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chris griffiths

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"Keep the lights on" is an often-used figurative phrase referring to a business's ability to stay afloat.

I have a more literal suggestion: If you are a retailer, keeping your showroom lights on after-hours is a cost-effective and simple way to promote your business even while you are not at work.

I once owned a store located between a Blockbuster Video outlet and a Mr. Sub restaurant – with a 24-hour Tim Hortons across the street. It dawned on me that long after our store had closed for the day, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of visitors to the neighbouring businesses were walking past my showroom window – which was in complete darkness.

In what now seems obvious, I decided to take advantage of that traffic by leaving a few of my track lights and product spotlights on after we had closed for the night.

The results surprised me. The very next day, we had a handful of customers enter our store during normal working hours mentioning that they were in the area all the time, but had never before noticed our store. They became loyal customers, and the trend continued.

As it turned out, these were patrons of the businesses around me who typically shopped there later in the evening or at night. With my store in darkness, the illuminated sign over my doorway was not sufficient to catch their attention. But at night, the spotlights I left on were remarkably effective. I gained new customers and much more brand and location awareness.

If you are a retailer in an area with evening and nighttime traffic, I encourage you to experiment for a couple of weeks and see the difference it makes to your own business. This time of year it can be is especially effective, as the sun sets earlier and earlier, so there will be more commuters to see your shop earlier in the evening. It is more effective and much less costly than a billboard, for example, and can offer immediate results.

Certainly, I don't want to ignore the costs, or environmental effects, of this experiment. Use select lighting that highlights large products that are core to your business – large because you want the product to be visible from as far a distance as possible and core so it is instantly recognizable what industry you are in, the type of products you sell and the customers you want to attract.

If you are not already using LED or other cost- and energy-efficient lights in your showroom, this is a great reason to start and will be a positive move for your business and the environment. If you decide this experiment is working for you, you will likely want to install timer switches so that lights are automatically shut off very late at night, say after midnight, if you suspect there is not enough walk-by or drive by traffic to warrant them.

I estimate that a half dozen or so LED spotlights left on after you close shop, and timed to turn off at midnight, would cost less than a dollar a month,  depending on your hours of operation and local electricity charges. Compared to the exposure you get from passersby, this seems like a highly reasonable investment. Sure, there is some upfront expense in the LED bulbs, if you are not already using them, but the more you adopt them, the more money you will save over time, while reducing the burden on the environment.

Sometimes, the simple and cost-effective business promotions, like this one, are just as effective, or more so, than larger and more expensive initiatives. Plus, it is something you can tonight to bring positive effect to your business tomorrow.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

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