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7 Engaging Ideas for Winter Store Events

As you look for new ways to engage with customers, store events can be an effective way to welcome customers through your doors and expose them to your brand and business. With the holidays right around the corner, winter events not only bring customers in but can also get them in the mood to holiday shop. 

Brian Young oversees marketing and employee engagement at Young’s General Store, which has locations in Prattsville and Catskill, New York. He also works as a small business consultant and has set up a Facebook group, The Scaling Small Business, for retailers who are passionate about growing and want to share ideas for growth.

As part of his consulting business, he guides small businesses on the ways they can scale their business, drive revenue and increase their freedom, including by hosting in-store events. Young says events are an ideal form of marketing because they are free or inexpensive to host and advertise, especially if you utilize social media. Events also build your customer sales funnels by providing a way to easily collect customer information. 

“Big-box and online businesses cannot, or don’t care to, host events, so events are also a big differentiator for your business,” Young says. “They provide for greater engagement as your customer base becomes more engaged and addicted to that community feeling you are creating.”

Young suggests partnering with local charities on any food or labor-intensive aspects of the event.

“They get more exposure in the community and allow you to focus more on growing your sales funnel and sales that day,” Young says.

When you host in-store events, there are two ways you can measure if each event is successful: direct and indirect sales.

“To gain those direct sales, be sure to have plenty of specials that are clearly marked and simple to understand,” Young says.

During Young’s General Store events, Young says they have event menus available that list the specials and deals for that day.

“In addition, we have a ‘menu champion’ who is in charge of making sure everyone in the store gets one and knows about the specials,” Young says. “Their job is not to ring out customers but instead to greet every customer who comes in and then wander around the store making sure everyone has a menu.”

The indirect sales are often overlooked but just as important, Young says. He suggests having a table or area set up where customers can provide their emails and phone numbers.

“This way, even if your sales are not quite up to what you had hoped, you’ve added to your customer pipeline,” Young says. “Have a thank you email with a custom landing page ready to go with a 12-24 hour delay on it so that people think of you even the following day. If you use a texting service, send them a text and thank them for coming.”

See Young’s seven ideas for engaging in-store events that will bring in customers of all ages to build your brand, connect with existing customers and attract new ones. And check out this Event Checklist & Timeline.

Apple Cider Saturdays

Warm apple cider in a slow cooker and serve in small cups while customers shop the store.

“This very simple event is effective in not only making your store smell great but bringing people in and getting them to walk around slowly. This is a great minor event that we run in between the major events we try to hold every 4-6 weeks. As a bonus, add a percent discount written on the bottom outside of the cup to make it even more fun for customers when they go to check out.”

Stocking Stuffer Day

Kids are invited to come into the store to decorate a stocking at a craft table set up with the supplies they need to create a holiday masterpiece.  

“Parents get a discount on any of their purchases that fit in the stocking, but we’re pretty lenient on what one can fit. We also encourage families to walk around while the stocking is drying to see more of the store and what we offer.”

Winter Barbecue  

Out-of-the-norm events can equal big crowds. Bring in all the trappings of a summer barbecue—checkered tablecloths, citronella candles, summer music mix—to provide a taste of warmth during the cold months. 

“We found that the more outlandish and unconventional the event, the better the attendance. When we smoke a pork loin or do a themed barbecue like this, especially when people haven’t done it for months, it’s a huge hit.”

Ladies Night Event

Host a girls-only after-hours shopping event that includes other local businesses—like wineries, bakeries and boutiques—sharing their products and services as well. 

“To keep attendees moving around we create ‘demo booths’ where they go to get their card punched. When their card is completely punched, they can put their name on it and register to win our grand prize. This ‘sip and sell’ strategy works great and is talked about before and after your event for weeks. As a bonus, have a sign-up desk where you raffle off items, get attendees registered and hand out the punch cards. Make sure you collect the emails and have a thank you email ready to go when you upload the contact information and grow your email funnel.”

Christmas Card Bounce-Back 

Hand out one Christmas card to each customer or family that they can open on Christmas Day to see what “gift” they can redeem during a certain time period in your store. Examples of gifts include gift cards, free items and store discounts.

“Inside the card include a note that if they redeem between the dates listed, they’ll be eligible for another gift. When they redeem, the second gift will be a surprise Happy New Year gift that they must bring back between the dates on the outside of the letter. Here’s the kicker; they also have to open it in front of an employee at the checkout counter. This really drives up the anticipation and participation numbers.”

Toy Trade-In

Host an event where you give people a percentage or certain amount off their purchase if they bring in a toy that can be donated to a local charity.

“Get the local media involved in this one and take pictures of each person donating to promote on your Facebook and Instagram pages afterward. Combine this event with any of the above events, too.”

Host a Pet Pictures with Santa Day

Provide a window of time when customers can bring in their pets to get a photo with Santa. Use a digital camera to take the photos so you can easily email them to each customer and post them to your social media pages.

“Post all the pictures on your Facebook page under a special album called Santa Pictures so people can like and share your page with others, growing your social media audience. Make sure you collect emails and number the photos as they are taken with the appropriate contact info. We would take a picture of the number associated with the customer whose picture would be taken next. So, if they were No. 10 on the list, we would take a picture of a piece of paper that said 10 and then take their photos. This way, when you upload and send them off, you easily know whose pictures are whose.”

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

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