This weekend I stopped in to our local dollar store. I had made some candies with my family for holiday gifts, and wanted to pick up some festive tins to put them in. When I reached the checkout, the owner was there. Just making conversation, I asked him if the store had been crazy busy over the holiday weekend. “No,” he told me. “It’s been really slow.” In fact, he was on his way to a meeting with the other small business owners in the shopping strip his store is located within, to discuss what they could do to help things pick up. “We can’t have another season like this,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
The look in his eyes as he spoke quietly broke my heart. Maybe it’s because I lost a business myself in this economy. (I was one of the fortunate ones in that I was able to reinvent quickly, and had people who lent a helping hand that saved us.) But this conversation really hit home for me, and I can’t get it out of my head.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. And yet so often when it comes to shopping, we think of the big box store first. Now sure, it’s up to small businesses to advertise in such a way that you do think of them. But when business gets tough, advertising dollars shrink, and it can be very hard to make an impact with a small budget.
And that means small businesses need to get creative. Here are some inexpensive ways your small business might be able to increase sales:
- Partner with local youth groups and community organizations that are holding holiday babysitting fundraisers (the teens watch the kids from their community and allow the parents to go out and get holiday shopping done.) Offer to promote the event for the group, and provide coupons for all the parents that take advantage of the babysitting offer, good for that night only.
- Use Facebook. Too many small businesses neglect Facebook to their detriment. This weekend I went shopping at a new Fair Trade store that opened in my town (and bought a beautiful wall hanging for my home.) How did I know it had opened? Some of my friends and local realtors had posted about it on Facebook. I went to the store’s Facebook Page and looked through the photo albums they had of some of their products. I had my eye on that wall hanging long before the doors actually opened. And when I went into the store, I couldn’t resist. (I went home and told hubby he’d purchased an early birthday present for me!) The local Irish pub in my town posts about the nightly entertainment, fun stuff going on, etc. If you’re thinking about where to go for dinner, his little reminders at just the right time may be just the thing you need to choose his place of business.
- Teach. Offer free workshops throughout the holidays in your place of business. The dollar store owner could host a workshop on how to decorate beautiful gift packages or create holiday centerpieces using his products. A jewelry store could host a clinic on how to layer jewelry, or choose a diamond. Stationery sellers could hold a hands-on workshop on creative holiday cards. Coffee shops and restaurants can provide dessert or drink-making classes. No matter what your product line, you can teach people how to use your products. And since your customers are already in your shop, they’ll probably buy the supplies to make more at home from you.
It’s also important for people to support their local small businesses. When you’re thinking about running to your local big box store for something, ask yourself if a small business in your area offers the same product. Even if it’s a couple pennies more, by shopping at a local business, you get more personalized attention, and you help rebuild your local economy. And that’s good for everybody.
Ask yourself: What would your town be like if there were no small businesses there? Because if you don’t support your local businesses, there won’t be any. That’s a fact.
What ideas do you have to offer to local businesses in your area? What can they do to get the word out, and stay afloat? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.