A Holiday Everyday
The power and possibilities of retail programming outside of familiar holiday highlights
Rich and engaging programming is increasingly understood to add meaningful and even dramatic value to retail environments of all shapes and sizes. It’s driven by the recognition that animation and activation isn’t an abstract notion or a fuzzy ideal, but a tangible and measurable benefit with an impact that extends from hearts and minds to bottom lines.
From smaller centers to larger destinations, special events and programming provides a proven and effective mechanism to connect to the community in ways that drive traffic and prompt people to visit more often and spend more time and money when they do.
The issue is that, for many centers, those events are overly focused on holidays and other seasonal milestones. And while a tree lighting ceremony or Halloween parade can be a great way to promote a center and its tenants, it’s really just the beginning. The best retail center programming can and should be so much more. July 4th celebrations recently lit up the night sky at many retail centers across the country, but figurative fireworks can and should take place all year long. The result can be not just a pyrotechnic burst of extra business, but a yearlong cadence of powerful place-making and memory-making that creates positive associations and spurs return visits.
At Village at the Peaks in Longmont, Colorado, for example, a packed schedule of inspired and creative events has become a highly anticipated part of the regular social calendar for area residents. A clear favorite is Outlaw Bingo, held on Friday nights every June and September. The themed bingo event (recent themes include things like Alice in Wonderland, The Great Gatsby, and German Beer Hall) regularly draws more than 600 participants of all ages and includes refreshments and live music. Many attendees dress in thematically appropriate garb and tenants set up kiosks and outdoor service areas to serve food and drinks. The financial boost to restaurant tenants is considerable: with sales up over 22% compared to average Friday numbers.
Part of the key to creating effective retail programming is attracting as wide a range of visitors as possible. You can maximize community appeal with everything from calculated musical selections to events aimed at specific demographic groups. Village of the Peaks holds the Page to Peaks event which selects a children’s book and brings it to life in festival format with activities and photo opportunities that coordinate with the book like kid friendly culinary experiences and a giant balloon caterpillar to celebrate The Very Hungry Caterpillar or giant trucks and construction equipment to bring to life Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site. Each of the book festivals culminates in a large story time session where the book is read on the event lawn.
Another key to making a holiday everyday vibe a reality is to recognize that programming and special events don’t necessarily have to be a grand production or involve logistical and financial heavy lifting to have an impact.
Programming doesn’t even have to be an event to resonate with visitors. Community art has been an especially rich source for NewMark Merrill properties. We began a community art program at Norwalk Town Square in Norwalk, California in 2018 with the unveiling of the first public mural in that city. The response was so positive that the program has blossomed and become an increasingly prominent part of the center’s identity—and the visitor experience. We utilize local artists from surrounding communities to paint murals and create unique works of art, beautifying the space and giving visitors an always-changing palette and a backdrop that evokes emotions. The local links provide meaningful community connections, and the art is an immersive environmental element that elevates a space into an experience. It creates natural social media opportunities and unique and identifiable signature visuals. Both an activity and an aesthetic—even architectural—element that provides new opportunities to surprise and delight guests. It’s another way to engage with the community and enable people to interact with the property in a manner that makes visits more than just a shopping experience. That exposure to art is particularly exciting and rewarding in communities where those opportunities aren’t always readily available or affordable.
The last piece of the puzzle is to let people know about these events and opportunities. The weekly email blast at Village at the Peaks is so popular that community members will actually email and text to ask if it is delayed. Get creative: consider doing things like passing out coasters at your restaurants with the summer concert schedule printed on them. Connect with local school districts and ask about opportunities to deliver promotional materials and events calendars into take-home folders. By opening up these channels of communication in addition to an array of social media promotions, you aren’t just keeping people informed about what events are on tap, you are creating another touchpoint to reach consumers—and reinforcing the notion that there is almost always something new and different for them to experience. In other words: it doesn’t have to be a special occasion for them to have a special experience.
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It may be summer, but school’s still in session
One of the ways NewMark Merrill properties work to engage with local communities in positive and potentially even transformative way is to connect with local school districts to come up with creative ways to benefit local kids and their families.
At Village at the Peaks in Longmont, Colorado, the management team has partnered with the local St. Vrain Valley School District to create an inspired collaborative program that donates prize packages for 250 students who have worked to improve their math aptitude over the summer. The prize packages, which include free movie tickets and free meal coupons, help incentivize students to enroll in the optional pilot program. But, more importantly, they encourage a year-round love of learning that will potentially pay lifetime dividends.
Crenshaw Imperial Plaza in South Los Angeles, California is also seizing the opportunity to contribute to young scholars through the L.A. Cares Community Resource Center. The resource center, which opened in early 2022, provides complementary public services designed to keep local communities active, healthy and informed. Popular programs include free CPR classes taught in both English and Spanish and a monthly grocery giveaway. As part of a Grand Opening celebration event on August 5th, the plaza held a backpack giveaway as well as a resource bag for local families. The backpacks were stuffed with essential school supplies for local children, and the resource bags contained valuable information for community members about available resources and community programming.
With students headed back to school in the near future, programs like these are an important and potentially game-changing opportunity for community connection—part of NewMark Merrill’s broader mission to make sure that our retail centers are a positive force for good in the community.