Plan an event that involves the community.

Bonnie Bitondo understands how important community involvement is to the success of a small business. After all, that involvement drew more than 75 people to her 1,600-square-foot store on a Saturday in May. The crowd gathered at Maxwell & Molly’s Closet in Newton, NJ, to hear who won a pet art contest featuring submissions from local middle school students.

THE IDEA

Promote Creativity, Build Community 

Bitondo actually found inspiration for the event in Pets+. A story in the March-April issue, “50 Promo Ideas You Gotta Try,” (ppmag.us/1181) included this tip: “Hold a pet art contest. Work with a local school for this. Have the kids paint or draw their pal. Volunteer to help judge, donate a gift card for pet food and supplies, and display the winners in your store at an awards-night gala.”

“It was something I could really see myself doing,” says Bitondo, a former schoolteacher herself. “So I ran with it.”

THE EXECUTION 

Get Partners, Participants 

She began contacting schools, knowing it could be a challenge to find teachers willing to work with her on a contest before summer break. Bitondo was thrilled when Kate Delvecchio, an art instructor at nearby Halsted Middle School, said she would love for her classes to take part. The two came up with the concept “For the Love of Your Pet,” which called on students to create art featuring a pet or favorite animal, using a technique they learned that school year.

While the young artists worked on their pieces, Bitondo secured co-sponsors for the awards gala. A local art store donated supplies for prize packs, which also included gift cards to Maxwell & Molly’s Closet, and four area restaurants committed to providing refreshments. She also enlisted artists from the area as judges.

“It was a wonderful combination of efforts,” Bitondo says, “multiple partnerships showing how different professions and businesses can work together to promote each other and contribute to the community.”

THE RESULTS 

Interest Beyond the Cash Register 

Twenty-six students submitted works across a variety of media. The art hung in the store for two weeks leading up to the gala, which students, family members and teachers attended.

“I was just so happy with the results, and traffic was terrific that day,” Bitondo says, but she notes that sales were not on her mind. “Each event I do has a different goal. This was about showing that I’m part of the community. When you are a true partner in the community, it supports you in return.”

That held particularly true with customers, who upon seeing the art on display praised the project and her.

“When customers see that you’re not just interested in the cash register, you won’t have to worry about the cash register. Your customers will take care of it.”

Do It Yourself: Host an Art Contest

  • Contact teachers well before the school year starts so they can include an art contest in their curriculum.
  • Secure co-sponsors early so they can budget for prize and other donations.
  • Share a different art submission each day on your store’s social media pages.
  • Pitch the contest to your local paper as a community-interest story.
  • Work with a different school for each contest to reach different members of your community.

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 edition of PETS+.