Creating Community: How Hosting an Event Series Can Help Retailers Build Trust

Creating Community: How Hosting an Event Series Can Help Retailers Build Trust

Serial events for retail | Shopify Retail blogTrends have indicated how important it is for retailers to consider more than their price point. Today’s consumers aren’t just shopping for the best deal — they’re shopping for the best brand.

What does it mean to be the best brand? A lot of times, it’s about the consumers’ perception of your brand, as well as the relationship you have with your existing customers. The foundation of any customer relationship is trust. In fact, 62% of consumers consider brand trust to have a great influence on their buying decisions.

One way to establish trust and a strong community of loyal customers? Through hosting serial events.

But what is an event series? What do they look like, and what do they entail? Here, we’ll tackle the ins and outs of serial events and how they can build customer trust and your business at the same time.

Benefits of Hosting Serial Events

Serial Events Inspire Customer Loyalty

Any successful strategy to boost retail sales consists of a holistic, multi-channel approach. Digital and real-life tactics, as well as long- and short-term goals, should be complementary to help you meet your business goals.

Serial events can be one facet of your overall plan, especially as it relates to customer loyalty.

“The act of selling and driving more revenue is a multi-layered approach,” says Chris Guillot, retail consultant and founder of Merchant Method. “Not one single thing is going to directly boost sales.”

“Marketing increases awareness, events — serial events — increase foot traffic, the act of selling increases conversion,” she says. “I like to think of serial events the way I like to think of [customer relationship management] and social media: The benefit is in long-term loyalty and return customers.”

A customer retention strategy is a cost-effective way to sell more product and boost customer lifetime value. Though the specific number is up for debate, it’s estimated that the cost of customer retention is anywhere from five to 25 times less than acquiring a new customer.

Through serial events, you’re able to build and nurture the relationship your customers have with your brand. Even though you may not be generating revenue at your events, you’re more likely to be top-of-mind when those customers do need to purchase a product you sell, or a solution you offer.

Boost Foot Traffic

Whether or not you have an online store, the goal to increase foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar location is infinitely present. Hosting in-store events gives customers a reason — other than spending money — to come to your location.

Even if your store isn’t open for business transactions during the event, you can use it as a way to make customers want to come back during business hours to shop for your products.

Get to Know Your Customers

Guillot points out the opportunity to conduct customer research through your events. “Ask questions, get to know your customers in a different way,” Guillot says. “If you’ve been in business for a while, it’s a nice way to refresh your perspective of your customer. Find out what’s important to them and how their buying habits have changed.”

Thinking about developing a new product line? Use the events to gauge interest among your existing customer base. It can help you mitigate risk and feel more confident in a risk you plan to take in your business.

Find out what other types of events they’d be interested in attending, what their shopping habits and preferences are, and how they like to connect with you and hear from your brand.

“The research is completely invaluable,” says Guillot.

Become a Local Celeb

If your event series is buzzworthy, you could snag some free publicity from local publications or reporters. This kind of earned media is valuable when it comes to building brand awareness and your sales numbers. After all, 25% to 40% of all web traffic and lead generation comes from earned media.

When other outlets start to talk about your store and your events, you’re able to reach an entirely new audience. Plus, those other outlets already have established credibility, which also lends credibility to your business.

FURTHER READING: Want to get some press attention for your business? Here are a handful of tactics and tools to help.

Retailers that Host Serial Events

Anthropologie

Anthropologie serial event | Shopify Retail blogSource: Anthropologie

One of Guillot’s go-to examples of retailers with a strategic multi-channel approach is women’s apparel and home goods retailer Anthropologie. The retailer, which has more than 200 stores worldwide, has several different serial events.

“Anthropologie hosts an event series called the Locally Yours Pop-up Market. The brand transfers creative control to their stores to curate the local artists and makers featured at each pop-up,” Guillot says.

