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Strategy Case Study for Retailers & Restaurateurs in Olympic Regions

  4th Avenue Kitsilano Red Bull 2008

In September 2008 an interesting event occurred in Vancouver's trendy Kitsilano burb.

The following case study demonstrates the unique challenges retailers face,
and how difficult it is to market to and leverage an Olympic style crowd.

Red Bull, the energy drink people, promoted an event on 4th Avenue that
attracted what media estimated to be a crowd of about 35,000 Vancouverites.

The turnout, massive by any standards, caught most retailers by surprise.

In fact, many 4th Avenue retailers are still wondering how so many people converged on the street on one sunny day in September, but yet for most retailers and restaurants the huge crowd only marginally boosted sales figures.

Some shops actually did less business.

Shopkeepers watched in frustration as crushing crowds stumbled by. Some experienced property damage, insurance risks, and a spike in shoplifting, but still the added expense of dealing with such a large crowd hardly increased sales enough to warrant the chaos.

  Spectators on shop roofs  Police and firemen hauled about thirty climbers off one roof alone. Spectators used rickety old fire escapes to climb onto shopkeepers' roofs. Some owners were so concerned about roofs collapsing they had Red Bull announce that unless everyone got off the buildings immediately, the entire event would shut down.

The crowd on the street started to boo so the climbers on the roof reluctantly lined up to climb down a single ladder that had firemen at the top and police on the ground below.





4th Ave was also completely closed to cars, which meant no parking. To add insult to injury, most regular customers couldnít spend because of the crush Ė a double whammy.

Granted, some retailers did great business, but they were the savvy exception.

For example, when I stopped by Trattoria west of Burrard the trendy restaurant was jammed with hungry customers. Home Hardware was also bustling and so was Brownís Social House at Vine, but most retail shops in between, including restaurants, were sparse considering the crushing mob streaming outside their doors.

One restaurant was even closed. Yikes! What were they thinking?

Vancouverites, whose lives revolve around the rain,
are infamous for doing everything at the last minute.

No one in this region wants to make plans or buy a ticket until they know the weather will cooperate. It's hard to blame anyone for being cautious, but unfortunately, if retailers and restaurateurs adopt this very wet coast attitude for 2010 you will miss the Olympic rush.

Planning for an Olympic crowd takes time. Fortunately, it's more affordable than most people think, but you have to give your plan time to work well before the crowds arrive.

One of the biggest surprises for retailers in all Olympic regions is how hard it is for everyone, including customers to get around. Most don't know VANOC will disrupt our bus system so much that regular runs won't be in service. Most of our buses will be busy transporting spectators from airports to hotels to sporting events and back, which means it becomes incredibly difficult for people to get to your location. You can also forget about cabs because they too will be overworked.

Some retailers in Olympic regions manage their own private transportation.

The odds of Olympic fans stumbling by are slim if you are not in the very centre core.

Shopkeepers have to entice spectators through their websites well before anyone arrives in our region because Olympic spectators will not find 4th Avenue unless they specifically look for it and then make an effort to get to it.

Without doubt Red Bull did raise the visibility of our 4th Avenue neighborhood, but the crowd was so overwhelming new shoppers couldnít distinguish one store from the next.

It was so jammed near Arbutus it was scary.

Iíve lived and worked in this area for years and have never seen anything like it.

No pun intended, but foot for foot respective of people per square inch, Red Bull blew the doors off the Gay Pride crowd, and still most of 4th saw only a marginal increase in sales, if any. At the Gay Pride Parade you could at least walk up and down the street, but at the Red Bull event I was at a full stop for sometimes five minutes without being able to move forward or back. It was so crushing some people with kids in tow started to panic.

Hopefully, the next time, a larger number of shopkeepers will be more crowd-ready and have a plan to leverage the rush, but I know after speaking with many of you that youíre still scratching your head wondering how the H. M. $. Moneybags sailed without you.

