Natural Foods Merchandiser

Make a date with your calendar

It happens almost without knowing it. You're too busy. You're too tired. The "kids" just take up too much time. You just don't have the energy for making a date. But this type of thinking ultimately drags your relationship down, while making the time can reinvigorate and create new energy to carry the relationship forward.

So call in a "babysitter," lock the door and break out the pen. Yes, it's time to make a promotional planning calendar for you and your main squeeze—your store. The dividends of finally focusing on—or revamping—this essential tool will be seen immediately.

According to Debby Swoboda, a Stuart, Fla.-based marketing consultant for independent naturals retailers, "One of the biggest problems that I find for the retailer is they don't plan ahead." While retailers often know how many dollars they're going to spend on promotions, she says, they don't have a concrete idea of where those dollars will end up.

Spending those dollars wisely—planning ahead for a year's worth of promotions—should be near the top of your business "musts." "There is a significant portion of the population who buys on deal," says Sherwood Smith, a president of Traverse City, Mich.-based Blue Sky Marketing. And, while "running a series of well-publicized price promotions will definitely help you sell more to your regular shoppers," he says, the larger question is: "How do you use a promotional calendar for competitive advantage?"

Swoboda recommends carving out a chunk of time and literally locking the door so you can focus exclusively on your planning. "It's amazing what even half a day can do," she says. Gather as much information as you can, including, perhaps, a list of events created by your local chamber of commerce, a simple Hallmark calendar of events or promotional calendars in magazines such as The Natural Foods Merchandiser, Swoboda says.

With the time and tools in place, both Smith and Swoboda recommend creating a list in a style that works for you. Begin with a large-format 12-month calendar or a wipe-board grid, for instance. Set out the community events you already know you will participate in, and add in big holidays. Remember to consider and plan for already-scheduled events that could impact access to your store. "Your event may not work if it's also the day of a big town parade," Swoboda says. "Customers can't be at both places."

When you have the basics in place, consider your budget. "I always encourage retailers to look at their budget and figure out how much they are willing to spend," Swoboda says. "You may have an event every quarter—that's a good number—or maybe just two a year." Knowing what you have to spend allows you to plan successful events, rather than halfhearted, ineffective ones.

"Choose monthly themes that are unique to you and actually can extend for a whole month," Smith says. He cites examples such as Comfort Food Month, Best Brew Month or Focus on the Farm Month. "The theme doesn't have to dominate everything you do; it just makes for fun."

Once you have your calendar, think of who in the community might partner well or how your brokers or manufacturers can help. Swoboda says involving local groups can help by forming an instant network. "You create synergy for spreading the word." Remember to communicate to the groups you approach how your store's event is really the community's event—good for you and your partners. This will also help on a competitive basis. "Your competitors will probably have access to the same manufacturer and distributor deals at the same time," Smith says. "How do you make your promotions 'special'—more than just a percentage off the suggested retail price?"

Smith and Swoboda agree that the proof is in the pudding—or at least the tasting of it. "Sampling is critical," Smith says, especially for food items. "You do the event in the store, not in the parking lot," Swoboda says. This ensures that attendees actually see what you have to offer and get a feel for your store.

And finally, along with your community partners, remember to plan your internal and external communications. "Local TV stations are frantic for material between Christmas and New Year's," Smith says. "Invite reporters in with a press release." With this in mind, Swoboda says she encourages retailers to create templates and tools for every stage of promotional planning rather than having to redo steps with every event. And if you create synergy by, say, making your event also a fundraiser for a worthy cause, "local papers will want to write a story about it and even take pictures," she says


Create synergy for event success
Not exactly sure how to go about planning a successful event? Not to worry. Debby Swoboda, marketing consultant for independent naturals retailers, offers the example of one of her favorite events: a kids' day. "Children need to be educated about naturals, but parents don't always have time," she says. As a bonus, "Johnny's all nice and safe, so mommy can shop and has the time because Johnny's there."

As the children learn, "the parents are learning as well," she says. "And the parents have been prequalified—if they show up they're interested in what you're selling."

Also, Swoboda recommends notifying loyal shoppers that the event will be taking place and on what day. "You want them to know that the store will be crowded and busy so you don't lose regular customers."

Swoboda says to stage a successful kids' day:

  • Have product samples that the parents can take home to remind them of what products their children enjoy.
  • Create learning stations in the store that are run by local community members and groups, such as the Red Cross, the fire department, wellness and fitness professionals, and farmers.
  • Have a drawing for a large enough prize to create interest and keep parents in the store. Children must visit every station to be entered in the drawing.
  • Consider timing the event two weeks after school starts. Local schools may agree to send a flier home to notify parents about the event.
  • Stage the event near the health and beauty area and vitamin aisles, two sections that the parents might need or may be interested in learning more about.

If you are looking for more help, Swoboda recommends attending trade shows to make connections and brainstorm ideas. She also posts ideas on her Web site,


Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 11/p. 16, 20

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