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In August of 2016, Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) was awarded a USDA Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) to provide technical assistance to rural communities in Southeast Missouri.  When writing the grant, we looked for an area of Missouri without widespread participation in Main Street by the local communities to focus our efforts. While we have and currently work with communities in the southeast region, our goal was to expand this effort by strengthening relationships with community partners in the Southeast Region.

 

Using the grant we worked with many communities on various issues and projects they were facing in order to help them move forward in their revitalization work. Communities in the southeast region received a variety of services and trainings that were all tailored to the individual community’s need and their experience with implementing the Main Street Four-Point Approach®. These services included town halls to gather public input and support, introduce the Main Street philosophy to the community as well as utilizing the help of consultants to guide the communities in the next steps for their Main Street organizations. Consultants were brought in to provide information and ideas for business recruitment, façade and streetscape design and what steps the Main Street organization must take to implement these plans.

MMSC also organized workshops specifically for communities from the southeast region to learn more about Main Street and how it could help their communities. While some communities in the area have experience with Main Street, we also wanted to reach out to those that want to learn more. In October 2016, we hosted a Main Street 101 workshop that introduced the basics of how Main Street can work for community as well as what MMSC could do to help in the process. Two Affiliate Grant workshops, hosted in the region, explained ways that MMSC could provide dedicated, specialized services and support to the communities in order to get their Main Street organizations started.

 

Early in 2017, MMSC hosted the Main Street Summit for the communities in Southeast Missouri. The Main Street Summit focused on building a partnership between the local government and the local Main Street organization. Two people from each community attended, one with the city and one with the downtown organization, to learn about Main Street. We have found that bringing people together to hear the same information helps them get on the same page about what the next step is for their community, allowing them to work together better.

Finally, twice during the grant period, MMSC has hosted Basic Training on the Four-Point Approach® for people who wanted an in-depth look at how the four points of organization, promotion, design, and economic vitality work together in a Main Street organization. These workshops covered what each point is and what tasks fall under them for the Main Street community.

Through the Rural Business Development Grant, MMSC has made great progress in the education, training and implementation of Main Street in Southeast Missouri. As with all other regions of Missouri, there are communities at different stages of community revitalization. We tried to tailor the services provided in this grant to all levels of revitalization experience in order to assist as many communities as we could. It was very important to teach the basics of Main Street through many of the workshops described above to lay the groundwork and get communities excited about the transformation that could take place in their communities. We then expanded on these principles and addressed specific needs in the communities that had more experience with Main Street. We were able to help overcome preconceived notions that the historic district wasn’t worth investing in. We helped create or reestablish relationships with communities and their local and state officials. Finally, we provided motivation for communities to take the next steps to create a vibrant and sustainable downtown.

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I am an avid gardener and love sticking my hands in the dirt.  Playing in the dirt allows me time to reflect and process work-related challenges and opportunities.  As I was planting some spring flowers recently, I was reflecting on the old saying about when to plant a tree.  The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago with the second-best time being today.  Of course, you benefit from a tree planted 20 years ago as the tree now offers shade, beauty and strength from years of growth.  If it is a fruit tree, you enjoy the fruit that it now produces as a mature tree.  If you didn’t plant that tree 20 years ago, then the next best time to plant a tree is today. 

The same goes for downtown revitalization – the best time to start a revitalization organization or project was 20 years ago with the next best time being today.  Had we begun our efforts in rehabilitating buildings, adding pocket parks, or creating that event over 20 years ago, we would now be enjoying the fruits of our labor.   I think many communities get into that mode of “it’s too late” to start or we should have done that a long time ago.  True.  But if you didn’t get started years ago, you can start today.  Make that call to garner support from property and business owners, contact Missouri Main Street for assistance, or begin that project that has been on the shelf for years.  It isn’t too late.  In fact, today is the second-best time to get started. 

 

Missouri Main Street offers several grants to assist you in your efforts in planting those seeds of downtown economic development in your community.  Contact Keith Winge, Community Development Coordinator at kwinge@momainstreet.org for more information.  

