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

Vendors at Art Happy in Grimes and a Christmas display they made in preparation for Small Business Saturday. Pictured from left are: Micki Heckathorn, Amy Smith and Jane Foreman.

Jane Foreman wants to get as many customers into her handcrafted-items store on Small Business Saturday as possible. She knows the weekend after Thanksgiving is a prime time for shoppers to begin their holiday gift-buying.

She started a marketing campaign; printed informational postcards to deliver to customers; recruited others to help her spread
information via word-of-mouth; determined what her product specials will be for the day; and created holiday displays with her fellow
crafting vendors at Art Happy that are full of a variety of gift ideas.

“The key is to be ready for customers who really, truly want to buy local,” says Foreman, who operates Art Happy in Grimes, a gift
shop with custom, handmade items, all from local vendors. The shop successfully participated in Small Business Saturday last year for the first time.

“It’s a matter of telling people about it,” she says of the shopping day. “We’ve had a pretty good success rate. That day is usually pretty busy.”

But what’s even more important to Foreman is that these customers continue to support her small business and return time and time again.

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 that 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

Tiffany Menke, president of the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce

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 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.

“It’s just another way for them to prepare themselves and get people to think small when they’re doing their holiday shopping,” says Tiffany Menke, president of the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce.

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.

“Start early. Don’t think this is something you can decide on the Wednesday before that you’re going to participate in,” says Brian Buethe, president and chief executive officer of the Grimes Chamber of Commerce. “In order to take full advantage, you need
to use this as a marketing campaign.”

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.

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

2. Work with others

Brian Buethe, president and chief executive officer of the Grimes Chamber of Commerce

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

“They should reach out to their local chamber  or economic development department to connect with other companies,” says Kelsey Clark, executive director of the Johnston Chamber of Commerce. “There is strength in numbers.”

She also recommends 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, as well as the
business’ hours and contact information.

“Utilize all of the outlets that you have,” Clark says. “Make sure you’re savvy about taking advantage of that.”

The Grimes Chamber tries to educate business owners about the benefits of events such as Small Business Saturday and using them to help bring in customers and drive up sales, Buethe says. The Chamber plans to have a more organized effort for the shopping day in 2018.

“This year it’s been more of a public relations thing to let people know what’s going on and to support a message the we preach continuously: ‘It’s important to not only know small businesses exist but to patronize them,’ ” he says.

Entrepreneur recommends businesses that offer complementary services team up and 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.

That’s what Paula Bierle, owner of women’s clothing boutique Purple Poppy, and her neighboring businesses plan to do within their
Johnston strip mall on Small Business Saturday.

3. Ensure your business, and your employees, are prepared

Kelsey Clark, executive director of the Johnston Chamber of Commerce, shows off some of the “Shop Small” swag local businesses can obtain for free either from the chamber or American Express as part of Small Business Saturday.

It may seem like an obvious thing, but know who your ideal clients are, 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 the same time, a business also needs to know and recognize its competitors. For many retailers, this is the online shopping
giant Amazon, says Buethe with the Grimes chamber. The suburb also loses a lot of retail customers to businesses in other areas of Des Moines.

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.

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 online shoppers, ensure your website is fast, compatible for mobile device use, and that transactions are
processed quickly, easily and securely — both in store and online.

“There’s a lot of push right now to get businesses online and selling products online because we know that shoppers aren’t just
using the brick-and-mortar businesses,” Menke says. “Their shopping habits have changed, and they’re doing a lot more of their
shopping online.”

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 your customers’ minds so they automatically think of your business when they are ready to buy.

“Of course, we want more sales,” says Sandy Taylor, the owner of Plaza Florist & Gifts in Urbandale. “But I want to stay upmost in their minds, so when they need something, we can find it, and they didn’t go online to purchase it.”

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 in person and give customers ideas for how to use their products.

Taylor says her employees are knowledgeable about flowers and can suggest arrangements and other items that better fit the customer’s needs than an online shop, where the salesperson won’t physically see the customer.

Art Happy will offer its gift-wrapping services for free on Small Business Saturday, as well as offer refreshments and prize drawings to
entice customers.

Bierle says her shop will highlight its customer service and friendly environment where customers are known by name and they receive individualized help finding clothing items.

“We try to be their personal stylist and put together outfits for them,” she says.

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 use the standard “Shop Small” materials through American Express’ website:

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

“We try to give them all of the tools we can in order for them to participate in Small Business Saturday,” Menke says.

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.

“Put signs up or use social media ahead of time, so customers know,” Buethe with the Grimes chamber says. “Then wrap actual
promotions around the event.”

Art Happy’s vendors have been passing out postcards about their day not only to attract customers on Small Business Saturday
but to inform people about the business.

“We do a little bit of advertising, but we can’t afford to do a lot,” Foreman says. “Our biggest problem is awareness. Because once
people come in, they fall in love with us.”

Plaza Florist & Gifts will create a promotional Facebook video that features items in the showroom that are holiday decorations or could be used as gifts, Taylor, the owner, says.

“We do whatever we can do to get our name out in the community so they know about us,” 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,, 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, 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.

6. Promote your philanthropic and community connections

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 use it toward public safety, parks and recreation, and other ways to boost the budget.

Small businesses also generate two out of every three net 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.

“When you buy an item from somebody in this shop, the money goes back to (grocery stores) to feed their family or somewhere for
clothing,” Foreman says. “We all re-invest in our community. You’re directly impacting families and people who are feeding their
families with the money you spend or paying college tuition.”

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.

Art Happy will collect money for the local food pantry on Small Business Saturday.

7. Turn this into a year-round effort

Small Business Saturday should only be a small part of an overall marketing effort, Menke says.

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, she says.

Foreman says the vendors at Art Happy conduct free craft activities at the Grimes Public Library throughout the year to help
advertise their business to new customers.

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.

Bierle, the owner of Purple Poppy, will give customers a coupon for later use in hopes they return or give it to a friend.

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. ♦

  1. superbeets

    Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images on this blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any responses would be greatly appreciated.|

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