Six ways to successfully promote your store's eco-conscious product mix

Does your outdoor specialty store boast an array of eco-friendly products? If your merchandise mix does have green leanings, you could boost sales by making the consumers in your area aware of your specialty. Savvy green-oriented retailers are using everything from promotional mailers and catalogs to print advertising and street-side merchandising to get the word out about their eco-friendly product mix. Could any of these strategies work to strengthen your bottom line?
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Does your outdoor specialty store boast an array of eco-friendly products? If your merchandise mix does have green leanings, you could boost sales by making the consumers in your area aware of your specialty. Savvy green-oriented retailers are using everything from promotional mailers and catalogs to print advertising and street-side merchandising to get the word out about their eco-friendly product mix. Could any of these strategies work to strengthen your bottom line?

In the mail: Some outdoor specialty retailers have found that direct mail advertising suits them just fine. "We recently sent out a holiday mailer that featured a special section of eco-friendly and sustainable products," said Sharon Scott of The Summit Hut. At REI, a holiday catalog also spotlighted the chain's expanding mix of eco-conscious products with a specially designated two-page section. In addition, other sustainable items in the catalog were pointed out with a green icon. "We launched the ecoSensitive label in 2007 to help our customers make informed decisions on the products they purchase by designating REI brand products made from materials with a high percentage of renewable, recycled and/or organic fibers," said Bethany Nielson, a spokesperson at REI. Currently, the ecoSensitive line includes almost 70 styles of men's, women's and kids' apparel plus gear.

In the press: Advertising your specialty in local or regional newspapers and magazines can also effectively get the word out. "We do some advertising in the local newspaper, local alternative monthly, and quarterly coastal magazine," said Judson Moore, owner of Unfurl, a natural clothing boutique in Manzanita, Ore., that carries a large number of outdoor brands. "The niche magazines are a little bit expensive to advertise in, but we get the most for our money there." The ads run by Unfurl typically talk about the store's eco focus and list some of the relevant brands. Some warn, however, not to go overboard touting your green nature. "You don't want to over-claim and be perceived as greenwashing," said Beezer Molton, owner of Half-Moon Outfitters in North Charleston, S.C. -- a recent SNEWS/Backpacker Retailer of the Year award winner in the sustainable business category, click here to read story.

At retail: Many outdoor specialty retailers still believe the best way to reach customers is right in their own store. At REI, ecoSensitive products are identified with a distinct icon that is printed on the hangtag. At Peak Sports in Corvallis, Ore., owner Jeff Katz highlights eco-conscious products in-store by having the staff call out their favorite products once a month with an index card on which they write their thoughts about the item. "We also have a color coding system that shows what category the highlighted item falls under; for example, a green item has a green card," he said.

On the street: Some believe green merchandising should be taken outside for maximum effect. "Put something just outside your front door that draws people in," said Unfurl's Moore. "Even showing something like an antique chair with a cool old suitcase that has a green product in it really helps you get some of your store presence outside."

On the web: If you have a website, this could be an impactful (and extra green) way to promote your eco products. Online at REI.com, all ecoSensitive pieces are grouped together and easily accessible on one page. "This area is devoted entirely to educating our customers on the ecoSensitive products we sell," said Nielson, "and on the pros and cons of certain green materials used by many manufacturers."

Truly green: Put your money where your mouth is and make your business truly green by investing in things like alternative energies for your own store. This type of outreach will definitely draw attention to your business as a green-oriented one. "We were the first business in our town to buy blocks of wind power for our energy needs," said Peak Sports' Katz, who just received an award and recognition for this distinction. While this does not relate to product, it sure brought this retailer's consciousness into the public's awareness.

--Erinn Morgan

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