Community Events: How To Avoid The Screwdriver Syndrome

Community events can be disappointing

They seem to promise more than they deliver.
You put in long hours. You spend money on extra staff. You buy balloons. There’s tents. Face painting. Music. Crowds.

But no sales. All that work is for nothing, it seems. At the end of it all, you swear you’ll never do another community event.

Don’t give up too soon!

Community events can be great business builders

To be successful, you have to redefine the goal of your event. If you’re trying to hammer a nail with a screwdriver, you won’t be successful. But, if you use that screwdriver for what it was intended for, it works like a dream.

Community events aren’t the right tool for sales

Except perhaps for restaurants. And souvenir shops.

Community events are relationship tools. Not sales tools. They’re opportunities to show you’re a part of the community. And most importantly, they’re a chance meet new people. People who might not otherwise have discovered your store.

The goal of the event is to get to know each other.
So, how do you do that?

There are four steps to making a community event successful.

  1. Invite guests
  2. Attract guests inside
  3. Get to know your visitors
  4. Give them a reason to return

1) Invite your own guests

Don’t rely on the event marketing to attract the customers for you. The event organizers will be promoting the event using mass media, to attract a wide variety of people. You can build on this promotion by marketing specifically to your target customers.

Use your email and mailing lists, social media, blog and website to promote to your customers. Tell them what special offers they’ll get at this event. Also promote the event through signs and handouts in-store. Send a news release to local media, highlighting what will be offered in your store.

Now you’ve let people know about your participation in the event.
What about the big day?

2) Attract guests inside

On the day of the event, your goal is to get visitors into your store. You want them to come in, look around, meet your team and get a taste of what you have to offer. What can you do to attract people inside? You need to contribute to the theme of the event, and find a way to connect it to your business.

Perhaps you can offer free face painting, temporary tattoos, or stickers with selections of designs relating to your business. For an eco-friendly business, this could be images of nature. For a pet store, the designs could be animals.
Consider doing a special order of logo merchandise that your customer would value. It could be an inexpensive item that you give away, or a higher priced item that can be sold. Make it an item that has value to the customer, and reflects your business.

Another option is hosting a live demonstration or activity in the store. You could hire a local musician to play in the store. An art gallery or art supply store could have an artist at work. A retail paint company could give mini-workshops or demos of how to get a great paint finish, or how to paint furniture. A clothing store could host a mini-fashion show, or trunk show. A book store could have readings throughout the day.

You have a few ideas to use to attract customers. On to the next step.

3) Get to know your visitors

Introduce yourself to guests when they come inside. Ask them about themselves. Find out if they’ve visited your store before. Do they live nearby? What brought them down to the event?

Once you’ve learned more about them, you can let them know about what they’ll find in the store that day. The key to this step is to be friendly and informative, without being pushy. Remember — all you’re doing is getting to know each other. To make this successful, do more listening than talking.

The more you know your visitors and customers, the more you’ll know about how you can help them. Once you’ve gotten acquainted with your guests, what next?

4) Give them a reason to return

To make the most of an event, you need to give your visitors a reason to return. Most people are unlikely to make a purchase the first time they visit a new store. To turn your visitors into buyers, you need to give them a compelling reason to come back.

Invite your guests to come back to another event. Make this event a short educational workshop, seminar or class. It should be a learning opportunity, a topic that solves a problem for your customers.

The event should be scheduled for the near future, when the shoppers’ experience in your store is fresh in their minds. Inviting shoppers to an event also gives you an opportunity follow up.

Ask them if they’d like to receive more information about this an other events and workshops by email. Get them to sign up for your email list. Give clear information about what will be in the emails, and how often they’ll be received. Offer a bonus to anyone who signs up. Perhaps everyone on the email list receives a pass to a VIP event, a free class, or a special report.

Make sure bonuses and incentives to return are valuable to the customer. Coupons and discounts are overused. Instead of discounts, think of creative ways to add service to your offerings. Service can be information, education, convenience, pampering, special attention. The right service helps your customers solve a problem.

To get visitors to return, offer them a compelling reason to visit again.


To have successful community events, you need to be sure you’re using the right tool for the job. A screwdriver is ineffective to hammer a nail, but it works great for the job it’s intended for. Community events are often poor sales tools. But with a little planning, they’re great relationship tools.

To make sure you’re using this relationship tool effectively:

  1. Invite your own guests
  2. Attract guests inside
  3. Get to know your visitors
  4. Give them a reason to return

Get your store involved in your next local community event. Build relationships with new visitors!

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