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Retail as an Experience: Using Events & Collaborations to Grow Retail in Downtown DSM

Downtown DSM Retail

November 6, 2019

In May 2017, I opened the doors of Art Terrarium, a houseplant shop, on a quiet street in Downtown Des Moines (DSM). Most would think opening a shop in an area with no other retail and minimal foot traffic would result in a quick demise. With an events mindset and through intentional collaborations, we not only kept the doors open but have more than doubled sales each year and have grown to a team of five employees. Despite all the retail doomsday reports, 90% of consumers still shop in traditional stores. These consumers, especially millennials, are in search of more than an in and out stop. They’re looking for an experience and a community.

Events, Events, Events

In the era of experiential retail, hosting events is essential. Events serve multiple purposes for a retail space. Most importantly, they get people in the door. Every time we host a workshop at Art Terrarium, over 30% of the attendees say it’s their first time in the shop. Bringing new customers into your space for the first time is the hardest part of retail. Hosting fun, creative and educational events gives potential customers an extra nudge to finally come check out what you’re all about. Once you get customers in the door and give them a good experience, I can guarantee they’ll be back.

Events create a sense of community. People want to shop where they feel they belong and are recognized. When our customers come to our shop, have a fun experience and meet fellow plant lovers, suddenly Art Terrarium is more than just a brick and mortar. They attach good memories to our space and not only do they return, but they bring their friends!

Retail events do not have to be centered around selling merchandise. Your goal, first and foremost, should be to create an interesting event that will get potential customers in the door. I recommend hosting 3-4 events in your space every month. They can be as small as a 5-10-person workshop or as big as a 100+ person Halloween party. When planning out your monthly events, ask yourself several questions. Who is my customer and what are they interested in? What would they like to learn? How could education about my products increase sales? What would create excitement and community amongst my customers? Who in the community can I collaborate on an event with? Which brings us to my next point …

Collaboration is Fun!

Whether your brand new or have been around for a while, collaborating with others in the community is guaranteed to bring new awareness to your business (and theirs!). We’re fortunate to live in a city that is bustling with creative entrepreneurs and artists. Look for people whose customers have interests similar to yours or whose customers are people you are trying to reach. When two or more businesses share an event, the cross promotion will reach a much wider audience than any event you put on by yourself. And the wider audience will lead to new customers for you!

Get creative with who you collaborate with. Invite vendors to come talk about the product they make or sell. Host a happy hour with a fellow business owner. Do a pop up with a local maker. Create a unique workshop with a local artist. Invite a non-profit to host an event in your space. Partner with a local baker and brewery for a shop, sip and taste event. The options are limitless!

The best part of collaborating with others is the friendships you make and valuable relationships you build with other creatives in our community. One of my favorite things about owning Art Terrarium is the number of incredible, talented people I’ve met and collaborated with over the past two and a half years. We've hosted yoga classes, artist collective shows, pop-ups at Grade A Farms, and partnered with the Botanical Gardens on a Houseplant Hike, to name a few. Through these many events and experiences, the Art Terrarium team has made so many new friends and watched our community grow.

Discover more about The Partnership’s tools to help Greater Des Moines (DSM) entrepreneurs and startups develop and grow their ventures with Small Business Resources.