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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 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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