Pantaliano, President at ImPRessions, LLC.

“If parents and kids are your target market, carefully plan around seasonal kids’ sporting activities. If you want to appear in monthly magazine calendars, opt for an event around mid-month, as opposed to the first of the month, to make sure folks seeing the magazine can plan ahead to attend and aren’t first reading about your event on the day-of.”

Plan (way) ahead of time

“Retail events should never be last-minute — always have a 30/60/90 [day] execution list.” – Lisa Smith

Planning a successful event requires managing several moving parts and sticking to a budget and timeline, all while running the regular aspects of your store. Things can get hectic, and plans can fall apart if you’re not organized.

“Plan, plan, plan,” says Lisa Smith of Downtown Whitewater, Inc. “The better prepared you and your entire staff are for an event the better the day of execution will go.”

Lisa, who worked as a general manager and operations manager for both Walmart and a subsidiary of Bed Bath & Beyond, adds that retailers should establish timelines for execution. “Retail events should never be last-minute — always have a 30/60/90 [day] execution list.”

Take a leaf out of Flourish Boutique’s playbook. “We create to-do lists organized by one month ahead, two weeks ahead, one week ahead, one day ahead, and day of tasks,” shares Vanessa. “Then those tasks are delegated out to different employees. As the owner, I circle back to make sure each task is being accomplished in a timely manner.”

Sort out your finances

Figure out your finances early on. The last thing you want is to overspend on the event or run out of funds when you’re about to launch. Think about what you’ll need to host a successful function, including inventory, staff, fixtures, marketing materials and more. Take note of the prices of the required products and services, total the amount, then add 10-20% to the figure to give your budget some wiggle room.

If you’re looking to lower expenses, consider co-hosting with other businesses or organizations that are willing to split the costs and help promote the event. You can also consider striking cross-promotion deals with your vendors to save on costs.

Do note, however, that there’s a difference between savvy budgeting and being cheap. While it’s good to find ways to lower costs, don’t sacrifice the quality of the event for the sake of saving a few bucks. As Retail Prophet, Doug Stephens puts it, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.”

“Don’t cheap out,” he adds. “Make sure the space is right and that you’ve staffed the event properly. If you can’t afford to do events, don’t.”

Use multiple marketing tactics

The turnout of your event will depend on how well you market it, so spend a good amount of time and resources on this step!

Fortunately, there are various tactics that you can look into. Flourish Boutique, for example, utilizes both online and offline marketing methods to promote their events.

“We usually do a combination of things to try and get the word out there,”  mentions to Vanessa. According to her, some of the things they do include:

  • Sending postcard invitations
  • Sending e-mail invitations
  • Creating a Facebook event with invitations
  • Publishing social media (i.e. Facebook and Instagram) posts and sometimes paid for posts or ads
  • Putting out banners in front of the store
  • Leaving flyers at neighboring businesses
  • Handing out point of purchase flyers
  • In some cases, they even call their top customers and invite them personally over the phone

Drum up some publicity

Try to get your event covered in the media and the blogosphere. Reach out to journalists and influencers and share your story. As Retail Minded founder Nicole Leinbach Reyhle writes on her site, “Radio stations, newspapers, local television stations, magazines and other local media outlets crave great information to share with their readers. Let your in-store events be among what they share!”

Jackie says that for best results, you could tie in some charitable efforts for your event.

“For stronger pre, on-site and post-publicity and goodwill, pair the event with philanthropy,” she says. “I’m currently working with a holistic pet supply and grooming retail client on their soft opening and upcoming grand opening, which we paired with a fundraiser to supply pet oxygen masks to the local fire department.

“Pre-event announcement news releases, with a photo of the store owners, their dog and the fire chief with a pet oxygen mask drew substantial coverage. Post-event photo-caption news releases of the ribbon-cutting and day-of event festivities, and later, a large check presentation to the fire chief, will give the event a longer life in the media.”

