Getting the most from in-store events

I was recently shopping at Lowe’s with two of my three children.  Walking into the store, they have a large sign that promotes their free Build and Grow Clinic.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s where there is a special project that kids can put together for free.  Most home improvement stores, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, offer similar types of programs.  The next session was for a mini basketball game.  It looked fun.  The two kids that were with me are 5 and 7 and I think would enjoy making a project like that.  I made a mental note to attend.  Almost as soon as I stepped out of view of the sign, I totally forgot about the clinic.  I’ve had this happen several times before.  I see the sign, but by the time I’ve finished shopping I have completely forgotten the time and date of the next session.  It occurred to me today that we missed the session.   I realized that although I’ve been interested and fully intend to participate in one of these sessions with my kids, I’ve never actually attended one.  I can’t believe I’m the only one that has had this experience.  But it did get me to think about what those weekend sessions are truly intended to achieve.

1.  Draw traffic into the stores. Not really a surprise here.  Traffic is what every retail store manager will tell you is their primary goal.  Get bodies in the store knowing that there is a good chance they are going to purchase something before they leave.  I’m going to make a guess that home improvement stores have a 55-60% close rate on their store traffic so bringing people into the stores will impact the bottom line.  The kids clinics theoretically achieve this, but I’d argue its a limited amount.  I seriously doubt that more than 5 people make a special trip just for the clinic.  The clinics are held during the weekend which is already a busy time for the store.  Most of their traffic is going to come from people already in the store when the clinic begins.
2.  Increase sales.  There are really only a couple of ways to increase your sales.  Either increase the number of buyers or increase the size of your current buyer’s basket.  The longer the customer stays in the store, the greater the chance they will find more items they need/want.  The kids clinics do manage to keep parents in the store longer, but they’re engaged in an activity other than shopping.  By the time the clinic is finished, it’s time to head home.
3.  Build customer loyalty. Like with any industry, there are several options on where to shop.  Home improvement is no different in this regard.  If you want to keep your customers coming back you want to provide good customer service and you want your shoppers to feel comfortable in your store so you are top of mind when they need a product that you sell.  Although it’s number three on the list of objectives, the kids clinics are probably most effective at achieving this.  Although space is limited at the clinics, so there is a maximum benefit that can be achieved.

I’m sure that as the national marketing staff was developing these clinics, they looked at this primarily from the store’s perspective and not really from the customer perspective.  It’s a mistake that happens often in the corporate world.  So with these goals in mind, how can the kids clinics be more effective and create a win-win for the customers and the store?  I’ve come up with several possibilities.

1.  Let the customer choose the time.  Most of these clinics are held on a Saturday from 10 am – 11 am.  I’m sure they were thinking that most people would be available to do a project such as this on the weekend.  The problem is, there are other activities that I’d rather be doing during my weekend.  A better idea is to develop a program that allows me to attend when I’m available.  Carve out a small section of the floor space to create a kid’s workshop area where parents and kids can sit down whenever they are in the store and work on a project together.  Case in point, this is spring break so all of the kids are home.  I’d love to be able to take them down to work on a project but there isn’t a clinic being held right now.  Create an area so I can come at my own time.  It doesn’t have to be staffed, just put a call button next to the area so I can call for assistance if necessary.  Add stocking and cleaning the area as part of the daily task list for the store associates.
2.  Have multiple project choices.  Currently each project has its own date.  Last week was a mini basketball game, next week is a mini baseball game.  A better idea is to have these choices available all month-long.  Have the projects pre-packaged with the required pieces and assembly instructions.  Keep the kid’s workshop stocked with wood glue and hammers (I’m assuming that’s all that most projects would need to be completed).  Keep the most popular projects all year and rotate some new projects in to keep it fresh and to keep people coming back.
3.  Charge for the service.  I have no guilt in missing a free clinic because it’s free.  I have no vested interest.  If I have the option to go in at a time I choose and pay a minimal fee (say $1) then I’m more likely to do a fun activity with my child and see the value of the activity.  Even better, if these are pre-packaged projects, let me buy several and take them home and do the project on my own schedule.  Odds are, then I’m buying more wood glue and some smaller child-sized tools as well.  I may even buy enough kits and tools for my child’s birthday party and do the activity for an entire classroom.  Make sure the pieces are branded and you’ve just created a project that puts your company logo into the household as a daily reminder.

A few simple changes could increase the effectiveness and benefit of a children’s construction project for everyone involved.  Create a win for the store, the parents and the kids.

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