Not every town is a tourist attraction. Many of us are just regular shops in our hometown making it work every day. Some towns are almost anti-tourist during the summer months as people go on vacations and turn their attention to what they can do with the kids. My town is that way. We are more driven by the holidays than we are with out-of-town visitors. We are a 365-day-a-year family-focused city and that means we are the last on the list for summer adventures. This got me to thinking, how can I become a tourist destination in my own hometown? How can I ensure that I am the place people bring their out-of-town guests to and how do I attract the summer stay-cationers into my shop before they hit the local water park? I had to ask myself several things:
Do I offer an experience to my customers?
Shopping is nice, but when you are thinking vacation, tourist and summer fun, you are thinking experience. Today’s retailers are scrambling to differentiate themselves from online buying by enticing the consumer to come in, shop and buy at their brick and mortar. Amazon has changed the game for all retailers and we are realizing that to survive this retail evolution means to level up by giving the customer something they cannot get online; a positive face-to-face experience.
Some of my favorite stores are filled with experiences. First and foremost, it’s customer service. I get a wonderful experience by being catered to and cared about. It’s a big validation that we are on the right track when a shopper comes into my little place and tells the staff that they come here to just feel better. This means we are an experience that cannot be purchased online. Not everyone comes for the ambiance and happy smiles, some come for the expert knowledge on our products. They have questions that cannot be answered online, that is another experience. We give a great customer service experience that gets people coming back, yet, we are still missing something. We are missing the hook.
We have been looking for our hook, or our differentiator that is the exciting experience that will make our customers want to not only come back, but bring people with them. That is the part that will turn us into a tourist attraction.
This past winter, I was at the Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C. and had a chance to listen to a panel of successful women entrepreneurs. Two women on the panel have retail fronts and both create an experience. Jo Malone is from the UK and has a fragrance called Jo Loves. Her retail location in London has become a must-see on many tourist guides because of the experience she offers. When you come into her store, you are invited, free of charge, to experience her fragrance tapas bar. It is a sensual fragrance experience that is a moment of luxury like no other.
Another speaker was the CFO of Soul Cycle. Soul Cycle is a stationary cycling program that people are flocking to. They create an ambiance and a community that is unique to their philosophy. “But it’s so much more than just a workout — it’s a powerful mind-body experience. We ride together as a pack in candlelit studios to the rhythm of one-of-a-kind playlists. We’re coached by magnetic instructors, who support us, coach us and push us to reach our personal bests.” They are opening up new studios and being asked into existing studios to grow business.
Independent bra stores are flourishing because they will make sure you fit your garment perfectly before you buy a single thing. Restaurants are bringing in game nights and gaming restaurants are opening. Even the local baby store has classes on going natural and organic with your diaper needs. Makeup studios are custom blending and let us not forget the psychic readers in your favorite spiritual shop. These combined with top-notch customer service puts you in the category of a retail experience shop.
We are brainstorming what our experience is at our shop and making it more interactive, exciting and something people want to return for. This discussion of ideas is vast and, frankly, hilarious.
Do I market an experience in my store?
This is a very hard question to ask myself or any retailer. Marketing is a dynamic adventure to say the least and it feels like you are never done. That is a legitimate feeling because you never are. Marketing is not a one-time ad or a few posts or a month’s worth of engagement. It’s a continual strategy, measurement and evolution. The products you put in your store are always evolving and being refreshed and the same goes for your marketing plan. It’s ok if the thought of that makes you want to quit, because there is a whole industry of people excited to take on what brings you pain.
If marketing is not one of the hats you want to wear, then for goodness’ sake, hire it out. A marketing plan is as vital as the sign on your door. It lets people who are your demographic know you are here! It puts you on the mental map of your customers.
Marketing to be that tourist attraction in your hometown cannot rely solely on the big three of social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). I cannot rest only with your ad in the local indie publication or even in your listings on the town’s go-to spots. You have to think like a tourist. When someone comes into town, how do they know you even exist? If someone is looking to spend some fun time on the stay-cation, how would they ever find you as an option? These are three ways to start your tourist marketing plan:
1. Check for listings of your store
These aps, including google maps are the easiest places to look for things to do. So get listed, get reviews, and get traffic.
