A great Santa parade, but was it successful?

Posted 12.09.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Who came to see Santa during the recent parade in Aylmer? Tens of thousands, apparently! And although it is difficult to figure out how the organizers come up with attendance numbers, it is clear that the parade attracts thousands. Are they all from Aylmer, or are there plenty from across Gatineau? Visitors from the Pontiac? From Chelsea, Wakefield, from Ottawa?

Aylmer's public events are always well organized, and popular. Yesteryear's festivities, Outaouais en fete, the old Aylmer auto show, and many more, all attract a lot of people and catch a lot of attention in the media and by local businesses. The tag-line for the businesspeople is: More shoppers coming to Aylmer, yippee!

The business association, APICA, the city itself, large retailers like Galeries Aylmer, and other organizations all contribute money and volunteers to promote, organize, and staff these celebrations. All in the hopes that the events will generate increased business for our retailers, besides providing fun for Aylmer's residents.

But is this true? Do these events bring measurable business to our shops and stores -- who, in turn, support so much of our community's social, sports, and cultural life? The answer isn't as clear as the organizers claim.

For example, if one of several purposes is to stimulate shopping locally, are the events themselves designed to achieve that end? No.

If shop-local is a goal, is the advertising across the city and region done in a way to convince people to come early or stay later to visit some of our stores? No.

Do the local malls and shops get together for a major sale or promotional event at the same time -- say, a "Santa discount" for the night of the parade, or "Santa bucks", redeemable at the shops, or are flash mobs created to help specific stores? No. (Except for this cheery newspaper which does undertake advertising-in-common.)

So how are the organizers and politicians counting their success? Brute numbers? Or are there post-event surveys of businesses? No.

Are there on-the-street interviews to discover visitors' intentions? No.

If business is a goal, these last two would be important features of the event planning -- anyone seen them? It seems event organizers assume that a lot of people lining the street, watching a band at the parc des Cedres, or taking a buggy ride on Principale, automatically means more business for our shops and restaurants. True? No.

Our own informal surveys say this doesn't work. Most visitors remain unaware of the shops, restaurants, bistros, and services here. None are mentioned in advertising! The expensive ads in the big media don't invite visitors to come early and check out the sales or the Christmas menus at local eateries. Advertising does not target the actual source areas of most visitors.

If local retail is our community's only economy, shouldn't these slightly more subtle considerations be considered? Shouldn't every event requesting city or APICA support include a local-business component? Doesn't this seem natural?


Copyright © 2013 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/12.13