Travelling in China last year - and determined to taste all new foods possible - there were many occasions that we queued at popular food and drink stores, sometimes for up to an hour. At the time I assumed that, being megacities in China, that was just the norm for popular outlets. A few months later, when working on a business plan for a new drinks store opening in Australia, I realised that there is a deliberate strategy behind this. Creating queues is clever marketing that residents of our bigger cities could have easily overlooked, but is a very effective strategy that has been quietly building in popularity.

Now that I am onto the queuing strategy, I notice it everywhere. When Hokkaido Cheese Tart opened, there was a rope, crowd control and door bitch. Saint Dreux recently opened a katsu sandwich store in Melbourne with queues of up to an hour, even on the weekend. New dessert stores, tea shops, Pandora, Gucci, Zara and H&M have had queues around the block.

Can you use this strategy in your business? In a time of dropping retail sales, it shows that imagination and management of attention for maximum return can really work.

As consumers, we take cues from those around us of what we should be interested in. Crowds congregating around a particular event grab the attention of those passing by. Fear of missing out becomes a driver, pushing even more attention. The attention feeds on itself, creating even more attention.

So what can you do for your small business? Retail, cafes, restaurants, food and beverages are great businesses to utilise this strategy. I have been to pop up sales in far locations that sold out in a few hours, with queues out the door. It all starts with building the hype through marketing and social media. Have a launch, free offers, opening or seasonal specials that get interest piqued at a specific time, especially at opening. If it’s a special event, keep it to a defined time period to create a sense of urgency. Pop-ups, flash sales, special guest chefs or similar ideas can be pushed through your marketing and socials. Once you get the attention, make the most of it: manage the crowd for effect (with queues outside), branded packaging and offers for customers sharing the event.

Queues are great for attention, but be careful how far you push it. Not everyone wants to wait, and it can easily become a deterrent if you have to wait for an hour every time just to buy a drink. The attention doesn’t last either, so use it sparingly, skilfully and carefully. Finally, make sure your products and experience are worth queuing for. At one of the queues in Shanghai, a passer-by pointed out in mandarin (translated by my travel companion) “I don’t know why they are queuing, it’s not even nice!”

By: Dr. Warren Harmer