Many shopkeepers did see marginal increases in sales, but some were doing triple, quadruple and even tens times their regular business. A few even had line ups outside their doors, which contrasted sharply with other shops almost empty. It is also interesting to note that after the race was over, most shops were dead and some even closed almost immediately, but when I walked up and down 4th some places like Hell's Kitchen and Brown's were jammed to the rafters. These guys knew how to leverage a crowd.

Frustrated shopkeepers would be well advised to consider it a test run for 2010, and to try and understand why some businesses leveraged the momentum, but most belly-flopped.

Some retailers were prepared and knew how to redirect traffic across their thresholds, but others simply stood slack jawed as tens of thousands of dollars streamed past their doors.


If you think it was a challenge to get this huge local mixed crowd
into your location, media reports from past Olympic regions indicate
it will be even harder to hook the very finicky foreign 2010 crowd.



Olympic spectators are infamous window shoppers. It is well documented that unless you entice them with an offer they canít refuse, not only will they not make it to 4th, if they do arrive theyíll just walk on by as they did during the Red Bull event. Guaranteed.

Retailers in EVERY OLYMPIC REGION complain of this anomaly. It occurred in Salt Lake City, Athens, Turin, and even Beijing. You have to first give Olympic spectators a reason to come to your location, and then more importantly give them a reason to buy.


I wrote about this phenomenon at length in my book, Leverage Olympic Momentum.
Here's a short excerpt regarding the challenges retailers faced in Salt Lake City;


Work shifts in Salt Lake City for regular employees had to be changed in order to accommodate Olympic schedules. Many small and midsize business employees were only allowed in the downtown Olympic core between the hours of 6:00 am and 2:00 pm.

Due to heavy traffic, getting them home after their shift was another major problem. Downtown Olympic areas were gated. This meant ALL employees and suppliers who worked or delivered in the general vicinity had to run through a rigorous system of bi-level scans including bomb sniffing dogs, physical inspections, and the use of employee ID badges at every station. Cars, people, and packages were checked at every level. Forgot your pass? Go back home to get it.

In the ramp up to and during the Olympic events businesses in the immediate area had to put up with heavy construction. This included noisy machinery, odors, dust, and equipment blocking access to customers. Iím not just talking about a few months either. Construction started five years out and literally lasted throughout the events. There is also quite a sizable removal procedure that took months to complete. Some of it still lingered two years later.

Cell phone interruptions and dead zones were common due to high volume. Cell phone or wireless messaging access was often severely limited, if not cut off completely (By 2010 WiFi service should not be an issue, but nonetheless, be prepared.).

All mail-boxes in the Olympic core were removed from the street. Plus, every piece of mail coming into the region was thoroughly scanned and inspected. It put incredible pressure on the system and created numerous bottlenecks and delays.

Parking lots in the Olympic core were constantly FULL due to landlords renting parking lots to Olympic related businesses. This meant employees had nowhere to park. Many companies were forced to have employees work from home which meant setting them up with computers and internet connections.

Crosswalks were often closed in the Olympic core due to heavy traffic. It severely hampered foot traffic to stores because pedestrians could only cross the street at designated corners. Retailers complained to no avail. Everyone, including employees, experienced chaotic and heavy congestion each day between 2:00 pm and 2:00 am in Olympic cores and downtown areas.

Most retail business operations are not able to handle heavy traffic. Customers subjected to this crowded atmosphere were overwhelmed. If you want to sell to this crowd you have to create strategies to specifically entice them to buy.

The Games' economic boost was confined to a very few blocks in the core and geared towards very specific tourist needs. Licensing of Olympic merchandise is expensive and complicated. The lesson here is that if you don't give shoppers a well-defined reason to come to your area you will get lost in the crush.

If you don't offer Olympic merchandise you better have something unique or regional to entice customers. One of the best ways to do this is to create a relationship with customers through your website so when they get to town they will search you out. It takes time to cultivate this type of relationship, so if you want it to work you have to start now. There are a number of strategies such as sport specials, coupons, custom sport products, local design, etc., to drive this type of promotion.