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Throughout 2016, we have celebrated 10 years of Missouri Main Street Connection. We have accomplished a lot in these first 10 years and hope to have as much success in the next 10! In 2017, we officially kick of the next 10 years of MMSC with some exciting projects.

 

We began working on the first of these projects in October 2016. Earlier this year we received a grant, from the State Historic Preservation Office to conduct a study on the economic impact of historic preservation initiatives in Missouri. These initiatives include the Missouri Main Street program, SHPO’s Certified Local Government program, and the use of state and federal historic tax credits. We have visited several communities to collect data and stories on their experiences with these initiatives. The study will also examine stats that we have collected over the past 10 years from our Main Street communities. We are very excited to see the results of this study and hope it will be a tool to showcase the impact of Missouri Main Street and other preservation initiatives.

 


Cape Girardeau visit to study the economic impact of historic preservation initiatives in Missouri.

 

Another amazing opportunity we are looking forward to in 2017 is partnering with USDA on two different projects. First, through the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG), we will be able to focus our revitalization efforts in the southeast region of Missouri in order to help those communities establish a revitalization organization. When examining our work with Missouri communities, we noticed that few communities in the Southeast region of Missouri had taken advantage of the assistance we had to offer. We felt that it was important to expand our reach to communities in this area and with assistance from USDA, we will be able to offer communities in this region specialized training and mentoring.

 


Lee's Summit visit to study the economic impact of historic preservation initiatives in Missouri.

 

The second great partnership opportunity we are working on with USDA is through the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) grant. This three-year project allows us to provide in-depth training and assistance to 12 communities throughout Missouri. This assistance will help them strengthen and expand their Main Street organizations. We are very excited to work with USDA on both this project and the RBDG project.

 


Jackson community visit to study the economic impact of historic preservation initiatives in Missouri.

 

The final project that we are very excited about is partnering with the National Main Street Center to bring the Main Street Now conference to Missouri in 2018! The Main Street Now conference boasts many educational opportunities to learn and connect with Main Street groups throughout the country. Currently we are still working with National Main Street to confirm the details of the 2018 Conference in Kansas City, but are so excited to have the opportunity to showcase the great revitalization work happening throughout Missouri.

 

And finally, we couldn’t take on all of these exciting new projects without a fresh new look to go with it! With the assistance of Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street and their local design firm, Fossil Forge, we have a new logo to usher in the next 10 years of Missouri Main Street Connection. Read more about the new logo and the competition we hosted for its design here

 

Missouri Main Street's fresh, new look beginning in 2017!

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Supporting small businesses deserves to be part of your everyday routine. Why?

 

Small business is BIG!

 

Did you know that of nearly 29 million businesses operating in the US (as of March 2016), 99.7% of those are small businesses? And that most are “self-employed,” many of which make up your local coffee shops, favorite local boutiques, go-to mom-and-pop deli, or local pet shop?

 

Small Business Saturday® was founded in 2010 by American Express as a day to support our local businesses nationally on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Subsequently the Shop Small movement, a concept more about supporting your local community every day all year, was introduced.

 


Ray's Diner in downtown Excelsior Springs, MO


Change Your Views on Prices


According to the American Independent Business Alliance, 48 percent of the money spent on purchases at local independent businesses is re-circulated locally. Less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores stays within the community.

 

 
Work by a local artist in Moberly, MO


Why then do so many Americans overlook their local merchant and flock to chain stores without considering the smaller options? Misconceptions play a large role in shopping decisions, the most common being that prices will automatically be higher in small businesses.

 

Truth is, vendors control pricing of most products and provide a Manufactured Suggested Retail Price that tell both big box stores and small businesses the price the product should be sold at.

 

Choose Quality Over Quantity


A big box store is – well, bigger – so that means they have more variety to offer you, right? Wrong. It just means the assortment of inventory is deeper, not more diverse. Small, independent businesses stock a broader range of unique choices based on the interests of the owner and their local customers.

