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November 29 is this year’s Small Business Saturday.  Before considering your American Express issues, be reminded, your customers do not know the difference between Small Business Saturday and Shop Local Campaigns.  They see the two as interchangeable.  If you have done nothing to educate them on the difference, capitalize on the “free” advertising coming your way and build your own Shop Local plan.

You are a local independent business even if you do not now and never have accepted American Express.  You bring much to your community and it's more than just the merchandise you sell.  You bring an occupied store front, jobs, safety, education and revenue for the city as well as people to patronize other local businesses.  You are a valuable asset to your community.

As for November 29, 2014, yes, it is an “use your American Express Card” day.  But, if you start now, or if you started during a previous SBS “holiday”, this can be the year to promote local independent businesses—like yours!  Remember, independent does not mean isolated.  No man, or store, is an island.  So join with some other local, independent businesses and promote each other to build your business.

I recently read an email campaign from one of our clients.  I noticed that this client included a list of other local businesses at the end of each email from her store.  When I checked, I found the same list at the end of a partner store.  They had doubled the bang in their buck.  The list included some 15 – 20 locally owned, independent businesses.  If they are all promoting each other, everyone is getting maximum benefit.  I thought this was a good idea and a great way to get endorsements for your store.

Another local business I discovered never does anything “special” on SBS, but they do have special events earlier in November for their customers.  They serve as a drop site for canned foods during the holidays.  In addition to the food drive at various times throughout the year, they also celebrate some miscellaneous “store holidays” such as the arrival of spring, celebrated this year on March 21 and 22 and National Chocolate Day celebrated on October 28 last year with special displays and a free piece of chocolate candy.

The common thread is that both stores found something that worked for them and customized it into a fun-filled experience for their customers.  Their plans are not carved in stone but change according to opportunities.  On November 29th, you have also been offered an opportunity to promote your business.  If you don’t already have a plan in mind, use Small Business Saturday to promote your local store..

The following is a list of ideas that I have harvested from the web.  Pick some and try.  If it works, great!  If not, pick something else.  Something will work.  You can grow your business.  You can get new committed customers loyal to your brand.

Tip 1:  Keep your web site current.  If your hours or days of service change during the holidays, that should show up on your web site.  The most requested information your customers want to see on your web site is days and hours of operation, contact information, location, parking availability, merchandise and pricing.  You probably do not want to list everything in your inventory, but at least give them an idea of what you carry.

Tip 2:  Use social media and email to reach your customers for sales and promotions.  Many stores now used Facebook and permit the store’s “friends” to shop sales a day early, which many customers consider a big plus in this budget-conscious society.  Also, use social media to notify your customers when new merchandise arrives.  Just a digital photo quickly uploaded and titled is all you need.  Don’t forget the title—it’s important.

Tip 3:  Occasionally go for being noticed by calling attention to your store.  Send a pre-printed postcard to inform of a special event or a pre-printed invitation to a trunk show or some other store event or celebration.

Tip 4:  Make sure that your store and all of your staff appreciate the customers. No one wants to shop in a store where they feel that the sales staff if thinking, “Oh no, not another customer!”  Point out that if the customers don’t come, you won’t need anyone to fold shirts, straighten racks or re-hang clothes.  Your staff needs to be happy to see each customer who comes in!  Let’s face it.  No customer wants to go back to a store that sees them as unwelcome intrusions to a perfectly clean and peaceful store.

Tip 5:  Think about the relationships between the sales staff and the customers.  If a member of your sales staff has little tolerance for the constantly tweeting 19-year-old, and your store caters to the 18-25 year olds, you have the wrong sales person.

Tip 6:  Try promoting a local charity.  You will have to drop off collected items and sometimes it will be inconvenient.  However, as a local business you are about community so build your reputation as someone who helps the community.

The point in this list of tips is that retailers made what was available fit their needs.  Henry Van Dyke, an American author, educator, and clergyman, said it best, “Some succeed because they are destined to, but most succeed because they are determined to.” Be determined to make your store better this year.  Make it the best it can be.  Start small and build.  If you hit on something that doesn’t work, either tweak it and try again or try something different.  The goal is to build your business.

In 74 days, those that live closest to you, those that know you best, will be turning their eyes toward local businesses.  Make it a day of positive memories.  Meet some people. Make some new friends.  Don’t let this opportunity just pass you by.

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