Dallas Market Center

March 2009

Girls’ Night Out

Spice up your next ladies’ event with food, fun and entertainment
By Karen Nielsen

It’s not cliché to suggest that women can shop ’til they drop. Women make or influence more than 80 percent of retail purchases across all categories.

So the next time you plan a store soiree, why not organize an event that lures those with the purchasing power? Successful Girls’ Night Out (GNO) events require more than printing out a customer list and buying a few bottles of wine. Retailers should pay close attention to whom they invite, how they invite them and the main objective of the event.

Purposeful Planning
Women are busy. They’re juggling jobs and family responsibilities, and they need a good reason to give up their valuable time.

For that reason, retailers should carefully consider the purpose of their events. Is it to showcase a product line, bring in new business or promote a charitable cause? In addition, they should consider what the benefit to customers will be if they attend.

Marley Majcher, president of Los Angeles-based The Party Goddess, is a firm believer in cross promotion. The ideal event is a collaboration between three companies. For example, a retailer, vendor and caterer could each share the cost, contribute an educational aspect to the event and provide an invitation list.

Majcher recently participated in a cross-promotional event with a stationery store, high-end clothier and her own event planning company. The trio billed the event as “Top 5 Trends for the Spring Fashion Season.” Female guests were treated to talks about how to use existing pieces in their wardrobes, trends in stationery and fun ways to incorporate trendy colors when they entertain.

“The ladies were on fire and had a great time,” says Majcher.

The Guest List
The event’s objective helps determine who will be invited and where retailers go to build their guest lists. Will this event focus on exposing new customers to the store or reinforce relationships with loyal customers?

One clever way to attract new business is to align with a professional or nonprofit organization that fits the store’s ideal customer profile. Most organizations would welcome the opportunity to access low-cost or no-cost venues.

A gift store could offer its site for an upcoming women’s entrepreneur group meeting. Throw in some free wine, hors d’oeuvres and an in-store demo on creating memorable business gift baskets.

Ladies at one Girls’ Night Out event learned how to make table decorations using trendy, bold colors. Photo courtesy of The Party Goddess

“It’s a great strategic marriage between the two,” says Tracy Kwiker, president of Pivotal Events in Los Angeles. “The association has the opportunity to do something to benefit its members, and the retailer has a new group of individuals in the store."

Want to attract a crowd for Girls’ Night Out? Plan a bra fitting with an expert and serve Cosmopolitan martinis.

Home décor stores could follow the example of Pottery Barn and invite a Benjamin Moore color expert in to share tips on choosing wall colors and designing a color plan for the home. Storeowners could subtly move merchandise around, grouping items by themed colors, to make them more prominent and coincide with the guest speaker’s topic.

Invitations With a Hook
Most stores aren’t big enough to warrant 100-plus crowds. So plan for an event that is both cozy and manageable.

Specialized activities, such as a bra fitting, should be no larger than 15 ladies. Any more and the store wouldn’t be able to deliver personalized service – or afford the bar bill for Cosmopolitans and the wait staff.

For less intimate events, a group of 25 to 35 is manageable and still allows retailers to interact with their guests, Majcher says.

How you invite guests is nearly as important as whom you invite. Paper invitations that match the event’s theme are best, she says, because they reach the targeted recipient and avoid landing in a spam folder.

“Use cute paper invitations that have a hook,” she says. “Everything is about branding.” As an extra enticement, include a gift card or promote special discounts available the night of the event.

Back-to-basic topics such as cooking are becoming more popular.

If budget or timing is an issue, an e-mail service such as Evite is appropriate if it’s followed by a personal call to make sure it was received.

Be sure to ask for RSVP’s; they are crucial for planning purposes.

Forget The Hard Sell
This may come as a surprise, but GNO events shouldn’t be designed to sell merchandise. Consider them public relations opportunities that will likely result in sales – after all, women like to shop – either at the event or down the road, says Alison Minton of Maplemint Enterprises Inc. in Manhattan.

She suggests hiring a photographer and posting the event photos on the store’s Web site or submitting them to the local newspaper.

Hire models to show off new product lines at your next Girls’ Night Out event.

While the volume on hard selling is turned down, that doesn’t mean it’s turned off. She encouraged a New York clothing store to bring in more items priced at $100 or less, such as accessories, jewelry and scented soaps, during an event at Christmas time.

Business was brisk as guests snapped up the items for holiday gifts.

Kwiker recommends retailers hire models to walk around the event showcasing a particular clothing line or various accessories, or moving merchandise around to make it more prominent.

“You will end up selling, but you have to approach it in a different way,” Majcher says. “In this market everyone is very gun shy, and they don’t want a heavy, hard sales pitch right now. The key is value. If someone is going to give an hour and half of their time, it better be worth their while.”