 

When you walk into a local business, the inventory options often surprise you. This is to your advantage and is among the many reasons to frequent your local stores more often.

 

 
Dickens Christmas 2015 in downtown Warrensburg, MO


Can’t find what you’re looking for? Small store owners can likely get in touch with a vendor and order an item for you right away.

 

Receive a Unique, Personalized Experience


Most small store owners are eager to go above and beyond to deliver stronger customer service. Having a more hands-on role within the company, they build a stronger sense of care for the job they do with more personalized and noteworthy customer care.

 

 
Holiday Open House 2016 in downtown Blue Springs, MO


While every business is different, what makes customer care among small businesses more valuable is just that – it’s different. Do you want one-size-fits-all service, or would you prefer a unique experience?

 

Invest in Your Community


When you shop local, you invest in your community. You support families and individual artists and crafters. In turn, local business owners are more likely to recycle a larger share of their revenue back to the local economy. They are also more likely to support local causes in your community.

 

Small businesses inspire local character and prosperity by strengthening partnerships among residents, other small business owners, community leaders and schools. They deliver economic advantages like creating more jobs locally and guaranteeing a broader range of products. They help to sustain vibrant, walkable town centers and reduce sprawl, automobile use, and pollution to the town they are positioned in.

 

 
Tout Your Tote Campaign in Historic Downtown Liberty, MO


What happens when YOU shop local? Shopping local on Small Business Saturday®, on any Saturday, or on any other day in between builds strong communities and develops economic and social relationships. You benefit. Your community benefits.

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The holiday season is upon us and in addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are two other holidays we are observing here at Missouri Main Street Connection.

The first as many may know is Small Business Saturday on November 26th. Small Business Saturday is a day to celebrate all of your local businesses and the hard work they accomplish within your community. Many of our Main Street communities are celebrating Small Business Saturday with their downtown businesses. For a list of our Main Street communities visit our website and find some of the local businesses participating

The second is Giving Tuesday on November 29th. This global day of giving was founded in 2012 as a day for celebrating philanthropy and giving to causes all across the world. Giving Tuesday’s focus is uniting all people toward a common goal of giving and kindness to causes close to our hearts.

A popular trend in Main Street right now that unites the community in a celebration of local artisans, producers and historic character is a Farm to Table dinner. This unity of community is the basis for all of our work at Missouri Main Street Connection and all local Missouri Main Street organizations throughout the year, but especially during the holiday season.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

We have so much to be thankful for this year, but most importantly we are thankful for you! Thank you for the work you do to ensure the continuation of Main Street in Missouri and to ensure our historic downtowns are vibrant places now and in the future.

As you celebrate the holidays with your families in the communities you work so hard for, please consider supporting Missouri Main Street Connection and our work in many Missouri communities like yours throughout the state through a donation. Also, consider donating in some way to your local Main Street organization.

Thank you once again for your hard work and let us all continue to celebrate and unite our communities on Main Street.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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As Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) celebrates a decade of successful nonprofit service in Missouri, we are reflecting on all things to the power of 10.  Here are 10 services provided by Missouri Main Street.

Coordinating Program for Missouri.  The National Main Street contracts with Missouri Main Street to administer the Main Street Four-Point Approach® to downtown revitalization in Missouri.  This is very powerful because it allows the communities in Missouri to utilize the Main Street program and all that brings with it:  the network, the brand, the resources and the partnerships.  Not every state has a coordinating program and several have come and gone due to budgeting and personnel.  MMSC is strong because of the relationships with our Main Street organizations, the State of Missouri through the Department of Economic Development and the legislators, the local municipalities and the MMSC board of directors. 

Accreditation.  Through an extensive annual review of the Main Street programs in Missouri, MMSC is able to accredit the best Main Street programs in the state alongside the National Main Street Center.  National accreditation is a big deal.  It is based upon the National Main Street 10-Point Criteria which measures the organization’s capacity, leadership, community involvement and effectiveness.  There are currently only six accredited Main Street programs in Missouri:  Old Town Cape, Inc. (Cape Girardeau), Main Street Chillicothe, Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, Historic Downtown Liberty, Warrensburg Main Street, and Downtown Washington, Inc. 