But it seems counterproductive to host an event during which you sell products that are not your own. Guillot combats that argument, “It’s a great way for a chain like Anthropologie to say, ‘We’re connected with the cool, creative things happening in our community.” That allows them to connect with their customers, who are also passionate about supporting local creatives and small businesses.

Anthropologie’s other serial events span a range of interests: animal rights, finding the right pair of jeans, fashion shows, crafting, and wellness. They even have a branded hashtag — #AnthroEvents — to spread the word. This also allows customers at events in different locations to connect online.

The Land of Nod

Land of Nod serial events | Shopify Retail blogImage Source: Flock and Feather

Furniture and home goods retailer The Land of Nod is another large chain retailer that has invested in serial events. They’ve taken a unique approach, with a mobile events series aboard the Nod Tour Bus.

“They decorate a tour bus, travel across the country from store to store, and promote their current artist collaboration," says Guillot. "They host games and giveaways; it’s a fun, playful experience.”

But how can you build community when you’re not based in a community? “The community aspect comes from knowing that your family and your children are going to be entertained,” Guillot says. “Even though they’re promoting their collaboration, they’re also hosting an experience for the entire family.”

By maintaining a focus on the fun experience, The Land of Nod contributes to an already-established community through providing another way to create family memories.

DermWarehouse

Eastside Dermatology serial event | Shopify Retail blogImage Source: Eastside Dermatology and Skincare Center

DermWarehouse, a skincare and beauty retailer, makes a majority of their sales online (85%). But they know how important the in-person sales at their Columbus, Ohio, store are — especially because it’s connected to their dermatologist office.

“We’re able to see what products are popular with patients, which helps with our ecommerce strategy,” says Dr. Jason Parks, cofounder and partner of the company.

DermWarehouse hosts a monthly open house event series, which has helped them spread the word about their business locally. Customers are treated to giveaways, exclusive promotions, and free skincare consultations.

“Our open house event typically drives 40-50 people to our storefront location,” says Parks. “This has helped our business because each person that attends typically tells a friend, so the open house events have continuously grown.”

The company is seeing results when it comes to revenue, too. “We generate more sales for our skincare and beauty products and get rid of excess inventory,” he says. “We see a continuous growth in online sales in the Columbus, Ohio, market and Ohio as a whole.” Even though these customers aren’t shopping at the events, they’re converting later on.

“We’re building a community,” Parks says. “This proves that when you have a storefront location, word-of-mouth marketing will spread and increase online sales.”

Velouria

Seattle-based boutique shop Velouria sells women’s apparel and accessories and home goods. They hosted an event series called Womxn’s Wednesdays, a weekly event that took place in April 2017.

Every Wednesday, the retailer donated 20% of its sales to a local charity apparel production training house dedicated to serving immigrant and refugee communities.

“It was a way for the business to express to their community, ‘We see you, and we’d like to use our platform to bring more awareness to the things that are important to both of us.’” Guillot says.

“That [events series] was fantastic because it was focused and consistent. Newer and loyal customers could rely on [the event] every Wednesday, and they could look forward to supporting it the following week.”

Bellefleur Lingerie

Another Seattle-based retailer, Bellefleur Lingerie, hosts an event series that occurs much less frequently. They put on an annual fashion show, each year with its own theme.

“Being invited to this event means being surprised by the theme. It's different for each show,” says Guillot. “That’s part of their brand differentiation and marketing. If you want to go to a lingerie fashion show, you need to go to the one at Bellefleur.”

Bellefleur has turned their event into the go-to event in their industry, and both scarcity and consistency contribute to that. And now, they’re a leader in their industry as a whole.

“They’re not only offering guests a seasonal preview, they’re also continuing to set themselves apart through styling and product knowledge,” says Guillot. “They lead their competition, in part, because they host this event consistently.”

How to Host Events Series in Your Store

Deciding What Your Event Will Be

Serial events in retail | Shopify Retail blogYou might be scratching your head wondering what event you could possibly host, or your mind might be overrun with tons of ideas. Regardless, determining what your event series is actually going to be comes first.

Think of event ideas that make sense for your target customer before you think about what makes sense for your store or your brand. Putting the community first is essential. Consumers are smart — they’ll sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. If your main goal is to sell your product, your community-building goals are likely to be a lot tougher to achieve.

If you have an idea and are unsure of whether it holds any weight, survey your existing customer base — post a poll on social media, survey your email list, or ask customers during checkout. That way, you’ll be able to gauge interest before you go all-in on making the event a reality.

There are additional benefits in the view of your customer, too.

“Asking for feedback shows your customers and event guests that you're genuinely interested in creating experiences that are engaging and worthy of their time,” says Guillot.

Still stuck for ideas on what your serial event should be? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Is there a cause that my customers are passionate about? How can I support them in that cause? Where does my brand fit into that conversation?
  • Is there a current void in my local community — a need for a collaborative space for creatives, no meetups for people who like to knit, nowhere for apartment-dwelling pet owners to take their animals to play? Is there any way I can fill that void?
  • Is there something my customers want to learn about in my industry — a more environmentally friendly way to clean their homes, how to connect their smartphone to their TV, or which fall fashions are timeless and age-appropriate? Can I create a series of events around these topics to help them learn?
  • Do any of my competitors host events? What’s successful for them? Why is it successful?

The pet shop can host monthly adoption fairs or offer a space for pet owners to come and let the dogs play while enjoying complimentary WiFi. The yarn shop can create a regularly meeting knitting group, and the electronics retailer can host an Apple-inspired series on how to best use the tech.

“One creative series that happens nationwide is Art Walk,” says Guillot. "Leveraging Art Walks is an easy way for a small retailer or a brand-new business to start a serial event because Art Walk attendees already support local artists and independently owned businesses.”

Another way to tap into pre-existing interest in your event? Partnering with a sponsor or co-host. A business or with similar values and similar customers could be a great partner to work with on an event series. Plus, it can help offset some of the costs and make pulling the event off a lot less overwhelming.

Another option when it comes to partnering with a co-host is to feature a special guest. For example, the pet shop can invite a prominent dog trainer in for a doggie potty-training event series.

You could invite the same guest for each invite, or a new one for each event installment. That same pet shop might have a Doggie 101 event series for new dog owners, one event on potty training, one on maintaining the health of your dog, and one on which dog toys are safe for your pup.

How to Promote Your Event

Event promotion is essential to getting the word out and ensuring attendance. A retailer’s worst nightmare is hosting an event that falls way short of attendance expectations.

Pre-Event

When choosing the date and time of your event, consider your customers’ schedules. “It's really difficult to ensure attendance to events because scheduling conflicts come up for people,” says Guillot.

Ask your customers upfront what works best for them, which days and times are they available, and how does that work with the store schedule?

Take events and holidays into account, too. “These can make it difficult for attendees to get to your venue because of things like traffic,” says Guillot.

“Then ask yourself, ‘How do customers like to receive information from me as a business? How responsive are they to different forms of communication? Do they engage through Facebook or Instagram Live? Do they read email or prefer a high-touch phone call?’” Guillot says

After you’ve done the leg work, “how you choose to promote your event series is going to be that much more effective because you've thought through objections or obstacles beforehand,” Guillot says.

Then the logistics of event promotion come into play. If it’s your first event, test different channels to learn which one is the most successful. Then you can double down on that for the next event in the series. Here are some channels to consider:

  • Social media: Create Facebook events (and add your co-host(s) to the event if you have them), post organically about the events, talk about the events in local Facebook groups, and run paid social ads targeting your ideal attendee.
  • Influencer marketing: Partner with local influencers to spread the word to new audiences.
  • Third-party event-hosting sites: Tools like Eventbrite, Etsy events, and Meetup make your events discoverable on those platforms, and you can also manage RSVPs.
  • Email marketing: “If you’ve got a great email list that’s segmented, you can target based on your audience,” says Guillot.
  • Look locally: Guillot recommends checking with your local chamber of commerce to see if there’s an event calendar you can add to, and you can also research other local organizations or publications that host community event calendars.
  • Community sponsors: If your event series is sponsored, ask your sponsor how they can help you spread the word.