Tips for the big day

Go easy on the sales pitches (or avoid them altogether)

If the event seems like a veiled attempt at selling something, it will fall flat. – Doug Stephens

While it’s a common practice to showcase store merchandise during events, be careful not to come off as too salesy. Remember that the goal of having events is to deliver great experiences, and not stuff.

“You want to create an emotion that people will tie into your brand,” says Michael Marquez of Mystical Entertainment Group. “Have a strolling violinist to serenade your guests. Have a clown on stilts telling jokes and performing magic tricks, create a mini spa with shoulder massages and mini facials. Don’t just sell!”

It’s best to see events as an investment in future sales and long term loyalty as opposed to a sales tactic. As Doug puts it, “Retailers should not look at in-store events as having any sort of direct or quick payback in sales. Events are a slow build strategy but can have a profound impact on word-of-mouth marketing by customers. They pay dividends over time in the form of customer loyalty and share of voice in the marketplace.”

“And most importantly, if the event seems like a veiled attempt at selling something, it will fall flat. Consider events part of the marketing budget for the store and look at it as a long-term effort that will generate results – have faith!”

Set the mood with the right music

“Music is huge, and should be present throughout the entirety of the event,” mentions Thomas Brierton, founder of luxury leather goods store Bryer Leather . “This prevents awkward silences and instantly puts people in a good mood. Live music is even better, with something jazzy or mellow being key.”

Consider serving booze

If it makes sense for your retail store event, consider providing alcohol. “Once people are drinking, they relax, and are more open to shopping and overall enjoying themselves. I find that once people have had a drink it is amazingly easy to have a great conversation and thus be able to explain why your product is superior,” shares Thomas.

Give out goody bags

There’s nothing like free stuff to get people’s attention. If you have room in your budget, see if you can give out goodie bags at your event. Put together a bunch of freebies and be sure to talk about your goodie bags when marketing the event.

Thomas adds that for best results, you should consider giving out your goodie bags to your early birds.

“Make ‘goody bags’ that are to be given to the first xx amount of people to arrive,” he says. “I’ve seen this implemented so successfully, that for an event where the first 50 people were to receive a $40 value goody-bag, we had over 200 people wait in line for the doors to open.”

Document the event

Take pictures and videos at the event. Aside from giving you content and promotional materials for the future, doing so will give you the opportunity to take a closer look at how things went. Review the photos and video footage after the function and keep an eye out for things that went right and components that can be improved.

After the event

Share photos and recaps online

Remember those pictures and videos that you took? Post them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other social networks you belong to. Thank everyone who attended the event, mention the people who took part in it, and tag individuals you know personally.

If you send out newsletters, be sure to include those photos in your next issue and include a write-up summarizing the great things that happened.

Consider “second chance” promotions

Vanessa of Flourish Boutique says that they extend special opportunities to people who couldn’t make it. “If we had a fashion show with a storewide discount that night, we might extend the discount portion for the weekend and offer other people a chance at the sale, who could not attend.”

If it makes sense for your business, see if you can do something similar.

Follow up with your staff

Round up your employees and discuss the event. What went right? What didn’t go according to plan? Let everyone have their say. Take note of insights and learnings so you can apply them in your next event.

Plan the next one

When it comes to hosting events, Doug emphasizes the importance of frequency and repetition. “You can’t just hold one event a year and expect people to remember or look forward to it. Shoot for monthly events initially and work up from there if necessary.”

Further Reading

Enjoyed this post? Check out our free ebook, Retail Survival of the FittestThis book serves as your practical guide to modern-day retail success. You’ll learn:

  • How to design in-store experiences that delight customers and keep them coming back.
  • How to automate or streamline repetitive tasks so you can be more productive and focus on serving your customers and growing your business.
  • How to increase repeat purchases through creative loyalty strategies, clever use of data, and modern-day rewards programs.

Learn More


Do you hold in-store events? Tell us all about them in the comments.


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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