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7 ways to get foot traffic to your retail store

Computer mice may click, letters may be addressed and stamped, but there's still only one time-tested way to help ensure the success of your retail business.

Get customers to walk through your front door.

Driving foot traffic to a bricks-and-mortar store may seem something of a lost art, but it's no less critical to the health of your business than it ever has been. Here are seven tips to get your front door swinging.

1. Have a grand opening. Planning on opening a business in the near future? Make Day One as big a deal as possible. Provide food, offer door prizes, and serve up other enticements and entertainment to make the day memorable. And, while you're doing it, keep tabs on who shows up. "Nothing is as powerful as a grand opening to attract customers," says Robert Smith of Robert Smith and Associates, a Rockton, Ill., public relations concern. "But, once they arrive, you should collect their names and addresses or ask for their business cards."

2. Plan on holding other promotional events. Just because your business has been up and running for a while doesn't preclude celebrations that attract foot traffic. Any promotional event that draws attention can be effective. Look into an in-store raffle or giveaway, and advertise the event as widely as your budget will allow. If yours is a business that can somehow connect with a local celebrity — say, an author or sports figure — having him or her on the premises can bring in clientele. But, no matter what you do, make it sufficiently fresh and appealing. "Promotional events have to be really exciting and different; otherwise, people just won't come," says Rick Segal, author of The Retail Business Kit for Dummies.

3. Make your business newsworthy. Foot traffic on the day of an event is one thing. Attracting business beyond that 24-hour window is something else entirely. That's why it's important to leverage media whenever possible. For instance, donating a portion of the day's take to charity can win a flattering article in your local newspaper. Taking a completely different tack, investigate whether a radio station would be willing to broadcast live on the day of your promotional event. The key is to grab the attention of customers who can't make it in at that particular time. That drives foot traffic in the future. "The more creative the event, the more likely that a newspaper will write about it," Segal says. "And that makes it all the more likely that customers will read about it and come check it out."

4. Have a sale. Old fashioned? Maybe. Still, nothing beats the lure of something that's less expensive for a limited amount of time. And, while the idea of a sale may seem a bit blasé to some, technological advances have made sales events more potent than ever before. For example, if you maintain a database of customers, contact them via an e-mail newsletter to let them know of upcoming sales events and other promotions. To further boost foot traffic, urge them to pass along your e-mail to others. That's not only effective but exceedingly cost efficient, as you're not dropping money on mass mailings that only saturates the uninterested. "Offers that come with a sense of urgency are always effective to get customers to come to stores," says Irene Dickey of the University of Dayton's School of Business Administration.

5. Host a seminar or workshop. Boosting foot traffic doesn't even have to involve a direct effort to sell a product or service. These days, education is every bit as important, as consumers want to know how to get the most out of what they buy. And that makes in-house seminars and workshops powerful weapons to build foot traffic. To illustrate: If you own an accounting firm, offer free tax-cutting workshops. Sporting goods stores can consider a variety of events, from strength training clinics to nutrition seminars. But, no matter the actual event, publicize it to the hilt. "Promote the event via in-store signage, fliers, ads and press releases," says Segal. "Home Depot does it and so does Williams-Sonoma. And look at how successful they are."

6. Follow up with your contacts. Even the best-planned promotional event is of little import if you fail to leverage the initial contact. Keep encouraging foot traffic by staying in touch with customers. Let them know about events that may otherwise attract little attention. Encourage them to pass along the news with friends and neighbors. "A great event is only half the battle," Smith says. "If you want consistent foot traffic, you have to follow up, then follow up some more. Send them offers, special announcements or anything you can think of to get them into your store."

7. Emphasize customer service. One advantage that a bricks-and-mortar store has over mail-order and Internet competitors is a personal relationship with customers. Special events can be terrific in building foot traffic, but what keeps customers coming back — and spreading the good word as they do — is the product knowledge and enthusiasm that can only be conveyed face to face. Things may be cheaper on the Web or via the post office, but getting to know your customers and what they value can trump those handicaps. And, in turn, can build a steady stream of foot traffic for the long haul.


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