Cottin’s Hardware & Rental in Lawrence, Kansas, starts the fall season off each year with a scarecrow building contest to raise money for local schools.
Several years ago, a customer approached store owner Linda Cottin with the idea.
“Our customer saw that scarecrow contests were becoming trendy, and she was interested in hosting a similar contest. I decided to partner with her on the project,” Cottin says. “The first year we held the contest, we decided it should be a fundraiser, and it’s been that way ever since.”
The first fundraiser raised money through a silent auction for garden projects at two local schools and two nonprofits. Since then, all public schools in the area have added gardens, which has made the event even more popular around town.
For this year’s event, the fundraiser benefited all the school gardens as well as a sustainable education center with a focus on youth and youth outreach. In addition to supporting students through the fundraiser, the event provides students an opportunity to showcase their musical talents. Each year, there is live music at the event, performed by students from the community schools.
“Having students perform at the event helps spread the word,” Cottin says. “Those students bring people in because they have family who come to watch them and their friends.”
It’s simple to participate in the event: Build a scarecrow and drop it off at Cottin’s before the event or at the venue the day of the event. Cottin says adults and children build scarecrows to enter in the contest, and there is a lot of build up to the event each year.
“We have a base of people who really look forward to it,” she says. “We have one customer who goes to the Saturday morning farmers market downtown dressed up as a scarecrow who hands out fliers announcing the auction. There are people who have made it part of their annual fall plans.”
Because the event is so well-known in the area, Cottin doesn’t spend any money on advertising for the event.
“The event gets out through word of mouth and social media,” Cottin says. “We also have pamphlets on the counter at the store, and the school district sends out a notice in emails.”
Cottin’s Hardware also hosts two scarecrow building workshops, one for adults and one for children in the weeks prior to the fundraiser.
She says they have grown their customer base at Cottin’s Hardware through the event, but that’s not the only reason they continue hosting the scarecrow auction.
“Anytime a business participates in a community activity or provides an activity, it dramatically enhances their image within the community,” she says. “It tends to stay in somebody’s mind. There are a lot of people at this point who think of Cottin’s when they see a scarecrow.”
Funds raised through the Cottin’s Hardware scarecrow auction have steadily climbed each year. This year, $1,300 was raised and divided among the public school gardens and the youth center. Last year, Cottin’s co-op announced a matching program that allowed them to double the money raised.
Cottin says it’s important for small businesses to give back to their communities and show how they are engaged.
“You’re not just a business, you’re part of the community. Being involved is imperative to the success of a small business, and it’s something a small business can offer that the competition can’t.”