Tier System.  When MMSC started in 2006, it had resurrected itself from a state run organization into a non-profit with only 10 communities in the network.  Today MMSC has assisted more than 170 communities across the state.  With a staff of four people, that assistance had to be categorized into tiers.  The more invested a community is in the Main Street program, the more services MMSC could offer.  This four-tier system offers phone consultation, technical and organizational visits along with board planning sessions and access to the resource library for members via the MMSC website.  You can learn more about the services offered through the tier system online.

State Conference.  Every July MMSC offers the only statewide educational and networking event for commercial district revitalization that blends economic development, community revitalization and historic preservation.  It brings together experts in the field of downtown revitalization into three days of educational sessions, in-the-field tours and networking.  The conference also features the Evening of Excellence awards recognizing the best in Missouri Main Street communities.  Visit the conference website for details.  Don’t miss this year’s conference on July 26-28. 

Cultivating Place Training, Kansas City, MO

Quarterly Workshops.  It is written in the Missouri Main Street mission that providing tools and resources to Missouri communities and one of the ways that is achieved is through quarterly workshops held in the spring and fall.  These workshops focus on a specific aspect of the Main Street Four-Point Approach®.  The most recent workshops have been focused on economic vitality through education on real estate investment, attracting and retaining businesses and marketing those spaces in downtowns.  Missouri Main Street members receive a discount on these training opportunities.  Mark your calendar for November 11, 2016, for the next workshop in Chillicothe.

Grant Programs.  Because of the funds Missouri Main Street receives from the State of Missouri, grants, memberships and fundraising, it can offer service grants.  These grants are varied in the services they offer with the Affiliate Grant guiding a community with starting and building a Main Street program.  The People Energizing Places and Strategic Teams Engaging Places grants assist a Main Street community in growing the organization’s capacity and effectiveness.  All of these grants are matching with Missouri Main Street assuming 60-75% of the costs. 

Technical Services.  Maybe you don’t need a grant but a specialized service to grow.  Missouri Main Street offers a full list of services ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of days.  Some of these services include conducting a community visioning session, board strategic planning session, customer service training, technical visit on economic development or a multi-day downtown strategic planning session.  The complete list is available online. 

2016 Annual Conference, Kansas City, MO

Partnerships/Relationships.  Missouri Main Street has relationships with other state-wide organizations that can be utilized by downtown organizations to assist in the revitalization efforts.  The Department of Economic Development, State Historic Preservation Office, Certified Local Government Program, Missouri Preservation, Missouri Arts Council, USDA, AARP and many others have programs and resources for Missouri communities.  Contact us for more information.

Networking.  Everything Missouri Main Street does revolves around the downtown communities being served.  With that in mind, the act of bringing people together to share ideas and learn from one another is vital to everyone’s success.  Missouri Main Street receives feedback every year on the value of conversing with other Main Street professionals and learning from their successes and failures.  Take advantage of this service because in many cases, there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

2016 Main Street Showcase, Jefferson City


Advocacy. 
And last but certainly not least, Missouri Main Street promotes and shouts from the downtown rooftops the importance of downtown revitalization in Missouri communities.  This shouting is to state legislators, local politicians, business owners, property owners, residents, visitors and many others within a community.  This advocacy also belongs to the local effort doing Main Street…believing in the principle of locally controlled decisions based upon the wants and needs of the local community.  Main Street is a volunteer lead, volunteer driven, locally empowered organization doing economic development while preserving a community’s historic assets.  If you believe in this idea, then Main Street is for you!

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We’re celebrating a successful decade of nonprofit service as Missouri’s premier downtown revitalization organization!  As a coordinating program through the National Main Street Center, Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) has administered the Main Street Four-Point Approach® to any interested community in Missouri, helping to raise the state of Main Streets in Missouri to the healthiest it's ever been.

The reinvestment on Missouri’s Main Streets has continued to climb since 2006 with over $683 million of private investment and over $140 million in public investment. 

