By Mike and Miriam Risko
When you get a notice from village hall that the street where your store sits will be closed for half a day or more because of a parade, you have two choices: You can close early and go to the beach — or you can make the most of things.
When you’re a brick-and-mortar business run by a mom and pop on a Main Street, sometimes you have to deal with situations that complicate your life, such as the occasional parade. When you get a notice from village hall that the street where your store sits will be closed for half a day or more because of a parade, you have two choices: You can close early and go to the beach — or you can make the most of things.
In our case, every August, our village hosts a firefighters’ parade to which fire departments, sometimes from all over New York State, send shiny red trucks and big brass bands. The participating fire departments park on all the side streets around the building we bought for our music store/school 10 years ago, and wait their turn to make their way downtown.
The first year this happened, we closed early and went home. But then we said to ourselves, “Wait a minute! At what other time can we count on having hundreds of people march by our building while hundreds more line the sidewalks and watch?” Right away, we realized this was a great opportunity to do some serious grassroots marketing, while helping to celebrate our fire department and the emergency medical technicians who work so hard to keep our town safe.
We started in the following year by inviting area residents to bring folding chairs and watch the parade from the comfort of our parking lot. This, at once, earned us a story in the local paper! In the years since, we’ve expanded the parade-watching party by bringing in food trucks, live music, a DJ, games and lots of chalk for kids to create artwork on our asphalt. We also give the kids crayons and coloring books we created that feature our building.
Nowadays, at each parade, we set up a full PA system to read the parade’s fire department lineup. From a booth in our parking lot, we also do a Facebook Live video of the event, which, in effect, positions us as unofficial emcees. During lulls in the parade, we invite different businesses to come to our booth and be interviewed. Ms. Westchester County and the Westchester County Executive are among the celebrities who’ve visited with us.
Every year, during the parade, our parking lot is packed with families whom we encourage to come into our air-conditioned store and cool off if it’s too hot outside. We also let them use our restroom, and give out water bottles, guitar picks and other swag. At this year’s parade (should it occur), we plan to make shirts, and we’ve also created a hashtag: #riskomusicparadewatchingparty.
The point is, we’ve succeeded in turning what might otherwise have been a day off for us into our biggest marketing opportunity of the year. Parades and similar events are great for local economic development, and businesses can piggyback on them to attract attention and customers.
If you’re on a street that sometimes closes for a parade or similar activities, don’t just shrug your shoulders, lock your doors and go home. Make the parade work for you and your business. Create your own event inside the event, at which you can promote your brand.
Remember: Even if such occasions may not immediately translate into sales for your business, they help people get to know you and connect you with your community. So, strike up the band and show the world what a great product you have! You’ll end up being glad you decided not to close early and go to the beach.
To read more from the Music & Sound Retailer, click here.