Retailer Scope: Creating Shoppertainment with Camille Akin

Camille Akin of Eagle Vision

It is our pleasure to bring you another installation of our Retailer Scope series. Last time, we spoke with Sarah Culler of Fair Trade Winds about growing your business. This month, Camille Akin of Eagle Vision retail consulting was kind enough to offer some in-depth, comprehensive advice for finding your core customers and giving them unforgettable experiences in your store. Camille has done it all: She's been a book editor, ran her own craft retail store, travelled to India twice to help empower women by setting up a micro enterprise, and is now at the helm of her own retail consultancy firm, Eagle Vision. Her business aims to help small retailers create successful marketing campaigns, craft a strong brand identity and media presence, plan unforgettable events, and improve upon many facets of the retail experience. Not were we lucky enough interview Ms. Akin, you can look forward to part two of this interview coming later this year. Settle in -- this is a detailed interview you won't want to miss. 

You’re a big believer in the value of promotional events. How does one manage and measure the effectiveness of hosting events in their store?

I look at promotional events as a key component of an overall marketing strategy. Events help create buzz and build a solid base of loyal customers. And because I’m a firm believer in the 80/20 Rule (80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers), it’s critical to find and then focus on that 20 percent. That is your store’s community. In turn, you can engage your community in taking an active role in planning, participating and helping with the promotional events. People love to feel needed and that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Take the time to foster these relationships. As your community develops, ask for volunteers to help manage events.

80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. It’s critical to find and focus on that 20%.

You will find that measuring effectiveness of these events is not quantitative; rather, it’s qualitative. How well are you connecting with your community? In my stores, we taught that there is healing in crafting. We hosted a large-scale event each year for breast cancer awareness. This event took on a life of its own and was truly something that our community talked about all year. They gathered their friends and family together to be a part of helping raise funds and awareness to help other community members survive cancer. My rule of thumb is “keep them talking”. Word of mouth is powerful. If your clients/customers have a great experience at an event, they will be talking about it to their friends, family and colleagues. Make it meaningful so they can’t forget about you … and they can’t wait to return to your store to “experience” the magic you create. As Fair Trade retailers, you have such a unique opportunity to educate and inspire the people who walk through your doors.

Also relating to events, how often should you host them and can that vary depending on the size of the business?

The success of my stores was hosting one major event and two minor events each month. This allowed me to expand from 1200 square feet to 3600 square feet within two years of start-up. Yes, it was a lot of work. But it paid off. You want to give customers a reason to come back. Other than providing a great product mix and unique finds, what keeps your customers coming back? My “secret sauce” was planning fantastic events. Educational. Inspirational. Motivational. Get creative. Bring in guest speakers/teachers. Provide demonstrations of products. Host classes or movie screenings. Make it fun; make it memorable. This is known as “shoppertainment”. Customers seek an experience every time they come in to your store. Your challenge is to continually offer up new ways to make the experience a positive and engaging one.

This was true when I worked for a local nonprofit. We hosted a fashion show that showcased designers who transformed traditional Indian saris into new garments. We made this a competition between these designers and the winner was invited to travel to India to help further our nonprofit mission. Each of these designers engaged their friends and family to help them compete. This was a great way to get the word out about our organization and build upon our community.

How important is it to collaborate with other businesses and organizations? What are the benefits of collaboration?

Collaboration with your vendor/partners is a key to your success. I call them vendor/partners because they are indeed partners in the supply chain. There is a synergy in collaborating with your vendors. It means they will help market you and your mission and help educate the general public about Fair Trade. When their products do well in your store then they see reorders. Bounce ideas off them. Collaborate with them to host events. Ask them to send a demonstrator or artisan. Ask for materials about their brand that will help you educate your customers.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your vendor/partners. Guaranteed sale trunk shows allow you to bring in product and talk it up. Your vendors will get valuable feedback from customers on what they love and perhaps, what they don’t, about a certain line. These trunk shows were very profitable for us and allowed us to keep a steady stream of new product on our shelves, and it allowed us to share insights with the company on what customers wanted for future releases.

