If you're a small business owner, think for a moment about WHY you advertise. When you spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on various forms of advertising, do you do it because you are guaranteed sales? Of course not. You do it for exposure right? Just get someone in the door to see what you have, treat them nicely and hope they'll remember your products when they are ready to buy. If you're lucky, some of your advertising efforts will immediately convert to sales, but we all know that doesn't always happen. The important thing is that they are EXPOSED to your business and that they now know about what you have to offer. Right?
Many of you have the best form of advertising at your fingertips for FREE, and most businesses I see are not taking advantage of it. Instead - they are using it to FLUSH AWAY BUSINESS!!!! What is this secret weapon I bet at least 75% of you have?...
IT'S YOUR BATHROOM!!!!!
We've had our business in a Downtown district for about 30 years now, and although I adore and love most of my fellow merchants, I am amazed to see how many of them have signs in their windows that say "Restrooms for Customers Only." Is that REALLY the first impression that you want to give someone who has never been in your store before? - that you don't care about human physiological needs unless they spend money with you? These signs come out even bigger and bolder during art shows & events when there are thousands of people on the street.
When we had the Christmas Cottage, although we made many mistakes along the way, one of the smartest things we ever started doing during art shows and festivals, was to put a sign out that said "Air Conditioned Clean Restrooms Inside!" People swarmed inside our store. The lucky thing is that our bathrooms are located on our showroom floor in the very BACK of our store, so people have to walk all the way through our shop and wait in line, gazing at all of our products just so they would not have to use one of those hot stinky port-o-johns outside!
Now I do realize that many small business owners are not in the position to do this because restrooms are located off the showroom floor in a back room where inventory is stored and you certainly don't want strangers going back there, but do you really have to put a sign out giving that negative first impression? Let me tell you another secret too...
I am an artist at heart and I have been in art shows. I have also run art shows and I tell you without doubt that those artists with their online artist networks who are set up in front of your stores can be your best allies or your worst enemies. I know, because I've witnessed it and I've DONE it... If you go out and tell those artists they better keep a clear path to your store, and tell them they have to use the port-o-johns, they are going to tell every person that comes into their booth that you are not a nice person and they should not shop in your store because of how badly they treat "starving artists" who are just trying to make a living. Here's a much better way to spend some advertising dollars, and a lot FEWER of them:
Buy a case of water before a big event, and have it chilled when the show begins. Set aside $30-$50 to have your bathrooms professionally cleaned (if you don't want to do it yourself) after the event. When the artists or event vendors are setting up the night before, introduce yourself to them. Tell them you understand how uncomfortable it is sitting out in the heat all day and if they need to come in to your store to cool off or use a clean restroom instead of those port-o-johns, they are most welcomed to do so. You have just spread good will among them, and now have them advocating your business to passers-by. Then go one step further. Take 3 minutes to run a couple bottles of cold water out to them when you have a chance. They will be grateful and AMAZED at how nice you are compared to the "b&%#$" who owns the shop next door.
This is something we did that worked BEAUTIFULLY for us and we will continue to do it as The Petite Boutiques! Not only do the artists & vendors appreciate it, but the event attendees will surely remember your generosity and understanding - what a wonderful friendly first impression to make on everyone! And what does it cost you? So you may have to clean some poopie up off your toilet seat, if that's the worst thing that happens you're a very lucky businessperson! You will successfully bring in more people to your store during an event for FREE than if you spend tons of money on any kind of ad! And better yet, you will feel very good about being a nice person when you see how grateful and happy you have made someone else. People are always more important.