Cause Events: Making a Difference, Inspiring Good and Growing Business

By Majda Rensberger, OneCoast Contributing Editor
8/9/2010

There is a hidden power that each retailer possesses; a power to touch and inspire many hearts and many lives while watching their business blossom in return.  It’s the most beautiful and rewarding combination of good will and responsible business operating that brings a win-win for everyone involved.  This power lies in supporting your community and a Cause you are passionate about.

Many retailers have discovered the rewards in Cause promoting but there are still many who aspire to do more and learn about how to do it well.  Valorie Shaw, Owner of bric brac’n brass, a veteran retailer in San Antonio, TX  shares one of the most touching Cause events she’s held that inspired many, raised awareness, gained great publicity and increased her business  five times in a single day.

“It all starts with passion,” says Valorie, because when you are passionate about something, there is a natural drive to do good things and go above and beyond.  “Pick a Cause that is close to your heart and true to your passion.” For Valorie, it is Woman’s Cancer.  Losing her mom to breast cancer and working daily with her Manager Karen Cook who’s been battling ovarian cancer for almost seven years, Valorie has chosen this Cause as the one to regularly support. While most of the events Valorie hosts are for Woman’s Cancer, she often looks out to her community for other opportunities to make a difference and have a positive impact.

An example of that is a recent occurrence that shook her community and personally affected a family of one of her employees.  A grandchild of her employee, a three year old boy, died from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in his family’s brand new home, leaving behind his parents and two siblings.  “As soon as I found out about it, I wanted to do something to help this family,” so Valorie immediately started planning a benefit event in honor of Alex.

While events do help drive traffic and increase sales, the first and most important priority is the Cause itself and “when you are passionate about it, pulling it together is easy,” says Valorie.  But as with any event, doing it right and making sure it’s successful is crucial. The starting point is to know what your event is trying to accomplish. This event was celebrating Alex’s life and raising awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Knowing your objective will help you figure out who needs to be involved, what charity to partner with, what sponsors you will need, how to promote it and how to make it personal.

Partnering with a local charity

Once Valorie got the approval from the family, she contacted the local Children’s Bereavement Center and offered to hold a benefit for them in honor of Alex and his family. This benefit would give the Children’s Bereavement Center an opportunity to raise awareness of their services and help families just like Alex’s cope with such a devastating loss. A simple phone call to their marketing contact and a partnership was established. The event would be a Celebration of the Life of Alexander Martin Rowland benefiting the Children’s Bereavement Center and parts of the proceeds of the sales of the event day would go to them.

Finding a local sponsor

Once she partnered with a nonprofit organization that was most appropriate for her Cause, she called her local bank to ask for their sponsorship in the event. The bank touched by the story was happy to help and agreed to provide beverages for the event including wine, soft drinks and water. She also reached out to her local bakery and bistro that provided beautiful trays of cookies and food platters.   In return for their sponsorship, these local partners would benefit from the exposure and the free publicity.Once Valorie got the approval from the family, she contacted the local Children’s Bereavement Center and offered to hold a benefit for them in honor of Alex and his family. This benefit would give the Children’s Bereavement Center an opportunity to raise awareness of their services and help families just like Alex’s cope with such a devastating loss. A simple phone call to their marketing contact and a partnership was established. The event would be a Celebration of the Life of Alexander Martin Rowland benefiting the Children’s Bereavement Center and parts of the proceeds of the sales of the event day would go to them.

Promoting the event

Promoting and marketing the event is a must and it’s crucial to the success of it.  One of the main objectives of this event was to raise awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and in order to do that, Valorie had to do more than just send out an email blast and hold the event.

Becky Rowland (Alex’s Mother), Valorie Shaw of bric brac’n brass and Tracy Gomez from Children’s Bereavement Center on the set of San Antonio Living

To follow the story all the way through, the six-o-clock news also visited the store during the event and did a live report.“I wrote up a press release and sent it to all local newspapers. I contacted the editor as well who agreed to write a whole article about carbon monoxide poisoning and promoted our event.”  In addition to that, she also contacted the local TV station, San Antonio Living. They agreed to do a whole segment on their show about carbon monoxide dangers and interviewed Valorie, Alex’s mother and a representative from the Children’s Bereavement Center.

The free media coverage raised awareness about carbon monoxide as well as helped drive traffic to the shop for the day of the event.

The next thing was inviting people and getting the word out.  To do that, Valorie created an email blast that she sent out to her store’s database. She also worked with her event partners on spreading the word.  “A real business value in doing events and partnering up with other businesses is that you have access to all their email lists,” says Valorie.  In addition to sending to her database of customers, she sent a copy of her email blast to the Children’s Bereavement Center and the Bank to use to forward on to their databases. This gave the store access to a whole new group of customers and even further raised awareness of the event and the Cause.

