Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hobby Shop Marketing Ideas

Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Here are a number of ideas that I believe will work to build traffic and volume for a hobby store in Nevada (this blog is based on an actual plan for a real bricks-and-mortar store). These are based on my 35-plus years of experience in PR and marketing, as well as my (somewhat more limited) experience in promoting hobby shops.

1. Have after-hours (after hobby club meeting) open-houses for the IPMS and other local hobby clubs (car club, model railroad club, RC club, etc.)

a. Invite them over after their regular club-meeting sessions

i. Offer them some soft-drink hospitality

ii. Offer them the chance to buy the latest kits (or rare old kits) and other modeling supplies at even bigger-than-normal discounts.

o Hold out some “just released” kits for sale-debut at these events – so members can be “the first on their block” to get the latest new release from Eduard or whatever

o Set aside some kits (old kits you bought cheap, that are rare and out-of-production) for extra-discount sales

o Invite members to bring by their own “old kits” they want to sell or swap (it’s not money in your pocket, but it will bring them out)

o Invite members to bring display kits, and offer an award or trophy for the best built model to show up at each event – then offer these winners a “pride of place” special display in the store, until next month (or longer).

b. Do this for all hobby clubs – not just IPMS – and include railroad modelers, RC car and plane clubs, auto modelers, etc.

c. Invite human-interest-story reporters to come by and see the “real story”

2. More effectively promote your club-member discount (to all clubs, not just IPMS)

a. Ask for their member lists so you can promote directly, or …

b. Offer to pay postage etc. to them to do the promotions directly to their members on your behalf (make a contribution to the club – maybe a kit to raffle off, instead of hard cash)

3. Set up an additional club-member discount for large purchases; for instance:

a. Purchases retailing at over $100

b. Purchases retailing at more than $250

c. Purchases retailing at more than $500

This will encourage high-ticket purchases from your most likely high-volume local customers

4. Set up a store-specific website for recognition

a. Find a local modeler who’s a web-geek to set it up and keep it up for you (barter?)

b. Keep the website current on all the events listed here and other store activities

c. List details of special sales and deals

d. Announce the arrival of new and hard-to-find items that will bring people into the store

e. Invite local modelers to submit photos of models (or even articles on how they created those models) and post these online

f. Link to the local and national IPMS sites, and to other non-commercial (i.e., non-competing) websites – make your site a portal to other modeling sites

g. Create a “blog” linked to the site where you can (and where your customers can) talk about important elements of the hobby

h. Create an online bulletin board where visitors can ask questions or offer answers, or just “talk” about modeling

i. See the SMML list, which is similar and sponsored by a hobby shop in Australia

ii. Be sure to moderate the list (i.e., approve posts before they go online) to avoid harsh/nasty comments or promotion of competitors

5. Create a sign-up sheet for customers – capture their emails for use in very low-cost direct marketing

a. Use the email lists to announce new items in the store – create a quick pitch in the email, then provide details via a link to your website for details

b. Use the email lists to announce special events (items in this plan) – include a quick pitch and a link back to the website

c. Ask the local clubs to provide you their member lists and contact information (including emails) to beef up this email contact list

6. Put an ad in directory in the back Fine Scale Modeler

a. The ad won’t help all that much with the locals – though it will reach modelers among Las Vegas’ never-ending stream of newcomers

b. The ad will help a whole lot with out-of-town visitors

c. Offer special discounts to out-of-town visitors and new residents (put that in the FSM ad listing if you can, as well as on your website) to encourage first-time visits

7. Compete with the direct-order hobby suppliers

a. Prominently offer to direct-order items, including hard-to-find items (after-market parts, for instance, or relatively rare kits and such)

b. Offer a big discount – 20% or 25% – off retail for pre-paid direct orders

8. Encourage experienced local modelers to "hang out" at the store

a. Put some chairs in a corner, with a coffeepot and a small coke machine – every successful shop I know has such a group

b. Have an interesting video playing on one of those self-contained TV/DVD/VHS machines

9. Before Christmas (i.e.., as soon as possible) create a one-day 25% off sale day for club members only

a. Have people from the clubs there, on hand, to sign up new members so interested walk-ins can also get that 25% discount.

b. Alternatively, offer that special discount (maybe only 20%, but maybe 25%) from now until Christmas –

c. Have sign-up materials there so YOU can sign people up for the clubs (making the clubs grateful) and give any interested customer the discount.

10. You have a tremendous potential asset in your attached “storage space” – you can use at least some of this space for a variety of business-building purposes, which could include:

a. Provide a layout space for one or more local model railroad clubs

i. They used to have space at A local competitor – which I arranged for –

ii. However, A local competitor is moving locations right now and might not have space in the new location (I just don’t know)

b. Create a well-lit, well-ventilated “work bench” space, where modelers (railroad, radio control, plastic) could come and build kits, individually or in groups on scheduled “work nights” or “work Saturdays”

i. This would prove helpful, as more modelers than ever before are living in apartments or small homes that don’t afford them the space to work – or where they can’t work with modeling chemicals – from resin to CA or model airplane glue

ii. This would also allow “master modelers” to hold, on their own, self-sponsored informal how-to workshops for their less skilled brethren

c. Create and promote store-sponsored “master modeler” training/demo sessions –

i. Invite local master modelers to stage these store-sponsored events

ii. Invite hobby manufacturers and distributors to do “master modeler” product demos

iii. Invite out-of-town master modelers (who’ll be in Vegas for other reasons – hey, everybody wants to come to Vegas, eh?) to do skills/techniques demos while they’re in town

iv. Promote these through the appropriate local model clubs

v. Get a local modeler who’s also a web geek to set up a web-cam to conduct these master modeler demos online as webinars (there is very little cost to this)

vi. Promote these master-modeler webinars/seminars nationally through member-societies (IPMS, NMRA, etc.)

vii. List these demo programs (especially, but not limited to, webinars) in hobby publication coming events calendars

viii. Invite the local media to “cover” one of these master modeler training sessions as a “human interest” story

ix. Arrange with local TV to do brief on-camera master modeler demos of models or modeling techniques (or radio control car models) with the demonstrators representing your store

d. Create a “safe” airbrush spray booth, vented to the outside with a spark-free vent fan (and hood) where modelers who don’t have spray-areas in their homes could come and spray.

i. Sell disposable breathing masks, and require all who use this to either buy from you or bring their own.

ii. You might even charge a nominal hourly rental fee for this, though that’s a judgment call – is it better to attract more people or better to increase revenue

iii. You could set up a compressor/air tank with standard fittings and people could bring their own airbrush … or you could rent them an airbrush the way The Gun Store will – for those who want to use their range – rent shooters a gun (or they can bring their own)

iv. This should increase your sales – people could buy their paint and supplies as they need them

e. Work with local kids’ charities (St. Jude’s Ranch) and scouts, etc. – and with local hobby clubs – to have hands-on basic modeling (or other hobby) guided construction demos

i. Promote these via the local media as well as through the hobby clubs and the charities.

ii. This works! I used to do training/building sessions at a local orphanage, with the backing of my local IPMS club

iii. A local hobby store provided basic, low-cost (Matchbox 1/72nd in those days) kits for the kids to build

iv. You can offer all your customers the chance to contribute to the charity –

1. Tell your customers that X% percentage of each sale

2. You can offer to customers the opportunity to contribute an extra amount ($1, $5, $20, etc.) toward buying – at cost – models and supplies (some people would prefer to actually contribute)

v. We got some nice local TV coverage and press play)