I continue to dig through my “To-Read” pile. In the June MainStreet News, the journal of the National Trust Main Street Center, there was an article called “How Special Events Benefit Local Business”.
Apparently there are a number of downtown merchants around the country who question the value of special events. Some consider them bad for business because they disrupt traffic flow and may keep regular customers away. Other merchants don’t see an immediate increase in sales and thus question the investment of resources.
As the Retail Support Strategies Task Force clarified this summer, there are retail-focused events and there are entertainment-focused events. What the Main Street folks call “Special Events” clearly fall into the second, entertainment-focused, category.
The article, like the Task Force, suggests that the special, or entertainment-focused, event “is not necessarily to generate sales on that particular date, but rather to attract people to the commercial district, raise its profile, and give visitors a positive impression so that they will come back and shop another time”.
However, if the event is actually driving away business, it should be redesigned. As an example, the Hot Dog Festival vendors in Frankfurt, Indiana were blocking access to downtown businesses. The festival organizers redesigned the booth layout to put them in the center of the street, freeing up the sidewalks for use by the downtown merchants.
In Sommerville, Massachusetts, there used to be one big downtown event. It brought a lot of people for one day, required a lot of work but didn’t seem to make an impact on businesses. The community shifted their strategy to more, smaller events. They found these to be “less disruptive” and to “keep the energy humming and show results for local businesses”.
The RSS Task Force also recognized that the retailers can do things to increase their sales leverage from these events. Their suggestions included coupons distributed at the events, advertising in event programs and/or tickets, window displays that tie to the event, and temporary signage drawing visitors’ eyes to the retailers’ shops. In addition to increase the potential sales leverage from the events, many of these steps can increase the festive atmosphere of the downtown during these events.
If the organizers tweak their events and the retailers work to link to the events, both sides will benefit. Through these collaborative efforts, everyone can become a fan of fluff.