How to get customers to shop local

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7 ways to increase sales in your company on Small Business Saturday — and every day

Katie Funk, events planner for the Historic Valley Junction Foundation, hands Kay Schiller, co-owner of MoMere gift shop, “Shop Small” totes to give her to her customers on Small Business Saturday.

Kay Schiller describes Small Business Saturday as the Super Bowl of the shopping season for her Valley Junction gift store. “It’s probably the biggest day of the year for us,” she says.

That’s why Schiller and her daughter, Meredith Wells, who have operated MoMere for four years, spent weeks gearing up for the day:
stocking merchandise and gift items, promoting the day through social media posts, planning extra special treats and promotions for shoppers, and creating well-thought-out window displays.

Schiller grew up in small-town South Dakota, where Main Street was the central shopping hub. She remembers the decorated shop
windows, the lights and the holiday music — all of the little details that independent retailers added to make it a special place during the holidays.

“That’s what people get from Valley Junction,” Schiller says. “It’s a small town in a big city.”

The National Federation of Independent Business and American Express sponsor the annual Small Business Saturday shopping day, which began in 2010, to highlight the importance of shopping at small businesses and to showcase the fact that shopping local keeps money within the community and encourages economic growth. Small businesses make up close to 99 percent of all U.S. employers and provide 58 million jobs, NFIB reports.

There’s more to Small Business Saturday than just posting a “Shop Local” sign in the window and wanting customers to walk in the door, business groups and owners say. Here are seven tips to help you prepare for the day and to get the most out of it for your business.

1. Entice the customer

People love to shop. They love a deal even more, and they will be overwhelmed with marketing ploys and advertisements during the holiday season.

Small Business Saturday in 2016 was more successful than in previous years with an estimated 112 million shoppers participating.
This was a 13 percent increase from 2015, according to the NFIB, a national organization that promotes and supports small and
independent businesses. NFBI’s survey also found that shoppers participated in community events, and 81 percent had encouraged a friend or family member to shop or dine at a small business with them.

Business leaders recommend all small businesses, especially those that sell products or services, participate in Small Business Saturday.

Start promoting your business as soon as possible during the holiday season, Entrepreneur recommends. Some large retailers even start holiday sales at the beginning of November.

Be deliberate about what information you share with customers, Entrepreneur recommends. Rather than a typical generic sale advertisement, give specific examples of what’s on sale or suggestions for products and services that can be used as gifts. Also, don’t underestimate the visual appearance of your store. A beautifully decorated storefront also can entice customers who might
otherwise walk by, business owners say.

MoMere is located on a corner in Valley Junction, so the shop has windows on two sides. Schiller says she and Wells take care to decorate their windows with a fun and whimsical theme each month so patrons and passers-by will wonder what the next one will be.

“Window displays are really important for us and how we showcase our products,” she says.

Business owners also can plan an event for the day and include children’s activities, music, entertainment, free food and drinks, and
giveaways.

Schiller and Wells will have a hot cocoa bar for shoppers, as well as bag stuffers. They’re also using in-store prize registration as a tool to bring more shoppers through the doors.

Geoff and Anne Warmouth traditionally offer coffee, cookies and other breakfast items during their Small Business Saturday sales at
Waukee Hardware. The family-owned business is closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, so it relies on Small Business Saturday to kick off holiday sales.

2. Work with others

Anne and Geoff Warmouth try to compete with online sales and big box retailers by offering online orders through their product catalogs and free shipping to the store.

Business owners have more success when they join together for an effort or seek help.

Chambers of commerce throughout the country support Small Business Saturday, as they do in West Des Moines and Waukee.

“We’re reminding consumers when they’re done with their Black Friday big-box shopping excursions to save some time and money to invest in local retailers,” says Carole Chambers, president and chief executive officer of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this month, the chamber began a promotional video project where small business owners were interviewed about their business and the importance of Small Business Saturday to them. Thevideos were sent to chamber members and posted to
the chamber website to promote the shopping day.

Chamber leaders also recommend businesses work with each other, ask their chamber to promote their event, use social media to announce events and show products, advertise in various media, and update their website to include all special deals and offers, and the business’ hours and contact information.

Entrepreneur recommends businesses that offer complementary services team up and seek to develop relationships with other businesses in order to increase their client base through recommendations and referrals. Ideas include a “passport” card that
customers get stamped at participating businesses for discounts or a prize.