Volunteers in Missouri Main Street communities have donated over 285,312 hours of service at a value of over $6.0 million, making volunteer-led downtown revitalization one of the most cost-effective economic development programs anywhere. 

And with small business at the heart of downtown development, Main Streets foster the entrepreneurial spirit every day.  Since 2006, over 526 net new businesses opened their doors with over 2,936 net new jobs created.  Even during the recession, Missouri Main Street communities were adding jobs faster than losses occurred. 

Although the Main Street Philosophy has been present in Missouri since its launch in 1989 as a state-funded program within the Department of Economic Development (DED), the success of the program was halted in July 2003 when funding was stripped from the state budget and the lone staff person administering the program was reassigned to other duties within the DED.  Was Main Street in Missouri dead then? 

After many calls and unsuccessful pleas to Missouri legislators, 12 local Main Street program managers fought to keep the state program going in Missouri.  By working with the National Main Street Center and the DED, a valuable contract was in place by July 2003 to take up some of the slack in funding.  The Main Street managers continued to meet in communities around the state for training and looked to a representative from the National Main Street program for guidance and assessments.  It became apparent in training after training that more Missouri communities wanted help with their downtown revitalization efforts.  But...without a state-funded program, how would that need be met?  

Through the determination of that core group of local program managers and supporters, the Missouri Main Street program was resurrected in 2006 from a discarded state-run organization into Missouri Main Street Connection, a nonprofit 501c3 with the potential for broader opportunities and resources for funding to support the education effort for revitalization. 

Today, as the coordinating program through the National Main Street Center, MMSC serves as the state’s clearinghouse for information, technical assistance, research and advocacy.  Through financial support from partners that believe in our mission, corporate sponsors, individual contributors, grants and a contract for services with DED, we are able to provide consulting services, on-site visits, conferences/workshops, and publications to educate and empower local organizations to lead the revitalization of their downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. 

We’re proud of the success we have achieved over the past 10 years and invite you to celebrate with us at our annual Get Plugged In…Downtown Revitalization Conference July 26-28!  Join us in Washington, Missouri, and help us celebrate the power of our Missouri Main Street communities!

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What does community development mean to you?  In the Main Street world, community development is economic development with a historic preservation emphasis.  This translates into developing customers, places, resources and businesses – a comprehensive focus.  Over 2,000 communities across the country utilizing Main Street and its principles can’t be wrong.  So if your community hasn’t already invested in Main Street, how do you get started?

There are many ways to get started but the easiest is to utilize Missouri Main Street’s Affiliate Grant Program.  This program is a two-year, hands-on platform to assist with establishing or jump-starting a Main Street program in the community.  It can either help with building the organization from scratch including by-laws and 501(c)3 filing or help an already created organization implement the Main Street Four-Point Approach® to revitalization.  In both scenarios, the Affiliate Grant Program assists with gathering feedback and buy-in from the community, provides direction in creating priorities, and trains the organization and community on the Main Street principles.  The hands-on approach and two years of consultation in the community reduces the learning curve so the revitalization process can take hold much quicker than without the Affiliate Grant Program. 

In the last three years, over 16 communities have completed or are currently in the program.  Blue Springs graduated from the program in 2013, hired their first executive director in 2014, and attained the Associate Tier level by 2015.  Board member and newly hired executive director, Cindy Miller, has shared that “the formula provided by Missouri Main Street provides the structure that enables a group of people to work together.  Structure is the key to the success of any project and the Affiliate Grant Program provides just that.”

Since 2008, the Affiliate communities have experienced over $28 million in redevelopment and rehabilitation in both the private and public sectors.  The Main Street program provides that structure and comprehensive approach to redevelopment which sets the stage for investors and entrepreneurship.  With development comes job creation, new businesses/expansion and increased property values, all items that contribute to the overall stability of the community. 