Locals who were scared away during the Olympic construction period did not return to the downtown core after the Games were over. Once they became used to patronizing places in their local vicinity they rarely returned. It was good for some businesses and bad for others.


end of excerpt


If you want their attention you have to compete for it. Spectators donít go far without enticement because transportation is a nightmare in every Olympic region.

Spectators are herded and fed Olympic McFood, McClothes, and McMusic.

The Olympic system is designed to make it hard for spectators to break away from areas promoted by Olympic organizations. It is also now clear to most people in Vancouver who have watched 2010 painfully unfold that VANOC and the IOC run a monopoly, and most local companies are not invited to the party.


Fortunately there is GOOD NEWS.

If you use your website to prime and develop a long distance relationship with Olympic spectators before they arrive, when they do finally show up theyíll be enticed to search you out in anticipation of your special sport event offers.


Fish Where the Fish Are - Video #3 in a 2010 series
Vancouver Retailers Align With Olympic Athletes


Twitter is rapidly becoming a powerful tool for retailers, and if you haven't yet explored how to leverage it to work for your company contact us immediately and we'll share a few ideas. Companies like WholeFoods, which owns Capers have been developing Twitter strategies for a while and you should do so too. It's a perfect promotion tool for all size companies because it is easy to set up and manage.

If you donít want a repeat performance of the Red Bull fumble, plan now because you canít expect to put a website offer online six months before an Olympic event and have spectators find you through Google. Promote online today to attract crowds in 2010 and beyond. If you have to pay for 2010, you should benefit.

Our book, Leverage Olympic Momentum helps shopkeepers understand, attract, and sell to Olympic athletes, their crews and spectators. Itís full of good information and includes many ideas designed specifically for companies in our Vancouver 2010 Olympic region.

The book is also packed with valuable info for Volunteers.

It is also important to consider that in 2008 VANOC is already impacted by confusion and overrun costs. If they were going to help you they would have had to do it long ago.

When you also take into account overrun issues at the Athlete's Village, and the fact taxes are increasing substantially, local retailers have to figure out quickly how to make up for the added cost of doing business in our Olympic region.

VANOC is already so cash-strapped they can't even afford
to sell local residents good Olympic event tickets at a fair price.


Their mandate is to protect Olympic sponsors.
They have zero responsibility and funds to help you.

Basically, youíre on your own.

Itís up to you to figure out how to leverage Olympic momentum. Keep in mind too that local business organizations like BNIs and local Chambers have done little to help you.

Most donít know what to do, but some also have politically oriented Olympic agendas.


Fortunately, we know exactly what you need.

Leveraging Olympic momentum is our specialty. We literally wrote the book,
and called it Leverage Olympic Momentum for a very good reason.

Itís a must read in 2010 business and political circles, and the first and only book written to help retailers, restaurateurs, small businesses, and volunteers in our Olympic region.

VANOC reads it, so do our civic leaders, and so should you.

If you havenít seen it yet go to Duthie Books on 4th east of Vine next to Capers and ask for a copy. Find a chair in their store and read it for five minutes. Iíll even give you a hint, read Parting Tips on page 293 to learn exactly whatís in store for 4th Avenue.

You will be surprised.



  Order Online Today !

If you canít get to Duthie's, order it online at www.LeverageOlympicMomentum.com

Better yet, if you want information
straight from the source,
email or call us at 604.560.4419.

We can help, and we can do it quickly
and more affordably than you might think.




In fact for a limited time we are offering a special
promotion designed expressly for companies in Kitsilano.


Get in the game and leverage the momentum before you miss the boat again.

The solution is easy and affordable, but if you wait too long, or do nothing the opportunity will pass you by just like those massive Red Bull crowds did on 4th Avenue last September.

Quote Code # 100815 for our SPECIAL DISCOUNT - offer expires April 15, 2009

The Media PILE a short list of NEWS MEDIA who have covered our Olympic story

Grocer Today - Opportunities
BC Business - Construction
ESPN - Overrun Costs
Globe & Mail - 2010 Tickets
Globe & Mail - Business
Seattle Times - 1 Year to GO!
Business Edge - Strategies
CityTV - Leverage The Games
Wired - Social Media



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