2. When you attach your social media links to these site, then the potential customer can get a feel of your place and be inspired to visit. Get your social media in order. Pictures, explanations, staff, experiences, reviews, fun! Get all of this on your regular social media. Most travelers look at your social media before they look at your website. They know this gives them the real feel of your store.
3. Get listed on paper everywhere!
Your Chamber of Commerce, your towns calendar of events, welcome centers and even other local attractions are all looking for more answers to give the travelers that ask, “What else is there to do?” Be that other thing to do. Build relationships with the restaurants in the area, tourists must eat and that is often where they scout out the next thing to do.
I had to ask my store team, “Where are we listed?” We didn’t know. Immediately we started the tourist traffic building list. We started claiming our listing and researching for more. We are surrounded by popular restaurants and are making a card “While you are waiting” for the hosts to hand out to diners with a long wait to be seated. This card gives them front-of-the-line status at our shop and a 15 percent discount on what they buy that visit.
We are wrangling these tourist touch points one at a time, keeping a list and checking on reviews daily. We may get one or two new customers a week collectively from these additional sources, and it is worth every effort to get them there. Our next biggest challenge we must ask ourselves is: Do we deliver what we promise? Every day we ask:
Does my store deliver on this experience every time?
Honestly, the first time I asked this question, the answer was no. There is no clearly defined experience every customer is offered when they come in to the store. As the owner, my original idea got stuck in my head and I knew what I wanted, but never was able to clearly articulate to my team what that experience was. This was a clear sign that I made it too complicated. What did I do from there? I backed it out. Until I could clearly, succinctly and efficiently explain this and have my team get it in one, I needed to go back to the drawing board.
Instead of starting with a Jo Malone style experience, I started with procedure-izing our current customer winning experience. We already have superpowers in customer experience and I want to ensure that they are repeatable. I listened to what our customers said, I listed to what my team was saying, I asked opinions and I realized we have a solid foundation what we can start with. After much brainstorming we now understand that our customers come in for new solutions to old problems. They want guidance in the moment, they want to feel safe with their weird questions and they want to leave empowered. We already do that. This is our superpower and we are known for that.
The larger experience is in development and it uses this solid foundation to grow from. While we are building this new idea, we have stepped up our marketing, created a tagline and standard text. And people are responding; customers and staff. We keep repeating this, delivering this and celebrating this and we are becoming a tourist attraction in our own town
We must build the experience and test it. Notice I said “we.” One person cannot accomplish all this alone, so I work on communicating with my staff and getting not only their input, but their buy-in. Together, we realized that there are many steps between creating that much talked-about experience and we created a plan of action. Here are our next steps:
- What is it? After much brainstorming, customer interaction and staff experience, we have the idea. An interactive display where the customer can build their own little moment of magic. It’s low cost to us, free to the customer and gets them thinking in a new way.
- How will it work? Our idea is interactive and opens the door for our customers to get excited about all the spiritual products we sell. It will take the attention of the sales person and may distract them from helping all our customers. We need to continue to evolve the idea, so the sale staff starts the process and the customer finishes it. We will also need instruction, training and support material.
- How are we going to test this? We need a plan, a launch and some PR. We decided to have in-store magical events where we test this experience and see if we want to invest further. We will need lots of marketing to get a good cross-section of customers to test.
- Where will be put it? The square footage we commit to this idea will need to generate sales directly or indirectly in a measurable way. Do we put is in an under-used area or a slow sales area, or commit our money-making area to give all the customers eyes in it? What we will have to rearrange and what will we need to purchase or have built?
- How will we manage it and measure the success? If you cannot measure it, you will never know if it is successful and worth the effort. We will need to pay attention to whether it brings in more sales or gives free service that replaces what we could have sold.
- What marketing will we need? We will create the plan after we test it a few times and watch customer reaction. Then we get creative with PR, postings and community engagement.
Plan, delegate, streamline and hit the easy button is in our call to action on our evolving customer experience. The customer experience we commit to and invest in will define our reputation and brand and that is so exciting! I want to be a place that is top-of-mind for our customers when family is in town. I want us to be the place customers turn to when they are struggling with their spiritual problems. I want us to be a better solution than ordering online and to do that, we must offer something that you cannot get from your computer screen – face-to-face, mindful human interaction.