Collaborate with your competitors. We called this co-opetition. Work together with others in your industry to create fun ways to draw your customers in. We would participate in a large shop hop with approximately 50 stores each summer. We would again participate in a smaller shop hop with our eight competitor stores in San Diego County. Customers want to see you working with your competitors. When you collaborate with these other stores, everyone wins.

When it comes to digital marketing, it can be tough to know where to invest your efforts. What are the most effective/efficient ways to market your business online?

That is very individual. Considering we are living in a world where Social Media reigns, you have a plethora of choices. The good news: You can create buzz for free! With fair trade, it’s about telling a story of the artisans and their countries; stories about their craft and handiwork that you can weave into your store’s blog, website, and social media campaigns. Compelling stories such as these have great success on Facebook and Instagram.

Use Facebook Live to introduce a new event or product. I would select a specific day of the week to always post about something new. Make it Meaningful Mondays or Fair Trade Friday Facts. Get creative with how you tell your story and invite your community to be a part of telling the story too. Remember, your customers want their voices heard. So engage them in what they want to see in your store. Ask them what events they would participate in.

What’s the recipe for creating engaging content that people will interact with and relate to?

Content is king. Make it relatable and relevant. Good content will create and sustain an emotional connection with your customers. The 20 percent of your customers who make up the 80 percent of your sales will want new and fresh stories of the artisans and organizations. Those who support fair trade are people who care deeply about others and are passionate about improving lives in often forgotten areas of the world. Tell the story of the artisan groups. Provide photos or short videos of them creating the products.

I strongly believe in the “less is more” philosophy. Fewer words, more pictures. A combination of visuals and good SEO (keywords that help your clients find you online and help your ranking) will help you tell your story. Find a good content writer to help you manage your social media channels. And don’t skimp on a good email marketing campaign. Email marketing is more powerful now that ever. It’s your lifeline to your customers, as they are checking emails from the moment they wake up till the moment they are getting ready for bed.

Always have a system to capture your customers’ emails. Make sure you are sending relevant information on a consistent basis to their inbox. Focus on what’s new in your store. The new events. The new products. Your customers crave “new” experiences … and your content should provide a teaser invite to come see it for themselves.

Both digital marketing and events have their benefits, but which of these two marketing efforts has the greatest impact for a new store or a stagnant business?

What is the first thing that a new store does? A Grand Opening. The reason. It creates buzz. It builds excitement. As a business owner in your community, you are a leader and an innovator. You bring something unique to your community. So it makes sense to keep drawing in your community through hosting memorable events. Most businesses only host the grand opening or an anniversary event. Don’t fall prey to that. Send out a calendar of events and you’ll start to see “repeat” customers attending, and you will find they bring a friend (or two). Remember, people like to attend events with friends. These like-minded people become your store’s brand ambassadors.

In our store, we made our customers feel a part of our store mission by creating an atmosphere of fun and excitement. When you have engaged customers, you will avoid stagnation. These engaged customers will help you determine your product offering and help you chart your overall marketing strategy. It’s important to focus on finding new customers to always add to your existing base. When working for the nonprofit, we would set up selling events that allowed us to tap into markets of potential like-minded people through wellness events. We found that people who make health and fitness a priority give preference to helping social causes. This was a great way to spend our time and resources. Then we would have great photos to share with both our new and existing community of followers.

Finally, if time and resources are limited, what should a retailer focus their efforts on: events or digital marketing?

Time and resources will be limited. You are a retailer, and in many cases, a one-person retailer. So you wear many hats each day. To stay on top of my game, I made my marketing calendar each year based around events. I spent a good amount of time planning these events and working with my vendor-partners to help locate those in my industry who could help me host memorable events. This weathered us through the greatest recession of the last two decades. I found that the media loved talking up these events, so we greatly benefited from the “free” press.

With digital marketing, I used an independent contractor to help me get the word out via social media. The investment was minimal and it freed me up to focus on staying true what my store was known for: A Place to Create. Events are personal. They allow your customers to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And there is great power in this connection.

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in our next Retailer Scope installment, comment or send an email to In this series, it is our goal to provide retail insights from industry leaders. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram