Merchandising Know-How: Sidewalk sales

If you think sidewalk sales are hokey, think again. They can be very successful, even fun, and may surprise you with what they can return for your store.
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If you think sidewalk sales are hokey, think again. They can be very successful, even fun, and may surprise you with what they can return for your store.

Like any sale, they take planning. Before you schedule a sidewalk sale, check with your landlord and the city permit and zoning department to see if you need a permit for an outside sale. If your shop is located in a strip center or on a shopping street with other merchants, you may want to invite them to join in. The more shops that participate, the greater the impact will be.

What to sell on the sidewalk

Customers expect to find great deals at sidewalk sales. Discounts of 50 percent to 75 percent are not unusual for items you're eager to move. They provide a "hook" to get people interested. But, surprisingly, up to half of the sales can be from regular merchandise at or near full margin. So mix in merchandise that isn't discounted.

If you can, buy closeouts or save discontinued items from earlier in the year to add to the merchandise mix at your sale. You might have returned merchandise that will sell if placed on a special table and clearly labeled.

Check with some of your sales reps to see if they are available to set up a tent or display and be on hand during the sidewalk sale to answer product questions. They may have samples to sell and will give you a percentage of their sales.

When to schedule

If there is an annual event or festival in your community, tie your sidewalk sale into it. Ideally, schedule your sale during the warmer weather months in the spring, summer and fall. Plan on renting a canopy to place on the sidewalk in front of your shop, or set up several large umbrellas to provide shade for your customers and to attract attention. Plan your sale for the weekend when most people shop.

Liven it up

It's a good idea to provide beverages for your customers. A large pitcher of lemonade or iced tea is a great addition to any sidewalk sale. You may want to invite a local non-profit to set up a food stand as a fund-raiser. You can include the organization in your sale publicity giving it added exposure.

Spread the word

Place an ad in your local newspaper or shopper paper. Use catchy words and phrases like "Great bargains inside and outside the shop." Emphasize urgency with messages like "Up to 75 percent off," "Limited quantities," "Only one per customer!" or "Shop early to get the best bargains."

Designate the Friday before the weekend sale as a "sneak peek" private sale day. Mail postcards or email invitations (www.evite.com makes it easy to send email invitations) to your customer list to announce a private sale just for them. If you have a lot of sale merchandise to move, you may want to offer them an additional percentage off the already reduced prices.

The day has arrived

Put up the tent or umbrellas, banners and flags to alert people to the sale. Set large signs in bright colors along the sidewalk or street and prop your front door open to encourage people to browse inside as well as outside.

Music and movement are irresistible and a surefire way to attract attention. Have a portable CD player outside playing tunes and string flag banners above your sale tables. Rent a tank of helium and blow up balloons. Use them to decorate your sidewalk space and give them away as freebies.

Make sure you have enough staff to take care of sales both inside the store and outside. During the sale, don't forget to take notes about what worked and what you can do better next time. Make customers go inside to pay to expose them to your full-priced merchandise.

The sidewalk sale is a proven way to build traffic, create happy customers and increase sales while cleansing your inventory of past season, shop worn and overstocked items. Once you have a sidewalk sale, you may never look at your sidewalk the same way again.

Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of "Merchandising Your Way to Success" and "How to Sell to Women" and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to www.snewsnet.com/merchandising, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at merchandising@snewsnet.com.

For more retail training support and know-how, be sure to check out the SNEWS® Business 101 tools and stories, including our 10-part Retail Merchandising Training series produced by SNEWS®, including a useful online calculator for performing the most common retail merchandising calculations -- free to All Access Subscribers.

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