By Catherine LeBlanc, Contributing Editor
Hosting store events are important for independent retailers. They take planning, dedication, and hard work. But you don’t have to tell that to Pam Hammond, owner of Paddington Station in Ashland, Oregon. Her store is the winning retailer of the 2014 Gift & Decorative Accessories REA (Retail Excellence Awards) in the category of Store Events. In-store events for Pam is vital to her business and her community. In this article, we talk one-on-one with Pam and get the scoop on hosting successful events throughout the year.
Paddington Station out of Ashland, Oregon was the winning retailer of the 2014 Gift & Decorative Accessories REA (Retail Excellence Awards) in the category of Store Events on August 17, 2014 at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Pier in New York City. This award represents their dedication and hard work with their local communities through their annual open house, monthly store events, and activities with their neighboring stores. I spoke with Pam Hammond, co-owner of Paddington Station and their sister location, The Paddington Jewel Box. Here she shares her insight and knowledge about hosting events at her stores and what makes her so successful at it.
1.) First off, tell us about your store. What type of store? What’s your best selling category? Who are your main customers? How long have you been in business? What do you love most about running your own business?
Paddington Station first opened their doors 41 years ago. We are the 4th owners and we are the longest running owners with 21 years. We are located in a tourist town, just west of Interstate 5 and are the first “largest” town up from the California border. Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the state’s largest Repertory theaters. Our store is just across from this theater in downtown Ashland. With around 8,500 square feet, Paddington Station first opened as a furniture store, but grew to include general gifts, seasonal items, women’s accessories, jewelry, stationary, and Children’s. In our Mezzanine area, we house our kitchen store where we hold cooking demonstrations. In our satellite store, The Paddington Jewel Box, we sell more trendy women’s apparel, jewelry and accessories. We are celebrating our 2nd year in business with our second location. Our stores are doing well and are about 7% ahead over last year. Retail is just in my blood. I went to school for fashion and merchandising, worked in department stores and became a buyer. As a buyer, I found it hard to control how my products looked in the stores and had no voice in how it was merchandised. Then the opportunity presented itself with Paddington Station. I love my team and love the fact that is store is mine. I absolutely love being an owner of a “Mom & Pop” store.
2.) Congratulations on winning a GDA REA AWARD for Store Events this past August (Retailer Excellence Awards). What is the component that it took to win this award and what do you think got you the award?
This is our 3rd time winning this award. The 2nd time we won this award was 10 years ago. We decided it was time to enter again and filled out the application. We answered a few questions, submitted some photos of recent events and submitted the application. Later, we heard that our store was one of 3 finalists in the Store Event category. I believe we won because we host several events each year, around 9 monthly events per year. These events are important for our community and for our customers. They are excited to see what’s happening and what’s newat Paddington Station. We are honored to receive this award, but it’s also really nice to recognize a west coast retailer too.
3.) So tell us about your top events for 2014 and what are the main factors in hosting a successful event?
We are hosting a few events this month (October). We have a preferred customer list of around 8,000 that include those customers who live in Ashland. Now’s the time to connect with our local customers since the high tourist season is coming to a close. First event for October is an event that encourages our local customers to come back to the downtown area to enjoying some shopping. We call it the “Meet & Greet with Treats”. We are offering 25% off one item in the store along with food, mimosas, and coffee. We also give everyone an update on what’s new in store and we give them all a little gift. I give free gifts all the time at my events. I do prefer this better than offering any discounts. Our customers love it. Sometimes during our events, we will usually offer alcohol. But we like offering drinks and having them on hand during normal business hours for our customers. Especially in the Summer, we always have ice water on hand.
Our 2nd event in October is at our satellite store, The Paddington Jewel Box. There, we are having a “Girl’s Night Out” with free gifts, raffles, wine tasting with a local winery, refreshments, and live music. Then for every dollar they spend, they receive points that are good to use towards any item in our Prize Room. The Prize Room is made up of discounted items. Our customers love it. Some customers will spend more just so they can “shop” in the Prize Room. Then later we have a Kids event called “Monster Bash” where kids can visit several stores to come in and make a themed craft. We usually get about 50 families attend. It’s great because it gets the parents into our stores and many remember to come back to shop.
We will host our annual open house which is the Saturday before Thanksgiving and it’s a big event for us. We decorate the entire store with tons of ornaments, around $60,000 worth. But the store just sparkles and shines. When we open our doors, we offer $5.00 off any one item you purchase that day. And $5.00 is nothing. Customers will spend so much more than that. We have live musicians, local theater groups perform, area choirs, and string groups. These are mainly non-profit groups so I usually spend around $100-$200 to cover their costs. But it really packs in the store. We love hearing the music and they play right on the mezzanine. We also invite customers to bring in can of food and in doing so, they will receive a free ornament. Our customers love it and look forward to it every year. We don’t spend very much on the ornaments, but we do offer new ones each year. We also ask the vendors donate items for giveaways. We usually have one grand prize giveaway and other themed ones for kids, kitchen, and mom’s one. We give away one raffle ticket to each customer that walks in. They put their raffle ticket in the drawing for the themed basket of their chose. We do sell additional raffle tickets and the money raised on ticket sales goes towards the local food bank. Customers don’t mind paying for raffle tickets because it increases their odds, but the money goes to a good cause. We collect around $300 every year for the food bank. Then we have about 10 door prizes that we usually raffle off throughout the day. And of course, lots of food, vendor demonstrations, chocolate tastings, and kids crafting area. This event is very much community oriented.
5.) What do you love most about events? What do you hate most about events?
What I love most is that the events are community building. Residents consider our store their community store. They come in to meet and hang out with neighbors. And they always feel welcomed when they walk through the doors. What I hate about the events is the work. It’s so much work hosting events. But it does bring our staff together. It’s very important to delegate and divide up the duties. Plus you have to plan for something to go wrong. Something always does. And the days are long, but you have to put on a smile and occasionally have to work through sore and mean people. But we get through it.
6.) What have you learned most about hosting events in your store? How important are they do your total business?
It’s important to delegate the responsibilities. And have a good planning sheet along with a very good office manager. After each event, we sit down and recap after the event. We make notes on what worked well, what didn’t work well, take lots of notes and keep a folder so that next event time, we can bring out the folder and review. It’s good to document our events and take notes. I have great history to play up our events. I like to keep it fun, but keep it simple enough to handle on that day. Plus be flexible and just go on. Momentum is good. And I like to bring in our vendors when I can. It does help when they can help at the events and they can see what my customers are buying. Our events are huge days for us. It does take money to host our events, especially our annual open house. It is an expensive day, but it does kicks off the holiday shopping season. Customers do come back and do more shopping. They remember us from the events and come back. They remember that they can buy local.
My advice is to start small and build from there. Try and collaborate with other businesses to come up with event ideas. Your local community and other neighboring businesses are important to your own business. Events are good not only for the customers, but for your staff as well. They get to know your customers. And events are like hosting an open house in your own home. Customers feel welcomed. Make your events fun and they will want to come back to visit again.