471, 472, 473 clicked the attendant in the green shirt. It was the number assigned to me, my teenage daughter, and her friend as we descended down into the basement of clothing retailer American Apparel in San Diego’s Gaslamp District. When I first saw the crowds snaking along several blocks I thought they were waiting to buy tickets to a concert or Padres’ game. Little did I know I would be waiting in that very line for three hours before we would reach our final destination, the 3rd annual American Apparel Rummage Sale.
These days, not many retailers have people waiting in line to give them money. In fact, most are reporting their lowest sales in years. So how does a retailer like American Apparel, dealing with the same business pressures as everyone else, post an 8 percent increase in sales for the last quarter of 2009? From what I could see, it comes down to three things.
Consistency. American Apparel is consistent with their brand (simple, quality, American-made fashions) and this builds trust because people know what to expect. In addition, American Apparel stocks a large selection in their stores and many of the styles are not available at other retailers. This winning combination has garnered American Apparel a loyal fan base.
Socially Connected. American Apparel uses social media effectively to keep in touch with customers. Most of the people I asked in my small circle in line had found out about the sale on Facebook. But American Apparel does more than broadcast promotions on Twitter and Facebook, they also engage in meaningful conversations with their online followers. For example, in one of their posts they asked people who were planning on attending the sale what they were hoping to find, so they could make sure it was available. Another post offered tips for avoiding a long wait. It was evident they were using these real time online tools to improve the customer experience.
Constantly Promoting. American Apparel’s Rummage Sale was obviously successful, but that did not mean the staff was going to rest on this one event, they continued to promote for the future. While customers were waiting to get into the store, employees with clipboards walked around to see if anyone wanted to get on their email list and offered a gift when they signed up. They also scouted out the line for possible new hires. I guess they figured if someone is willing to wait several hours to get into the store, they very likely would make a passionate employee. And for a final hook, they tucked a postcard into my bag with a 15 percent discount for next time.
Even during tough economic times, when shoppers are looking for the best deals and most retailers tell you how hard it is to make a buck, hard work, good value, and strong promotion can still bring people into a store. Take a look at the three ways that American Apparel creates the kind of buzz that makes it seem reasonable to wait in line for hours for the chance to buy something. What can you do in the areas of consistency, connection, and promotion to improve your business? It might take a little time, but with some concentrated effort, you can create a loyal fan base, and the strong word-of-mouth endorsement that has folks lining up to do business with you.