retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Optimists have a simple creed: when the world hands you lemons make lemonade. My question today is: what do you do when the world hands you sharks?

Sounds silly I know, but sharks may provide the answer to one of the toughest marketing questions on the calendar: how to build sales and excitement in August, the only month on the calendar without a holiday of any kind. In every other month there are easy times to rally shopper excitement and maybe build sales. August is the one exception. There’s back-to-school of course, but beyond that, August is all about really hot weather and those famed dog days.

Well, make a note for next year because those days are over. It’s time to celebrate Shark Week!

Somehow, someway, Shark Week has actually become something, even though it is really nothing. The weeklong celebration of one of nature’s scariest animals comes to us courtesy of the Discovery Channel. Since 1987, Discovery has celebrated the week featuring show after show about sharks in an attempt to help people gain a better understanding about sharks. (I suggest you watch Jaws and develop a healthy understanding of why you don’t want to be near a shark.)

Shark Week has become a thing. The programming is now broadcast in 72 countries and in the US there are organizations that have figured out how to capitalize on this. Do a quick Google search on Shark Week promotions and you find all the expected promotions from the local aquariums and assorted educational efforts, but there is more.

For instance, this year the American Red Cross offered special edition t-shirts to blood donors during Shark Week. If donating blood is beyond you (although you should do it) Never Sink Clothing has a special line of shirts for Shark Week. And it doesn’t stop at shirts. The question becomes, could this be an event that even a supermarket might use. In August, anything is and should be fair game.

California Tortilla, one of my favorite casual restaurants in the Washington, DC, area, never misses out on a chance to pack in the fun and customers with unusual promotions. For them Shark Week was a natural. The quick serve restaurant offered two unusual specials. Anyone ordering fish tacos on July 28th received a special “fin hat” courtesy of the Discovery Channel. Then on Aug. 3, anyone wearing the hat or using the word “shark” in an order received a free taco.

In addition, California Tortilla set up groups of Shark Week fans on social media sites, ran promotions involving a player on the Washington Nationals whose nickname is The Shark, and challenged Shark Week fans to share the best celebration of the week. When I visited the restaurant on Aug. 3rd, the line was nearly out the door and featured many people in silly Fin Hats.

Yet at the supermarkets nearby, there was nothing. No specials in the seafood department celebrating Shark Week, no ads, no promotions…nothing beyond another hot August day. What a perfect time for salmon, halibut or lobster week or even man eating summer snacks. At least I can hope that supermarket operators looked across their parking lots at one of the 20 plus California Tortilla shops in the area and got thinking about next year.

Unless the calendar changes, next August will roll around with no holidays again and with the annual struggle to build excitement for shoppers and stores. Here’s hoping that maybe some stores will find an unusual idea, whether it’s from the Discovery Channel, the annual heat wave, baseball’s dog days or anything else.

Build a bigger boat. It might help you survive a shark attack and it just might help generate excitement, sales, extra shopping trips and some profits.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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