We all get asked for donations on a regular basis – in fact on a slow day, the requests seem to outnumber the sales. It’s long been our policy to give a gift card to the causes we decide to support, since this usually brings the recipient into the store to shop. For larger donations we sometimes contribute a big, showy item that will be impressive when displayed in a silent auction. But we are about to try something new, at the suggestion of a fellow retailer at the recent Fair Trade Federation conference in Austin.

This summer we’re going to offer a donation of a private shopping event, to take place on an evening mutually agreed upon with the recipient. We are already open four evenings a week until 8:00, so we plan to stay open an extra hour for this special event.

Here is what we’re offering: wine and cheese, or other refreshments (possibly provided by one of our neighboring restaurants); a personal greeting by me and/or my husband; a goody bag; and 20% off all purchases. We’ve mentioned our usually two exceptions to discounts: gift cards and Cooking School classes.

I’ve read that other stores use the same concept, but instead of a discount they offer a $25 gift card valid that evening. Years ago, Pleasant Company opened their first retail store for the American Girl dolls in Chicago. We were invited to the private pre-opening event, and given a gift card when we walked through the door. That immediately turned me from a party guest to a shopper, and I’m sure that most of us spent far more than the value of the gift card in the course of the evening.

The private event we’re offering is valid for up to 8 people. It’s our hope that this will be an opportunity to introduce new customers to our store, and that we’ll show our guests such a good time that they’ll want to return. Of course we also hope that this offer of a special shopping experience will bring in a nice sum for the nonprofit we’re supporting through the donation – because their success is important to us too.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder