- Associated Press - Saturday, March 14, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Richmond restaurant owner Jake Crocker is telling business owners they will be able to cash in on this year’s UCI Road World Championships if they are ready.

“We can sit here and talk about it, but we’ve never had an event of this magnitude drop into Richmond. We just haven’t,” Crocker said Wednesday.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the VCU Brandcenter, Crocker said the international cycling competition coming in September gives businesses the ability to reach new customers but that they must remain cognizant of their existing customer base.

Walking this fine line was a major point of conversation Wednesday morning at an event geared toward helping businesses ahead of the world championships this year.

The competition is expected to draw 450,000 spectators, both local and from around the world, over nine days in September. An estimated 300 million are expected to watch on television.

Wednesday’s discussion, put on by Richmond 2015, the race organizers, was a way to help locals fine-tune their message so that they can capitalize on the world championships.

Panelists told about 100 attendees to find ways to incorporate the event into their businesses as a way of showing visitors they are bike-friendly, and to begin letting travelers coming for the racing know about their services.

One key point panelists made was that just because a business is not near the race course does not mean it cannot capitalize on the world championships.

Out-of-towners will wander around the metro area looking for places to shop and eat when the racing is done, said Lee Kallman, vice president of marketing and business development at Richmond 2015.

Travis Jones, a strategic planner for The Martin Agency, advised using social media to help create word of mouth to attract customers.

He told business owners to find ways to reward shoppers who share Facebook posts or who check in on Foursquare. The idea, he said, is to get people into stores and then get them talking about their experience.

Jones recommends that business owners start to think now about their goals for the Worlds and to begin putting their plans together.

A key part of the planning, he told about 100 attendees, should be making sure they have a strong mobile presence.

“We’re going to have a half-million people here, and 90 percent of them are going to be on their mobile phones, taking pictures, sharing social content,” he said.

Just as important as getting new customers in the door is making sure current customers are taken care of, panelists said.

“In my mind, we have three types of visitors coming: we have our global visitor, we have our local visitors, coming from Fredericksburg and Charlottesville, and we have our core Richmondites,” said Nancy Thomas, president and CEO of the Retail Merchants Association.

“As store owners … we have to think about all three of them. Don’t think of it as, ‘Oh, they’re going to be here for nine days, then they’re leaving.’ We need to delight, and we need to make sure they have a great experience whether it’s a hometown fan or a visitor.”

Thomas told the audience to begin looking at the courses and making sure their regular customers are aware of how the racing is going to affect the business.

The worst that can happen, she and the others said, is that regular customers do not know what’s going on and are caught by surprise.

“I can’t impress on you enough that you start thinking about this now. It’s really up to us to communicate this to our customer base,” Thomas said.

“What you don’t want to happen is the race comes and your customers start calling you or emailing you or posting things on Facebook (saying) that they didn’t know.”

Crocker, who owns three local restaurants and a market, said that if a business is properly prepared and smart, the Worlds is an opportunity regardless of the business’s focus.

For him, the key is staying true to regulars and giving them a reason to come out while appealing to visitors.

“When you go to a city, you want an authentic experience,” he said


Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, https://www.timesdispatch.com

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