Can events boost traffic and sales?

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Impulse shopping (shopping for fun) at the mall appears to have headed south as consumers become stand-offish in the current recession. But, shopping center operators around the country aren’t taking it lightly. They’re aggressively trying to bring it back with concepts we can adapt from these big guys for our dealerships.

Over the weekend, the Chicago Tribune reported malls are ramping up their special events and entertainment plans, all to turn around a decrease in traffic. “When business is good, shopping centers tend to pull back on their events,” says Nancy Walters, president of Very Special Events in San Diego. “When they need to draw more traffic, they start up again."

Walters estimates an increase of 20 percent in mall events. Specifically, charity and community affairs are hot events to host because they allow the malls, facing tight marketing budgets, to provide the event space while the sponsoring organization covers the costs and does the work (promotion) through its loyal supporters.

The nation’s largest operator, Simon Property Group with 386 malls, has reportedly slated 11,000 events this year, ranging from Little League registrations to music festivals. In some cases, a large mall tenant sponsors the event. In others, suppliers to the mall and/or the tenants provide the necessary support. Events cover a broad spectrum, including skateboard demos and competitions, local bands, free-style bicycle motocross and sports demos of all kinds.

“We’re marketing our heads off to keep the place fresh and relevant,” Mike Jaffe, developer of the Arboretum of S. Barrington (Ill.), told the Tribune. His outdoor mall recently held its first progressive wine event with great success and plans another in June that will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Meanwhile another shopping center in Phoenix began a weekly showing of classic movies on the lawn to a reported 600-700 people per film. “We’re definitely getting more creative about how we’re getting people to our centers,” noted Traci Weber, senior vice president of marketing for the center.

Weber is right -- getting more creative is now the name of the game. Holding events at our dealerships and marinas is more important than ever. For one thing, events will keep you close to existing customers and that’s critical. For another, any new faces drawn to your property may become customers, too.

Events don’t have to be expensive festivals. Aside from providing a “hook” for charity event(s), other ideas can range from fishing contests and cooking seminars to arts and crafts shows and kids game experiences.

Bottom line: As the big guys have shown us, events will generate traffic

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