Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne reviews his results from Black Friday weekend.

After last year's flop of a Black Friday promotion and skipping Small Business Saturday, we decided to give both another go.  This year, with some tweaks, we did five times as much business during our Black Friday sale as we did last year.  I am still not particularly excited about Small Business Saturday and will get into that later.

First , this year we made our Black Friday sale an invitation sale.  Staff members received invitations to hand out to all and sundry inviting them to the sale between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Friday morning.  Staffers initialed each invitation they handed out and could make as many copies as they wanted.  The staff member with the most invitations returned during the sale won a $25 store gift certificate.  We also handed out invitations at the store to those customers whom we felt would be interested.  The invitations announced the sale, which was 10% off everything in-stock in the store and a table of 50% off items, along with bagels and juice.  We strongly encouraged customers to bring in the invitations with them so we could track for the $25 certificate, but certainly let anyone come in and take advantage of the sale who wanted to do so.  The advantage to the invitation holders was that they already knew about the sale as opposed to those who just happened to come in.

We also decided not to ape the mass market stores and chose to open at 8 a.m., rather than before dawn as we did last year.  Last year, we had a few sales during the first hour or so, then about 3 hours of standing around dusting and straightening as no-body came in for the next three hours.  This year, we figured customers would would be up and out shopping at that hour were out taking advantage of cheap televisions, sweater sets and cell phones but would come by the store after they had picked over all the deals as the mass market retailers, so we opened at a more reasonable hour and had three cars of people waiting for us when we opened the doors.

The half price item table once again proved less than desirable as we only sold 3-4 items off it.  Apparently, if our customers don't want the game or graphic novel at full price, they also don't want it at half price, even to use as a gift.  Even the HeroClix bricks and Pathfinder miniatures displays didn't move at 50% off.  However, the general 10% off on everything else did work to generate sales as the average sale per customer was triple that of a sale on a normal day with an 85% customer conversion rate.  We ended the day having done about 2.5 times the sales we ring through on a normal Friday.

Small Business Saturday was much less satisfactory than Black Friday.  Our sales were actually somewhat less than a typical Saturday, which I attribute to Thanksgiving break and a number of our customers from the University gone for the weekend.  It was certainly beneficial for AmEx, the main promoter of SBS as our average daily AmEx sales total is zero and we had three that Saturday.  While I appreciate SBS and certainly will participate next year, putting it on the busiest shopping weekend of the year dilutes its impact and makes it hard to measure how much of an effect it has.  Are customers coming into the store because of SBS or as a carryover from the shopping frenzy of Black Friday?  Moving SBS to a different weekend would allow a
more accurate gauge of the effects of the promotion.  As it is, unless we take the time to survey our customers, we really can't tell if the non-AmEx wielding ones came in because of Small Business Saturday or not.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflct the views of the editorial staff of