During the Event

“The easiest way to promote is sharing the experience on social media,” says Guillot. “One of my favorite activities for events is to encourage people to exchange Instagram handles and start following each other, and to use a hashtag specifically for the event or store.”

Guillot also suggests a strategic tactic to guarantee attendance for your next event in the series. “Before you host your first event, have your second event planned," she says. “If customers can’t attend your first event, invite them to register for your next one. This is a great way to let them know you'd like them to be part of the experience.”

That way, Guillot says, you can counter with an invitation — turn a negative into a positive.

You can also invite the attendees of your first event to the second one. “If it’s ready for registration, you can invite people back,” says Guillot.

Post-Event

An event series based upon building community has the opportunity to sustain that community in between events. Engage with event attendees with email marketing or through a Facebook group, post photos of the event on your social media pages and blog after the event, and follow up with your attendees with a thank-you note (and share your excitement for the next one!)

“After I host events, I am very diligent about connecting with and commenting [on social media] for the next week,” says Guillot. “It’s a great way to continue to leverage that piece of the experience.”

Ask event attendees to share their experiences with anyone in their networks who would be interesting in joining the community-based events. Keep the excitement going to stay top-of-mind, and to generate interest in new attendees. Others may see what they’ve been missing out on and will be keen to attend the next one.

How to Actually Execute the Event

Planning is key to hosting any successful event, be it a series or a one-time occasion. “It takes weeks to do it well — to make sure that you have the capacity, you have the availability of time and space, and that you can make it happen financially,” says Guillot.

She says the most common mistakes she sees retailers make is not establishing a budget or tangible goals.

Setting a budget: The word “budget” might be scary, but it doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot to execute your events. “You don’t need a big budget to have an event series,” says Guillot. “During the planning phase, identify what resources are available to produce these events. Be clear about which resources you want to use to help you achieve your specific event goals.”

Setting goals: Without goals, it’s hard to determine if your event series is successful, because you don’t have anything to measure against. “Is the goal to gain new customers? To bring more awareness to the brand? To create community and identify people who might support similar causes or beliefs? Is the goal to create artwork?” Guillot says. “Once you have a set goal, you can plan accordingly.”

Feel encouraged to be creative. “You don’t have to serve wine and h’orderves,” says Guillot. “Serve something that’s more affordable. Flavored sparkling water like La Croix is a crowd favorite. Look for community sponsors to help offset some of the costs.”

After your budget and goals have been set, you can begin the legwork on the execution. Plan your space accordingly, and set it up to foster community. A bunch of seats at the bar won’t encourage the same amount of interaction as a round table would, for example.

Keep everything organized in a tool such as Google Drive or Evernote — perhaps you’ll have a spreadsheet with expenses, a list of RSVPs and the number of attendees, what the refreshments will be, the schedule, any vendor information, and the event series itinerary. There’s a lot that goes into planning a single event, let alone a whole series of them.

If you’re hosting a larger event series, with a bigger budget, you can also hire an event planner to organize and execute everything for you. They typically have relationships with vendors and can help you turn unique ideas into real-world events.

Staying Community-Focused

At the end of the day, an authentic intention to create a community-first, profits-second event is the pillar for retailers who want to host serial events. “In this world of creative commerce and creative retail, running a profitable business with integrity is about creating community over obliterating the competition,” says Guillot.

“By producing more of a community-focused event, the benefit will come from creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience. [Your attendees] will walk away with a shared story that includes your brand. It’s a very unique formula.”

What community-building events series are you considering hosting as a retailer? What have you tried in the past?

Photo of Alexandra Sheehan

About the Author

Alexandra Sheehan is a freelance writer/editor and content specialist. She’s worked with retailers ranging from Fortune 100 companies to Etsy shop owners, and is always looking for innovative ways to help her clients.

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