So as you look at your community, is it an asset or liability?  Look at your community from the perspective of a visitor, tourist, potential business owner or developer, new teacher, prospective manufacturer, or someone looking to relocate to your community.  Do they see empty storefronts or bustling sidewalks?  Crumbling buildings or rehabilitated structures?  Dirty windows and unkempt sidewalks or neat landscaping and benches for shoppers? 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” is a quote by Margaret Mead that we use to demonstrate the power of the local community.  Someday is here…what are you waiting for?

The next Affiliate Grant Workshop is March 9, 2016, in Jefferson City.  To participate in the program, someone from the community must attend the workshop.  This workshop is free to attend but an RSVP is required.  Find more information here

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Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) is excited to announce the appropriation of matching grants to two communities seeking to create a Main Street program and one well-established Main Street program aspiring to grow and improve their efforts.  Main Street Moberly, Inc. was awarded the Strategic Teams Engaging Places (STEP) Grant, a one-year program to identify, create, and implement a plan of action for a specific initiative.  The cities of Sugar Creek and Butler were both awarded the Affiliate Grant, a program designed to help each community create a Main Street program, build a foundation, then identify and implement goals. 

Main Street Moberly has Renewed Energy

Main Street Moberly, Inc. was established in 1989 to counteract the blight in downtown Moberly, but the program has ebbed and flowed through the years.  Recently new businesses have opened in downtown and downtown events have been successful in sparking a renewed energy for the organization to take the opportunity with the STEP Grant to tackle a few obstacles for growth.  Main Street Moberly currently supports approximately 125 downtown businesses with a part-time executive director. 

Sugar Creek is taking an Active Revitalization Role

Situated on the Missouri River between Independence and Kansas City with a population of over 3,000, Sugar Creek attempted downtown revitalization in the past with small successes which led to the renewed interest in the Affiliate Grant program.  Some private and public improvements have happened organically in the downtown district in Sugar Creek, but with the assistance of the Main Street Four-Point Approach® the community wants to take a more active role to speed up the process.  Armed with small town charm and an active plan for growth and development, Sugar Creek declares “life is about to get even sweeter.” 


Butler is Eager to Preserve Their Rich History

Butler is south of Kansas City along I-49 and is the county seat for Bates County.  Downtown Butler features a square as the city center and is rich with history having been one of the first communities west of the Mississippi to install electric lights illuminating the downtown area, giving it the name “The Electric City.”  With a renewed drive from some enterprising community members, interest in downtown is on the rise.  Opportunities for developing empty storefronts and attracting business from the interstate will allow this town of over 4,200 to create a vibrant downtown.  Historic preservation, community pride, and job creation were the main drivers for Butler when applying for the grant. 

Grants are Available for New and Established Organizations

Missouri Main Street offers three matching grant programs providing up to 75% of the costs:  Affiliate Grant, People Energizing Places (PEP), and Strategic Teams Engaging Places (STEP).  These grant programs continue the mission of MMSC, which is to provide the tools and resources for downtown revitalization to Missouri communities.  MMSC is a 501(c)3 and financially supported by funding from the State of Missouri, Missouri Department of Economic Development, grants, sponsors, members, and other donations.  Over 178 Missouri communities receive education, training, and mentoring from MMSC through workshops, conferences, consultations, assessments, and personal visits. 

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As you’re reading this the fourth quarter will be upon us.  I know you really don’t want to think about it but you must prepare.  Actually your customers really don’t want to think about the approaching Christmas season either.  Believe it or not you actually have a great deal of control whether this Christmas is a boon or bust to your business.  By starting now there are some things you can do to help you get a jump on your competition and bring shoppers through your doors.

The reason you need to start now is that it takes time for a marketing plan to work and you need to create a plan and work it to have a successful holiday season.  Consider items like extended holiday shopping hours or additional customer loyalty programs to kick-start your sales.

