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Best of The Best

Best of the Best: Romancing the Town

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Best of the Best Logo[dropcap cap=IN 2009,]Forbes Magazine chose Annapolis, MD, as one of the prettiest towns in America. The staff at Zachary’s Jewelers decided their city should be recognized as one of the most romantic as well. They wanted to draw attention to locally owned, downtown businesses during the depths of the Great Recession, when in addition to severe dips in consumer confidence they also faced burgeoning competition from new malls, chain stores and shopping centers on the city’s periphery.  — EILEEN McCLELLAND[/dropcap]

[componentheading]THE IDEA [/componentheading]
[contentheading]Event-Driven Weekend[/contentheading]

ZACHARY’S JEWELERS, a family-owned business led by president Steve Samaras, created the idea of a weekend of events dedicated to love and simply called “Annapolis in Love.” Samaras went to the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Downtown Annapolis Partnership. Participation among downtown businesses quickly ballooned from an initial 35 to 85. Samaras invested $20,000 in the project and led the effort.

“We told them, you don’t want to just throw up a sign in your window — 50 percent off — we want to build events around the weekend,” he says. “The focus wasn’t on discounting or sales, it was about an event, creating something in your store or business that was creative and made people come out and enjoy the city that weekend.”

Planning began in January for Valentine’s Day, but organizers realized the project was too massive to pull off in a month, so they moved it to April 2010.

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[componentheading]THE EXECUTION [/componentheading]
[contentheading]Enthusiastic Participation [/contentheading]

WATERMARK CRUISES gave away a $25,000 wedding on its mega-yacht to the couple that submitted the best proposal captured on video. A water taxi company teamed up with the Annapolis Chorale so that a singer aboard each taxi could serenade passengers with a romantic song. Bars held speed dating, newlywed games, a canines and cocktail party, and French wine tastings. A bookstore hosted a poetry reading and had a troubadour on site to write love songs for patrons. A lingerie store featured live models in its windows. And Zachary’s Jewelers gave away $10,000 worth of jewelry to three winners of a love-letter writing contest called “Expressions of Love.” Runners-up won dinners at romantic restaurants.

A T-shirt company gave “Annapolis in Love” T-shirts to employees of all the businesses involved, which was a very visible promotional tool.

A local publishing company called Landmarks of the Chesapeake Bay filmed a video promoting the weekend, which ran on YouTube and as a continuous loop at Annapolis hotels.

[componentheading]THE REWARD [/componentheading]
[contentheading]Yearlong Rewards[/contentheading]

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“A LADY I’d known for 30 years walked in with a gentlemen who said he wanted to meet the architect of ‘Annapolis in Love.’ He looked around and a half hour later we sold him an $80,000 ring,” Samaras says.

Participating businesses experienced a 30 percent increase in sales, but the results for many participants lasted much longer than a weekend. A sailing company that offered free sailing lessons found itself booked for an entire year, for example.

Zachary’s Jewelers received an award from Comcast for best marketing idea, beating out a top ad agency and the local newspaper.

Zachary’s Jewelers also raised more than $5,000 for the American Heart Association.

The weekend was so popular, Annapolis merchants will do it again, this time in September 2011.

[componentheading]DO IT YOURSELF[/componentheading]

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Choose a theme: What does your community or shopping center have to offer that sets it apart? Choose a theme, meet with neighboring businesses and put the focus on events rather than sales.

Alert the traditional media: Baltimore TV stations all covered “Annapolis in Love.”

Create a website dedicated to the event and promote it through social media.

Think about the big picture rather than just the weekend. Zachary’s Jewelers has a history of planning and hosting events that benefit others.

 

[span class=note]This story is from the April 2011 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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