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Small Business

Managing Your Business

When Your Business Is Close to the Game, Here's How to Compete

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The college basketball championships is one of the most exciting weekends of competition in sport. But competition takes on a different meaning for business owners who operate near arenas. Big sports events can mean big foot traffic and even bigger sales.

Chase for Business

Spencer Smith, a consultant to independent businesses, says a business owner would leap at the chance to have a location near an arena or a stadium. "On game day, there is one thing for customers that's always in very short supply — time," he says. "Time is especially valuable on game day because there's a finite block available before, during, and after the game." As a result, those traveling to the game are often looking for businesses close to the venue.

Smith says the key for business owners looking to leverage proximity to events is first to understanding the parking habits of fans. "Once people park, it's highly unlikely they'll move their car until after the game," he says. "What's their only available mode of transportation as of that point? Walking. As a result, brick and mortar businesses that are close to the stadium have a tremendous advantage."

That's certainly true for Rob Lemons, who owns a Beef Jerky Outlet franchise near the football and baseball stadiums in Arlington, Texas, outside of Dallas. On game days, fans park just steps away from his front door.

To leverage this, Lemons has sometimes advertised a 10 percent discount to anyone who comes into the store wearing home-team attire. On football weekends, tailgaters who come in to purchase Beef Jerky Outlet products are automatically entered into a raffle for a prize basket. "People are always excited to enter the raffle," says Lemons, "especially when they can win something delicious. And we ask for contact information from everyone entering the raffle, so we can increase our [outreach]."

Creating Customer Buzz

At Ian's Pizza, within walking distance of the University of Wisconsin's basketball arena, owner Nick Martin says he frequently thinks about how to convert foot traffic into sales. "The number one key is grabbing attention," he says. "We had this in mind when designing our store. We installed large windows that really show the atmosphere of the restaurant — that you can pop in and grab some quick food while you have good time."

This curb appeal can include lights, signage, and curbside chalkboards. "If they don't see you, you have zero percent chance they'll stop in," says Martin, who realized last year that the logo on his awning was only visible from across the street. "We recently replaced it and made sure our name and our product was put on the sides of the awning as well as the top, so that every passerby could see who we are before they walked past the door."

Smith says it's important to engage customers early and often. He says one way to do that on game day is via social media. "As an example, it's not unusual for 80,000 fans to converge on a Saturday in the fall, in stadiums all over country, to watch a college football game," he says. "We can already predict that there will be social media hashtags surrounding these games and that they'll explode in activity. How can a business owner convert that foot traffic to store traffic? Publicize what you're doing at your store using that hashtag as well as relevant sports related hashtags. Your store's social media posts will start showing up as fans check their social media feeds."

Martin's pizza restaurant also puts a great emphasis on social media. "We try to associate our brand with the event by drafting relevant posts," he says. "We see this as less of a way to convert foot traffic to sales; rather, it's aimed at people planning their evenings before they get downtown. They see us online and say 'We should stop by there on the way to the game.'"

Smith says that whether the business owner is using the old tactics (signage and billboards) or new ones (social media hashtags), it's all the same. "Either from outside your physical location, or on social media, people need to see that inside your store, folks are having a good time," he says. "It makes you look like the place to be."

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