Creative Strategy To Sell Merchant Groups… Shopping Centers, Business Communities, Small Towns

Many times a publication will recognize the need to sell groups of merchants, instead of struggling to sell individual mom and pop operations on a weekly basis.  These merchant groups many times are looking for someone who can work with them and not only develop their image, but greatly improve their sales volume every month . . . not just at Mothers Day, Back to School or Christmas.

Step No. 1

There must be a solid consensus among the salespeople on the importance of selling merchant groups to run yearly contractual programs.  All targeted areas should be assigned to the appropriate salespeople who are best suited to handle the responsibility.

Each participating salesperson has to evaluate his or her assigned merchant group, so it is necessary for them to diagram each target area showing the status of each merchant.  This status overview is done by the following interpretations: O – Objections that have not been overcome . . . I – Interested, but still lukewarm   . . . FA – Friendly Advocate, may run ads from time to time, but will support your efforts to sell the group . . . R – Regular advertiser, running very consistently, and should be a definite player in a yearly promotion program.  At this point, the salesperson has to study the overall plan and see who needs to be converted so that the majority of the group will be receptive to a later proposal.

Step No. 2

The next step is to build rapport with the merchants.  The assigned salesperson has to have a high profile presence in the area, preferably by shopping the merchants, attending their promotional events and, above all, getting to know them.

Next, fact find.  Ask questions, build a file of data for each merchant in the target area.  At this point, the salesperson needs to approach a designated promotion chairperson, president, or influential key merchant (if no association) and ask to meet with an advertising committee or a general merchant meeting to make a presentation regarding a marketing plan which would include a yearly promotion schedule and various other services which will be explained at the meeting.  The ideal procedure is to have a breakfast meeting at least 2 hours before the majority of stores are open.  An invitation is sent out to the merchants, their home offices and their regional or district managers.

Step No. 3

When the time comes for the presentation, the following points should be made:

  • Know the mix of merchants in advance of the meeting.  Talk to the friendly advocates and regular advertisers, who will help to get others to the meeting.
  • Customize your talk; know the surrounding competitive market environment.
  • Have members of your staff ? layout artists, sales management people and the publisher, if possible, share in the presentation.  Have a TEAM presentation.
  • Use ample visuals, including a slide or video presentation and dummy layout with a sample heading, suggested ad sizes and spot color examples.  You may want to show ad costs based on a 12X rate or contract rate for regular advertisers who will hopefully run a separate ad from their regular ad.
  • Offer a short seminar about ad design, top of mind awareness, and any other helpful information, after the meeting.

Now, here is an agenda for the presentation.  You may want to vary it to suit your circumstances:

  • A 12-times schedule is presented which shows a proposed promotion theme each month.  These themes can be a mixture of traditional events (Mother’s Day, Back to School, Christmas, etc.) and events which are customized to the center or area, such as annual Sidewalk Sale, Harvest of values, etc.  The proposed dates for each promotion are shown (which are based on research of the merchants and when their best sale dates are) and copy deadlines.  This schedule will be sent each month to the participating merchants, their home offices and if possible, the district managers.  You will do this at NO CHARGE.
  • Announcement mailers sent prior to each promotion to participating merchants.  These flyers not only remind people of the promotion date, but he copy deadline and extra services which will be summarized later. You will do this at NO CHARGE.
  • Tearsheets from each promotion can be brought to the area for the participating measurements to post on their windows.  Their ads can be penciled in red.  Also, extra papers can be brought to go on front counters.  This service is at NO CHARGE.
  • Shelf talkers (for in-store price items) which can have a heading “As Advertised in (name of your paper).” NO CHARGE.
  • Other point of sale support: Window and wall banners AT COST.  Coupon boxes.  These can be delivered along with tearsheets and extra papers.  They should be placed in the REAR of each participating store so customers can be exposed to the overall store, when bringing in a coupon.  These boxes will have appropriate signage for the event and can be billed for AT COST.

Step No. 4

At this point, most merchants would be impressed with this Marketing Plan.  The question may be asked, “How can the paper do these things for us at no cost or at cost?”  The answer is, only if your group will run this promotion schedule as a collective group and at least 50% of your merchants sign a 12-times contract.  This percentage can be adjusted up or down depending on the overall area involved.  For example, a small strip center of 30 merchants (50%) compared to a small business community of 70 merchants (30%).  The closing procedures start with showing a dummy layout with a heading for the first promotion and suggested ad sizes, showing 12X cost figures in each ad.  Of course, regular advertisers will receive their contract rate and hopefully run a separate ad in the promotion, beside their regular ad . . . or at least run a more dominant ad in the promotion than their regular ad.  The next procedure is to get commitments for ad spots and then have 12X agreements ready for sign-ups.

Step No. 5

Although there may be a good turn out for the breakfast meeting, there are always several merchants who are absent.  These merchants should be seen the same day as the presentation and shown the dummy layout with many of their merchant friends already committed.  At this point, the participation of the area merchants may be solidified (%) or it may take a few more merchants to complete the needed participation.  This could be a judgment call for the paper.

Bonus Suggestion

Many times a very effective strategy is to contact the district or area managers and meet with them.  This accomplishes two things ? it avoids direct contact with the home office and it allows a person of authority and possibly a strong decision maker to supersede a store manager who may not have the authority.


If a shopping center, business community or small town can generate a substantial amount of business for your publication, it is worth the promotional and marketing effort.  Although the procedure requires strong effort and hard work, the results can be achieved successfully with a positive attitude and definite goal-oriented planning.  The end result can be many merchant groups giving you a huge increase in advertising for the year.  The big benefit:   business is coming in on a more consistent basis and effectively during slow months such as January and July.