If you’re in a strip mall, get together with as many neighbor stores as you can and have a parking-lot or end-of-the-season sale or an entertainment event. Just be sure to check with the building owner to see whether there are any local restrictions or objections before you spend a lot of time planning. Also, check with your city to see whether you need any permits and with your insurance agent to see whether you need any special insurance for the event.
Start planning and promoting at least four to six weeks in advance so the event doesn’t disrupt your regular business. There will be several other merchants involved, so you can share the expenses, making costs lower for everyone.
Giant balloons or searchlights can easily attract more attention; use them if you can. There’s no way to predict the weather, so if you can afford to get a big tent, it’s a good idea. People will see the tent going up and may be curious enough to come back. The more things that make your area look out of the ordinary or unique, the better. Check with an event planner/rental agent for other ideas.
Make a checklist and keep adding to it as new ideas come up. You can have short after-hours brainstorming meetings with the other business owners to get everyone’s input and find out what each can afford to spend. Consider two days for your event and longer hours so your investment will have plenty of time to pay off. Get BIG banners for all entrances to the strip mall and put them up seven to ten days in advance. Better yet, start promoting the event when you first have a definite agreement with the other stores.
By the way, that agreement should be on paper and signed by the other store owners or managers.
Here’s an idea to start creating early interest; people are intrigued by the mysterious, so try this. Get five banners and put one each week on the busiest nearby street. Start with the fifth week prior to the event and change the banner every week.
- Fifth week prior: It’s coming soon!
- Fourth week prior: It’s coming in four weeks!
- Third week prior: Music and fun in three weeks!
- Second week prior: Two more weeks—mark your calendar!
- Final week prior: Bring the family next Saturday and Sunday!
By not using dates on your banners, you can use them again next year if the event is a success.
Line up some type of entertainment or a radio remote. Have contests and games for the kids and include a nonprofit raffle to make it more than just a shopping experience. Try to get the local chapter of the American Heart Association, the Red Cross, or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to set up a free testing area. Depending on the size of your city, you may even get the Chamber of Commerce to join in or set up a booth.
If the strip mall has a fast-food outlet or restaurant, they can serve outside with portable tables and chairs. If there isn’t a fast-food store, invite one from a nearby strip mall to participate. They’ll probably jump at the opportunity. (Remember, you want to involve a small business, not a national chain.)
Send press releases to all the local newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, and churches (which may put a notice in the weekly bulletin for their congregation). Do this at least three weeks in advance, so these media outlets will have plenty of time to use the release.
Start putting up decorations, pennants, searchlights, flags, and more signs about two to three days in advance to attract pre-event attention. Make sure you have enough extra products on hand for increased sales. You’ll also need to schedule more sales staff and a clean-up crew. If you get everyone to do their part and you promote enough, the event should be a great success. You’ll get the attention of many new customers who never knew you existed and who may return with repeat business.