Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bargains, pampering, girlfriends....

Allison Kaplan gives the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Crave guide some press.

Bargains, pampering, girlfriends, champagne -- there can never be enough of them

Janet Polach knew owning her own boutique would mean working evenings and weekends, but she never expected to be setting up a booth at art festivals and hotel parties.

Just back from the Hayward, Wis., Musky Fest, Polach will spend Saturday promoting her Excelsior tween girls' store, Zelaz, at Fabulosity, a new shopping and pampering event at the W Hotel in Minneapolis. The $20 admission price includes an express manicure, minimassage, appetizers, champagne and a ballroom filled with local vendors pushing everything from jewelry and handbags to Botox and chiropractic services.

In a metro area ripe with malls and neighborhood shopping districts, including many stores that showcase local talent, it's difficult to believe women are willing to pay to shop, but the formula seems to be working. Just look at Maiden Minnesota, which drew 1,500 women who coughed up $20 to $30 for an evening of shopping in November. And shop they did. Co-creator Tracy Dyer says at least one vendor sold $30,000 worth of jewelry at Maiden Minnesota.

Dyer believes social shopping experiences are spreading not only because small companies can't afford traditional advertising but also because consumers are tired of the old impersonal methods.

"It's just a fun way to connect," she says. So, event groups are hustling to bring women more of what they seem to want. Last winter, women paid as much as $150 to attend the Idea Factory's Ultimate Pajama Party, a night of pampering, cocktails and shopping.
CRAVE Minneapolis just published a guide to local women-owned businesses, which paid to be included, and organizes events to support them. The mission statement reads: "CRAVE is about girlfriends getting together. It's about connecting, having fun, indulging, learning more and empowering yourself! CRAVE means enjoyment, enlightenment, indulgence, health, fashion and above all sophisticated, feminine fun!"

Midwest Divas, the local firm that created Fabulosity, believes there's room for yet another girlfriend event.

"We know it's been done before, but we want to do it in a different way," says Fabulosity organizer Tasha Griffin. "It's multitasking, it's networking, it's women coming together to take care of themselves and shop — with a cause." Like many shopping events, Fabulosity has a charitable tie-in. A portion of proceeds will benefit the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance.

Polach isn't certain what to expect from the new event, which seems to face some challenges, including drawing women downtown on a Saturday afternoon in the summer on the same weekend as the Uptown Art Fair.

But getting a booth at Fabulosity cost Polach no more than a print ad in many publications. Plus, she sells a lot.

"Women come to buy," says Polach, who sees the same phenomenon during Girls' Night Out events in Excelsior, where her store is located. "The trick is having the right price. They're not going to spend $75 or $100 at one place. I bring a lot of tank tops and items that sell for $35 to $45. I still make money, I'm linked to a charity and there's residual business."

During Girls' Night Out every Thursday in the summer, Zelaz offers a special — even 10 percent off motivates shoppers, Polach says.

Deals and the excuse to get together with girlfriends are big motivators, but perhaps there's another reason women are willing to attend, and even pay for, social shopping events.

"It's women helping women," Polach says. "And that's a powerful intangible."

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