OSAGE BEACH, Mo. (FNS) -- Independent retailers can pull a coup over competitors by hiring a public- relations professional to generate publicity.
That was a prescription offered by Tessa Greenspan, owner of Sappington Farmer's Market, who spoke here at the annual meeting of the Missouri Grocers Association.
"Hire a public-relations person to take advantage of all media opportunities," said Greenspan, whose company operates a 23,000-square-foot unit in suburban St. Louis, in the shadow of three local chains: Schnuck Markets, Dierbergs Markets and the Shop 'N Save division of Supervalu.
"I have a good PR person who gets us a tremendous amount of free publicity," Greenspan said. "She is out there beating the drums for me. My bottom line is to get more new customers in the store."
A typical media event at Sappington Farmer's Market is a German Wurst Market featuring dancers, accordion players, and an array of German products including sausages, wines and cheeses. The festival and several other events are televised by a local station.
The public-relations professional, hired on a monthly-retainer basis, also helps plan the year's calendar of events.
The events, listed on a big display board in the store, are part of Greenspan's philosophy of competing through fun -- for customers and employees. The latter make copious use of costumes -- and also get involved in brainstorming future promotions.
"Some customers come five days a week just because they like the store," the audience was told. Others come from 40 miles away -- twice a week. Kids come to watch an electric train chug along high over the perimeter of the store. Or, during Halloween, they work their way through a straw maze along the outside of the building. The "fun" theme is enhanced by a mannequin who serves several roles each year. He's dressed as a mummy at Halloween, a bunny at Easter and as Santa at Christmas. For Valentine's Day this year he was outfitted in tights -- and sported a bow and arrow.
Store tours involving scouts or other youth groups also have been popular in promoting the store, Greenspan noted. The kids not only get lessons in the growing of fruits and vegetables, they also receive $5 gift certificates to take home to their parents. The certificates introduce new customers to the store.
One of the next big special events is Diet Days, slated for four days in January. Features include low-fat, low-cal, high-fiber food displays; specials on diet products; nutritionists offering free advice; free meal planners; free body-fat analysis; cooking demos; and aerobics performances.
Greenspan said that Restaurant Days has been a good event in the past. Area eateries buy food from the store, then prepare and display some of their signature dishes. They also give gift certificates to the restaurant.
In planning events, retailers were warned never to copy the competition. "Implement the theme with good exterior signage and exciting window displays. Carry through the theme on shopping carts, light posts -- even trash containers," Greenspan said.
In a show of largesse, Sappington Farmer's market gives a double money-back guarantee on imperfect products, and keeps extra change in the cash drawer to cover small shortages in a consumer's pocketbook. "If we give them a dime or a dollar, you will have that customer for life," said Greenspan.
Each month, the market picks a nonprofit organization to sponsor. Customers can make donations to the selected cause by dropping money into a full-size wishing well located in the store. The firm then matches the total contributions collected up to $400, donating the money to the charity or church of the month.