Major events provide a great opportunity for local shops and restaurants to boost their sales and introduce their stores to potential customers. Even with the hassle and inconvenience such events create for regular customers, these events provide several opportunities to grow your business.

Each year, Iowa communities vie for the opportunity to have 8,500 bicyclists and 20,000 supporters, staff and fun-seekers pass through their town. If lucky, a town will have the chance to host an over-night stop for the world’s largest bicycle touring event called RAGBRAI.* Such a stop for the evening concerts, food and, we’re guessing foot massages, can be a major boom to the economies of the communities the organizers choose.

Even non-overnight-stop towns like Webster City, Iowa, (population 8,000), despite only having the massive pack of pedalers pass through town for an hour or two, can benefit from the temporary influx. According to Webster City Chamber of Commerce director Deb Brown, while there’s a short disruption of local parking patterns and the cyclists won’t likely stop to purchase souvenirs, the opportunities that events bring to a town of any size typically outweigh the associated hassle.

Ways a local merchant can benefit from a big event that draws people from near and far

Sell people something they can use immediately

Food and beverages. Massages. Jewelry they can wear now. Hats. Sunblock. Anything they could purchase and wear or use right away. Include activities or hands-on games that people can play on the spot.

Offer to ship purchases for them

Let people purchase items with free shipping. Bicycle visitors will especially appreciate this, but it also applies to any event-goers who don’t want to be saddled with carrying large or heavy items. Then there are your other visitors who are going home by air. They won’t want to cram purchases into their carry-on bags. Really, I think free shipping helps sales of all kinds of items all the time.

Put your merchandise to work at the event

Dress volunteers with your clothes or outfit participants with your accessories. Add a name tag with your store name and location. Now, take this a step further and make instant sales. Add an explanation and QR code that customers can scan with their phone to go straight to your online checkout basket for that item or outfit. They see the items, want them, scan the code, go straight to an online shopping cart already filled with the items they saw. They check out and buy it from you online, and you ship it to them. You could do this with clothes, gear, accessories, anything that people might see in use at an event or anything you might be displaying.

Don’t just try to make a sale, make a connection

If you focus on making a connection, you can layer your way into a sale. Your goal is to give them a powerful reason to join your email list, and then deliver a valuable email regularly, building a relationship with them. Your reward is a chance to earn their business in the future.

Get involved

Just having thousands of people in town is good whether you make a sale today or not. Your town will be more prosperous. When your town prospers, you’ll benefit down the road.

*The near-impossible to pronounce or remember word, RAGBRAI, is the acronym for a name its creators, a couple of columnists for Iowa’s largest newspaper, came up with after it began in 1973: “Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.” RAGBRAI is now the longest, largest and oldest bicycle touring event in the world.

Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the website Small Biz Survival and newsletter, A Positive View of Rural, published by contributor (and friend) Becky McCray.

Illustration: From a photo by Denise Krebs via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

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