Business and Operations
A Touch of Class
April 2, 2008 By Michelle Brisebois
Are you searching your soul trying to come up with ways to differentiate your business?
Are you searching your soul trying to come up with ways to differentiate your business? Are the big box stores literally eating your lunch? If you’re like most small business owners, these are the questions keeping you up at night. The good news is that as a small business, you’re uniquely suited to offer experiences to your clientele that bigger stores can’t duplicate. Though you may not have considered adding “teacher” to your bag of tricks, the in-store class or seminar may prove just your ticket to increasing your share of the pie.
You may be wondering if it’s worth the trouble. After all, it’ll take some time to develop a series of seminars, which will then need to be advertised and executed. The key is to begin with the end in mind. These in-store events are all about word-of-mouth advertising and retail theatre. Those 10 people who attend your seminar will most likely regale their eight co-workers at lunch the next day with tales of the wonderful time they had at your seminar. Exponentially, there will possibly be 100 people who hear about your business from that root event. Since the attendees have a rich experience to share, there’s more to talk about than if they simply came in and bought a loaf of bread. Think of topics that would be fun for customers to learn about and for you to teach. Seasonal and lifestyle topics are perfect fodder for a series of workshops. Madelines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream in Toronto, offers an Easter egg decorating workshop for grownups as well as children. It’s an opportunity for customers to tap into their “inner Martha Stewart.” How to make the perfect pie, cake decorating and preparing beautiful plates are just some of the topics consumers may find intriguing. Wine boutiques often have great success by holding in-house workshops around wine tastings. Why not steal a page from the wine industry’s book and hold a chocolate tasting that could showcase chocolate from various origins around the world. You can show customers first-hand how Belgium chocolate truly differs from Swiss – and who can resist an evening of sampling chocolate?
Once you have your topics lined up, you’ll need to draft an outline of the class itself. Document the key points you’ll wish to cover and then consider how much time each point will take. Two-hour seminars are generally good for customers since time is still a precious commodity for most folks. You’ll probably want to budget about a half-hour of wriggle room for questions or to run a bit over. With practice, you’ll get to know innately how things will flow. List the materials you’ll need and create a spreadsheet to track the costs associated with the event. Depending on where you’re located and the complexity of your event, charging anywhere from $20 to $60 per person per seminar is appropriate. You may wish to start on the lower end to gauge interest in your offering and then raise the rates later as you become more comfortable in delivering the content and measuring the response to the seminars. Create a small handout for attendees outlining any key content points, recipes or sources for ingredients. Have pens available for people to take notes and if these pens are sporting your shop name website and phone number, even better!
Promoting your seminars can be done in a variety of ways. Your most likely participants will be existing customers who love your products. Paint a section of your wall with blackboard paint and get a couple of chalk paintbrushes from an art supply store. List the seminars with the associate cost and dates on the board for people to read as they stand in line. As the seminars fill up, take another colour of chalk and write, “sold out” across the listing. This shows people that your events are in demand, and nothing creates more buzz than something that’s popular. Print your seminars on bag stuffers to put in with purchases. Your website will prove to be a real asset here as it would be wise to create a section called “Events and Seminars” to list your upcoming classes. You’ll want this section clearly listed on your home page so visitors to your site can get to your class listing in one click. If you can work with your webmaster to let visitors register online, even better. Collect e-mail addresses from your clientele (with permission to send notification of events) and send out the class schedule to subscribers. The key to a good call to action lies in how easy it is for consumers to take the action. Try placing a small ad in your local paper that has a catchy headline such as, “Calling All Chocoholics.”
No doubt as you begin holding events in house, customers will begin to tell you what they’d like to see and you’ll never be without content for future seminars. So think of your business as having a “culture of learning” and have fun with the journey. On the other hand, you could just call it the “school of hard candy.”
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at On Trend Strategies by e-mail at email@example.com .
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