Celebrities bring in traffic, and they can turn a slow weekend into a blockbuster event if you do it the right way. Your celebrity doesn't have to be a major rock star, movie star, or sports hero (of course that would be a plus). A local weatherman, native hometown major-league ballplayer, or any type of local hero can be effective. You need somebody who will attract people out of curiosity, controversy, nostalgia, or admiration. And you also want somebody who will help you sell. It would be great to have The Rolling Stones, or just Mick himself, but if you shell out mega-bucks, and sell nothing, you haven't accomplished a whole lot.
I loved this article last week in Automotive News: “Having a slow sales month? With the Sopranos on your side, you can make a killing.” It seems that for the price of $5,000 to $10,000 per actor, a minimum of three cast members from the HBO show "The Sopranos" will appear at a dealership for a few hours or more, sign autographs, and attract a lot of people. The show's leading actors James Gandolfini and Edie Falco aren't for dealership rent, but you can get "Ralphie (Joe Pantoliano), "Furio" (Federico Castelluccio), "Bobbie Bacala" (Steve R. Schrripa), and others. They are booked doing these events for the next two months. One dealer who brought them in sold more than 100 cars by letting the buyers take a test drive with the star. Another dealer charged $35 per person and donated the money to charity. Each visitor received an autographed picture, food and drinks, and a free car wash, while taking a look at the latest models of new cars. About 5,000 people showed up, and 187 cars went out the door. That degree of celebrity promotion might be a little too much for smaller businesses, but you can scale it down and do it on a smaller budget with great success.
Years ago I did a couple of promotions with Mickey Mantle and Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger). They were strictly retail events to move merchandise. It wasn't just to see how many people would come to the store. I found it takes a little planning and forethought to get a celebrity promotion to work. The key to making a celebrity promotion a success is to involve the celebrity in the sale, even if they share only a few words with the customer. Hanging around and handing out signed pictures is not going to turn merchandise. Having them suggest to a customer that they buy, will. When we held a promotion called “It’s a Brand New Ballgame” at our store, Mickey Mantle talked to everyone. He was genuinely a good guy, but he didn't really want to know anything about our business. So, when I told a customer that we would have to check with Mickey about a price concession, I would make sure to go over to him and end my question with “What do you think Mickey?” And Mickey would always answer, “OK with me, but they've got to buy it today.” And then he would go back to shaking hands and signing baseballs. He was a part of the store.
The Lone Ranger was equally as good. Clayton Moore really thought he was The Lone Ranger. He never even took his mask off. When he talked, you knew the voice. He was believable. If he said, “We'd appreciate your business here today,” you bought. You could have your picture taken with him, but signing on the “dotted line” came first.
Bringing in celebrities to help generate store traffic can be a great idea, if it's not overdone, not over-budget, and if you have a goal in mind. It's great to be a hero to your community, but you want to be a hero to your accountant and banker as well. A crowd too big could trash your store, pilfer merchandise, and wreak havoc. Maybe you have a friend that has made the news, or has become a sports or media celebrity. They might come in for a favor, or for a small fee. Perhaps someone who was a legend in yesteryear would love the chance to make an appearance at your store for a nominal fee.
Remember, it depends on the audience you're trying to reach and who you want in your store. If you cater to younger people, a star from the Lawrence Welk show won't make it. Older people won't come to meet a MTV celebrity and they probably won’t care too much about a skateboard champion. It depends on what you want to promote, how much you want to spend, and what you expect to achieve.
An afternoon with a celebrity in your store can do wonders for a slow business period, and it can get people talking about you for a long time afterwards. You may even get free publicity from your local papers and TV and radio stations might want an interview. Your store's name could have celebrity status, even if it's only for a few hours. But remember, you still want to sell. Sales have to exceed cost. You are in business to turn a profit. Using a celebrity for a promotion can help bring customers in. Make sure that person can help you sell as well.
Bob Popyk is the publisher of Creative Selling®, a monthly newsletter on sales and marketing strategies for high-ticket retailers. His sales meetings and seminars are presented worldwide to major companies and industries. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.