The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends businesses partner with each other and post signs in their stores that promote other stores and restaurants in the area.

“Working together collectively in a region or a geographic location really does make sense as does coordinating some of that social media to spur interest with consumers in your own neck of the woods,” Chambers says.

The Historic Valley Junction Foundation helps lure customers to the shopping district with free shopping bags filled with coupons, prizes, gift certificates and more that are for use only on Small Business Saturday. The first 500 shoppers to stop — starting at 10 a.m. at Historic City Hall, 137 FifthSt. — receive the bag. Only 400 bags were given out last year, and they were gone by noon, says Katie Funk, events coordinator for the foundation.

“We open our doors at 10 a.m., and there’s always a line of people waiting outside,” she says. The foundation does a lot of the advertising and promotion of Small Business Saturday for its merchants. Earlier this month, Funk delivered “Shop Small” materials to some business owners to give to customers on Small Business Saturday.

3. Ensure your business, employees are prepared

Sara Jacobson, owner of Fusion Boutique in West Des Moines, prepares a custom outfit for a customer as part of one of the specialized shopping services she offers through her business.

It may seem like an obvious thing, but know who your ideal client is, where they’re coming from and how they like to shop. This will tie into everything you do: from your store displays or product demonstrations to your marketing efforts, according to American Express. If a customer primarily shops online through your website, digitally share with them promotions and discounts. If they have a
birthday or special event coming up, suggest a gift idea that would work for the occasion.

At MoMere, Schiller has ensured the store is fully stocked and will have extra help to operate the cash register and retrieve items to replenish displays, so she and Wells can answer customers’ questions and provide them with assistance.

“We always say: ‘Have enough staff,’” Funk says. “If you don’t, you can’t provide good customer service. Be prepared. This is the day for small businesses to shine.”

Sara Jacobson, the owner of Fusion Boutique in West Des Moines, double-checks her inventory and orders her most popular items for Small Business Saturday. She takes time to decorate her store for Christmas beforehand and set up displays that are aesthetically pleasing and look as though there is a wide range of items from which to select and shop.

Part of preparing for the day is knowing and recognizing a business’ competitors.

Jacobson says she receives some competition for shopping small, but that most of her competition is with other local boutiques that sell similar items and online boutiques that can be found through Facebook and don’t have actual storefronts.

Employees and the business owner should know all of the ins and outs about their products and services. This goes a long way with customers, and it adds to the credibility of your business and can set you apart from the big-box employee who may only be working to pick up extra cash during the holidays.

“It’s a time of year where most retailers do a preponderance of their business. Make sure the store is clean and staff is friendly and outgoing and helpful. There’s nothing worse than being turned off by a staff member who gives unfriendly or uncaring advice,” Chambers says, adding that business owners need to motivate their staff and give them extra support during the hectic shopping
season.

Be prepared to answer any questions but also to initiate conversations with customers about what they are seeking, American Express recommends.

If you sell products or show them online, make sure your website is up to date and that special promotions are visible, according to Entrepreneur. To cater to shoppers — many of whom only shop online — ensure your website is fast, compatible for mobile device use, and that transactions are processed quickly, easily and securely both in store and online.

The ability for customers to shop online has played a role in the fact that Waukee Hardware doesn’t have as many items on hand for customers. This prevents over-ordering and being stuck with excess merchandise, Geoff Warmouth says.

“Everyone is used to ordering online, so if people come in and don’t see what they want, they can look through the online catalog, and I can order it and have it within a few days,” he says.

4. Focus on what you do best

Customer service should be at the top of the list for any business. Aim to give your business a niche that makes the in-store shopping experience different than other businesses, Entrepreneur recommends.

If beautiful gift wrap is a specialty of your shop, highlight that on Small Business Saturday. Utilize what sets your business apart from others to plant a seed in the customer’s mind, so they automatically think of your business when they need a specific item.

At MoMere, all purchases, even those that aren’t for gifts, receive tissue and special attention so they look “bright and cheery” for the customer, Schiller says.

Schiller and Wells also continually analyze their inventory and how they showcase their products to fit their customers. They focus on their niche: contemporary gifts with an industrial chic, which sets them apart from many other stores in an area known for antiques
and repurposed items.

