Should you be thinking of Santa in July?

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You got it. Why it is important to plan your holiday shopping event NOW.

By Guest Contributor Gary Galonek, Raving Partner, Incentive Merchandise and Loyalty Fulfillment, & National Sales Manager, Gaming, All Star Incentive Marketing

If you’re like my mother-in-law, the arrival of Halloween signals that it is time to kick the Christmas shopping into high gear. And while I take the opposite approach, and often find myself locking up with store proprietors on December 24, it is most definitely not too early to start planning a fourth quarter casino shopping event. These events have become a staple for some operators in driving foot traffic during an otherwise slow period. They range in size and scope; from a couple of days in a high traffic foyer, to a week or more in a grand ballroom.

First, let’s talk about why you need to start planning in the summer for a winter event:

  • You’ll want to give your marketing department every opportunity to execute a coordinated promotion that would include direct mail, electronic communications, on-premise signage, media buys, etc.
  • Events and promotions calendars are usually planned six months out to give staff adequate time to prepare and take advantage of any cost savings (bulk mail, avoidance of expedited processes).
  • A busy ballroom or meeting space requires significant lead time to ensure availability.
  • Your merchandise vendor needs 90-120 days to secure goods given tighter inventory controls with manufacturers that exist today.

Second, here are ten considerations to look at should you be planning a shopping event of your own:

  1. Pick a time that coincides with another casino event or a second reason to visit your property.
  2. Find the appropriate space and create a merchandising strategy for it.
  3. Which bucket of points? Communicate how the patron will earn points and which will qualify for the event.
  4. Drive them with a coupon. Target your various tiers with free points to be used only during that period. Don’t worry that the guy who got 50 is miffed he didn’t get 100.
  5. Partner with a merchandise vendor that can source brand name gifts, work the event with your staff, and handle quick fulfillment turnaround.
  6. Use themes to catch attention. Build a snow-covered village, hire costumed carolers, offer hors d’oeuvres, live music, etc.
  7. Tell a story with the product. Place merchandise in a creative and eye-appealing way; this is not a flea market!
  8. Staffing: Be sure to have enough checkout associates and runners to help patrons at valet and coat check, or to help get gifts to cars.
  9. Offering cash-up? If so, be prepared to handle currency and/or credit card transactions.
  10. Build a cyber café so that patrons may shop for additional product on your vendor’s website via web-enabled computer stations or kiosks.

Holiday Shopping EventOne of the biggest considerations is whether or not to fill the room floor to ceiling with merchandise at the event, or to sample all of the items and drop ship the orders afterwards. Of course, the timing of the event will help determine this, as well as your purchasing department’s desire to lay out cash for the event (some vendors will offer a pay-as-you-go solution). If the event is going to end within a week of Christmas, then having more products on hand will be called for as nervous patrons finish their last minute shopping lists. We’ve seen and participated in both, and the trend now is towards a combination of the two. Your customers don’t want to lug a microwave out of the casino any more than you want to receive pallets of them at your loading dock and help drag them into a ballroom. Furthermore, you run the risk of the patron just leaving after the event because they don’t know what else to do with their gifts, when they really wanted to stay and play some more.

Holiday Shopping EventIf the gift will fit in an average-sized purse (not for stealing purposes: event security, another consideration!), then consider bringing it in bulk into the event for those needing immediate gratification: iPods, digital cameras, clock radios, golf rangefinders, GPS devices, and many more cool items that fit into this category. Let the vendor drop ship the 28 lb. horseshoe set and 10 quart slow cookers. Your staff and your customers will appreciate it!

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