Thinking Like a Retail Store, Part 1 — The Silent Auction

This two-part series helps you maximize your revenue and create a memorable experience for your guests by approaching your gala event as if it was a pop-up retail store. This first article focuses on the silent auction. Part 2 will focus on the live auction. All of this information and more comes from our highly informative webinar, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Auction Profits.

Silent Auction

When you plan your gala event, what you are really doing is creating a one-night-only storefront. You only have these customers in your store for one night each year, so you want to be strategic about what you put on your “shelves” (your auction items) and the ambiance you create.

So how do you design an enticing retail store? Create an atmosphere of awe and wonder. Remember going to the department store as a kid at Christmas and seeing all the wonderful things you could dream about? That’s the atmosphere you want to create. You want items that appeal to your audience, cater to their interests and inspire them to think “Oh, I really want that one!” Avoid the “yard sale” mentality—this isn’t the time for bargain items. You don’t want people in the mindset of haggling over prices to get the best deal. You want them competing with each other to buy the most enticing treasures.

As you prepare your silent auction, here are some key concepts to keep in mind.

Less Can Be More… Items

When you create a scarcity of supply, you generate an increased demand. Set up your silent auction with fewer items of higher perceived value and you’ll drive up bidding and generate more revenue. A good rule of thumb is half as many items as buying units (wallets). A couple generally purchases together, so they constitute one buying unit. You can essentially split your guest list in half to find the number of buying units. Let’s say you have 400 attendees for your gala event. Half of that is 200 buying units. Take half again and you get the number of items for your silent auction: 100. This shortage of supply increases competition, encouraging people to bid more on each item. You’ll generate more revenue for the effort you put into it.

Less Can Be More… Time

Less can be more also works in terms of time. The silent auction is by far the most time-consuming part of the event to set up. By freeing up some of this time, you can focus on procuring higher quality items that will generate more revenue for you.

Less Can Be More… Space

Space is an important factor in creating a successful event. With fewer silent auction items you have more space, which helps your guests feel relaxed and comfortable and they’ll be willing to spend more. In setting up your silent auction tables, allow plenty of space for people to circulate and view the items. If you are setting up parallel tables, follow the “two-butt rule”—enough space for people to face in opposite directions and lean over and look at the items without bumping butts.

Combine Items into Packages

One way to create items of higher perceived value is to combine them into themed packages that offer a unique experience. People will spend more money on these packages than they will for the individual items themselves. Create a mix of products and services that people wouldn’t put together on their own and the package becomes more than the sum of its parts. Add convenience and creative flair and you’ve created something really special. For instance, a date night package could include:

  • Limousine service.
  • Dinner for two at a posh restaurant.
  • $200 for clothes at a high-end department store so they can select the perfect outfit.
  • A babysitter for the children.
  • Popcorn and a board game for the children.

Repurpose the Extras

What do you do if you have more donated items than will fit into your new stream-lined silent auction? First and foremost, be sure to contact the donors early and thank them sincerely for their donation. Let them know the item won’t be in the silent auction, but you’ve found the perfect way to use it to generate revenue and support your cause. These strategies can include:

  • Hold a small fundraiser in the summer.
  • Create an off-season online bidding event.
  • Hold a raffle.
  • Use the items as incentives for your volunteers.
  • Hold an online fire sale after the gala event is over.

If you are strategic about your event and think of it as a magical retail store that appears just one night a year, you can create an experience your guests will remember. With fewer, high quality items catered to your audience, you’ll create an atmosphere of friendly competition that will drive up bidding and generate more revenue for your cause.

If you have more ideas about how to make your silent auction more effective, please share them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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