Small businesses can often connect with their customers and give them individualized attention that larger retailers can’t or don’t take the time to do. They can create gift guides for shoppers, suggest ideas and give customers tips on how to use their products.

“Our biggest competitor is online sales, but more and more people are wanting to come in and touch and see items,” Schiller says. “We have great soaps, and you can’t smell that online.”

Jacobson is expanding the online portion of her business, which is where customers can sign up for a service that puts together custom outfits for them. She’s added an enhanced customer service component where she spends additional time with them to ensure they receive outfits and accessories that they wouldn’t find elsewhere.

5. Do your part to boost business

Small Business Saturday is promoted through social media and traditional media. This year, Small Business Saturday will be Nov. 25.

Business owners who are interested in participating can sign up for and receive free promotional marketing materials that they can
customize, or they can use the standard “Shop Small” materials through American Express’ website: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/ small-business/shop-small/.

Many local chambers of commerce also have requested the “Shop Small” swag and will provide it to members.

Make sure customers and prospective customers know you’re participating in Small Business Saturday and what sales you may be
offering. This could include social media posts, advertisements in local print publications, or printing your own postcards and disseminating them to customers as they come into the store ahead of the event or to people as you meet them out and about.

The Warmouths will draw customers into the store with the “crazy coupon,” which will be given out on specific days between now and February. Customers can use the coupon to pay only $20 above cost for big-ticket items.

Chambers suggests store owners use social media platforms to share information about new products or events that will happen within their store.

“Create energy and momentum around everything you’re doing,” she says.

Businesses that are participating in Small Business Saturday can highlight special offers or discounts and use the hashtags #SmallBizSat or #ShopSmall on Twitter and Instagram.

The SBA’s website: www.sba.gov includes more tips for how business owners can use the holiday season to market their business and what to do to prepare for Small Business Saturday. Other ideas include a customer photo booth within the store with Santa or another character, where shoppers can take their picture and post it to social media to promote the store, or posting live video throughout the day of the shopping experience and gift ideas or services that are available at the store. SBA also suggests inviting
local media to the store with a business or news story idea that can be tied to your business and the shopping day.

Jacobson, the owner of Fusion Boutique, plans to advertise on local radio stations and print publications. She also uses social media outlets Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as email and text message blasts to customers to remind them of Small Business Saturday. She’ll print out fliers to use as bag stuffers leading up to the shopping day to share information about her store’s specials and sales.

6. Promote your philanthropic, community connection

Business owners can use the day to educate their customers about how their purchase will benefit the local community.

For every $100 spent at a local business, $68 will stay in the town versus $43 when shopping at a national chain, SBA reports. Some communities have local-option sales taxes, and that money is collected and returned to the city or county government, which can then put it toward public safety, parks and recreation, and other ways to boost the budget.

Small businesses also generate two out of every three new jobs, according to SBA. An SBA survey reports that 66 percent of consumers say they shop at small businesses because of their contributions to the community.

Warmouth says that he donates to girls’ softball, pays his taxes, purchases flowers for his wife at the local flower shop, and gets his hair cut in the community.

Because of this, SBA recommends businesses highlight their philanthropic efforts on Small Business Saturday with a fundraising drive for a local charity or cause by collecting items or donating a portion of proceeds to a specific effort.

7. Turn this into a year-round effort

Small Business Saturday should only be a small part of an overall marketing effort, business leaders say.

It’s important for business owners to take the time to promote their business year-round, particularly during times when they might not be as busy with sales.

Keep the connection going with customers once you lure them in. Have them sign up for an email list or a monthly newsletter. Encourage them to do so by offering a prize and ask for their email address on the entry form. Give them cards with your website or social media information. Entice them to return again, business experts recommend.

Jacobson, the owner of Fusion Boutique, gives customers the option of signing up for a VIP text club in order to receive updates about special offers and discounts.

“I make sure I thank customers who shop with me,” she says. “There’s a lot of competition. I think it’s important to show your customers that you value them. You want to make the interaction with the person, so they leave having a positive experience. I want them to tell their friends and come back.”

And don’t forget about other large shopping days of the year. Black Friday and Cyber Monday also are opportunities for small business owners to promote their business and make connections with their customers, Entrepreneur says. ♦

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