Every small business needs to be preparing for the increase in customers this holiday season.  Word of mouth is still the most effective marketing tool but be aware of social media opportunities.  Social media is exploding and you and your business needs to be ready, willing, and able to meet this challenge.  If you’re not on Facebook for your business, get there soon.  If you don’t have the time or ability, find someone who can help you.  Social media is a great way to identify new customers. If you are taking care of your existing customers, they will bring you additional business.  Your average customer will recruit three other customers during the time they do business with you.  Someone telling someone else about your business is very powerful.  And what makes a customer talk about a business?  Usually the way they were treated in that business.  Here are some ideas that can get you off on the right foot.

Start internally with you and your employees.  I know you think you give good or even great customer service over the course of the year, but this is the time to step it up a notch.  Call customers by name as soon as you know it (it’s on their checks and credit/debit cards); better yet, train your sales people to introduce themselves and meet people.  Point out new items to customers.  Ask when they last shopped with you if you don’t recognize them.  Make them feel at home in your store.  Treat them like honored guests.  Impress them.  If you want to take it up a notch, ask friends and family to secret shop your store.  One word of caution though, don’t do this unless you’re ready to implement some of the suggestions.



Don’t allow your employees to simply point customers toward products; physically take them over to the area they are looking for and give them information about the products and related products they might want to consider.  I’m not talking about high pressure selling techniques or hovering over your customers.  I’m talking about being a great resource and sharing your knowledge to assist them.  Provide that little extra and a feeling that you took your time to give them that personal attention they deserve so they will remember their shopping experience positively.  

 

Have your very best people answering your phone.  Make sure they demonstrate a smile in their voice each and every time they answer.  Consider positioning a mirror next to each phone.  If you can see your smile in the mirror before you answer the phone, the customer will hear your smile.  This can be where sales and relationships begin for a company.  Remember, they took the time to find your number and call you – they want something.

Invite your best customers in for an exclusive after hour’s party to kick off the holidays.  Pick their brains about what they bought last year.  What items make the best gifts?  Are there products they wish you carried that you don’t?  What price ranges are they looking for?  What is their average Christmas budget?  These people shop too and they are the start of your word of mouth campaign. 

Create subtle in-store displays of gift items.  Don’t bring out the ornaments and trees just yet but give your high margin gift ideas a prominent place where they will be noticed.  Pay special attention to your window displays.  These silent sales people can work for or against you.  Make your displays an invitation to step inside.  They need to become a shopper magnet to boost your bottom line this holiday season.

Traditionally the Christmas buying season starts the day after Thanksgiving, but don’t forget about Small Business Saturday, November 28th.  This is the day set aside for small businesses to shine.  In 2014 shoppers supported their neighborhood businesses like never before.  An estimated $14.3 billion was spent at small independent businesses on that day last year.  Don’t ever forget that there are also many people who are done by then.  If they see a good gift idea that would be perfect for someone, it goes in the subconscious memory to be retrieved at shopping time.

The next part of your success is advertising in the right place, with the right products, to the right people.  You need to know how to reach your best customers.  Rather than wasting money by throwing your money all over the place and hoping some of it sticks, define your best customer and seek out the appropriate medium to reach them.  Consider joining forces with other stores in your district on shared advertising resulting in more bang for your buck.  During October and the first part of November these will not be Christmas related ads.  You are planting shopping ideas and hints that will be harvested down the road.  Of course, some will buy immediately, some will clip the ad and shop later, and still others will be me… the 3:00 p.m., December 24th shopper.

The last suggestion has to do with customers that enter your store and purchase a gift certificate/gift card.  Think about this for just a moment.  A customer is in your store and they give you their money.  This purchase has no immediate impact on your inventory and they are giving it away to someone else with their personal recommendation to come back to your business and redeem it.  Make sure they do not leave without something in their hands.  Give them a special gift or some expression of appreciation for being a quality customer and recommending your store to someone else.  Confirm in their minds that you are the type of business they want to send their friends and relatives.

Always remember, if you aren’t preparing for the best holiday season ever, you might find yourself caught in the middle of the worst one ever.

I leave you with two thoughts;

“There is Power in Simple.”

and

“Negative people have a problem for every solution.”

 

Jim Thompson is a business specialist on the Main Street Iowa team at the Iowa Economic Development Authority. 

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