Another simple but incredibly valuable tip is to forward the email to your friends and ask them to spread the word by forwarding on to their friends.

Personalizing the event

Once partnerships were established and all the logistics worked out, it came down to planning the event itself and capturing the theme of Celebrating Alex’s Life.  Valorie was inspired by a symbolic story told during the memorial service about a Dragonfly that signified Alex’s passing to a better world and used that as the theme for the event.

She partnered up with a local artist who created beautiful dragonfly pins with Alex’s name. Proceeds of the sales of the pins went to Children’s Bereavement Center and the family.

She also contacted a noted artist, Carla Marshal, and invited her to the event. Not only did Carla fly in for the event, she was so touched by the story that she did an oil painting of the boy with the Dragonfly story in the back. The original painting was given to the family and several smaller print copies were produced and were available to customers during the event.

The store itself told the Dragonfly story. In the display window, a pond was built with moss and butterflies and dragonflies. It was Alex’s pond. And when you entered the store, the story came alive with giant dragonflies hanging from the ceiling. “It was absolutely glorious and people were so touched and so happy to be a part of it” says Valorie.

After an incredibly inspiring and impactful event and media coverage that helped raise awareness about carbon monoxide dangers, the family of the young boy was so inspired and started their own foundation, AMR Foundation, to teach people about the dangers of carbon monoxide.  Since the event at bric brac’n brass, they’ve held a separate benefit with over 600 attendees and had raised over $200,000 for the Cause.

Not only did Valorie go above and beyond to help out a family, she helped inspire a foundation and helped raise awareness of a dangerous cause.  And when you do something good, good things happen in return. Her business grew five times the day of the event than a typical summer day. She has gained many new customers and established many new relationships. But most importantly, she set a tone and an example for what her store is all about and why local business really matters: because it isn’t just a building on the block with stuff, it is a shop with a heart.

Creative Merchandising Tips For Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Marc Dudley, Director of Visual Merchandising
8/9/2010

This month we are talking about CAUSES and how individual retailers can help with their chosen Cause.

A CAUSE is defined as “a person or thing that acts, or exists in such a way that some specific thing happens as a result.”  It is a “principle, ideal, goal, or movement to which a person or group is dedicated.”

There are many different causes that we as individuals or Retail Stores can become involved and support.  I recently heard of a young man who wanted to raise One Million Dollars to give to the Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas to repay for the help that the Hospital had given to him.  He, with the help of the community, raised that much and more.  I saw this week on the Today Show a man who biked across country to raise awareness for Congenital Heart Defect, a cause which affected him.  These are only two examples of Causes to get involved with.  Others are Diabetes, Women’s Health, Prostate Cancer, Autism, HIV/AIDS, and many, many more.

How do you choose a Cause to support?   The important thing is to make it Personal, both to you and to the community.  Many Causes are nationally known, but if you personalize your cause in your retail store, it will have a Human Factor, and a human interest story.

Another cause is the support of Transplant patients.  If you know someone in your community who is a transplant, honor that individual and others during Transplant Awareness Time.  On a personal note, my Father is a Kidney Transplant survivor, and each October we honor him with a “birthday party” for his soon to be 15 year old Kidney.

Since this is about Visual Merchandising Tips, and we are approaching Breast Cancer Awareness Month let’s get to some TIPS:

  1. PINK PINK PINK :  this is the color for OCTOBER
  2. On the wall where you will do your display, paint PINK and use pictures of local survivors, or well known persons. Use saying, words, or phrases to personalize your display.  Some ideas are: love, support, care, laugh, dream, visualize, rainbows, pray, friends, follow your dreams, or plan ahead. These can be hand painted by a local artist or involve the school.  Many teenagers are looking for a Cause to get involved with and many are affected by the loss of a Mother, Sister, Aunt or friend. They can become a “teen-angel” for your Cause.  This, again, is involving the community.
  3. PINK RIBBON is the symbol for the month.  You can make your pink ribbons by using strips of satin ribbon attached with small safety pins.  Place these in a bowl for your customers to help in the Cause.  Make a LARGE PINK RIBBON by using ½ “ thick foam rubber, cut into 9” x 72” strips.  Wrap Pink Satin around the cut foam, or stuff like a pillow case.
  4. Above the display area hang objects like many different sneakers, painted pink, representing the Walk for Breast Cancer, or paint a bicycle or 2 and hang them to represent the “ride for the cause” that may be in or around your community
  5. Select all the PINK merchandise in your store and feature on a table for the month.  Don’t forget to rearrange and rotate this merchandise so that it continues to look fresh and new.
  6. Make it personal.  Both for yourself, your staff, and for the community
  7. REMEMBER:  This is a CAUSE, a movement to which a person or group is dedicated.