Spending on the little guys [Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.]
(Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, WA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 27--Door-buster Black Friday deals aren't usually the weapon of choice for the neighborhood retailer -- it would be impossible to compete with the bigbox stores' pricing on the biggest shopping day of the year.
But savvy business owners and local chambers of commerce are using a few other strategies to encourage people to shop local during a season that accounts for sizable portions of yearly sales for businesses.
Heather Miller, owner of the Read Me A Story toy and children's book store in Anacortes, said any way to gain or retain customers from within her community is essential to her store and others in the industry losing customers to online retailers.
"We've lost so much business to online retailers that it's critical to local stores. If they don't get the local shopping, they can't stay in business," Miller said, noting that 40 percent of her business comes in November and December.
One discount day that's gained momentum since its inception in 2010 is "Small Business Saturday," held Nov. 24. The nationwide campaign is sponsored by American Express, which gives away online and print promotional materials for participating businesses.
Last year, more than 100 million shoppers shopped at small businesses nationwide for the day. This year, President Obama was one of many who spent money at a local store for holiday gifts.
Tri-Dee Arts in Mount Vernon was one local participant, where co-owner Summer Houlihan advertised for the event on Facebook, Twitter, email and a mailing list. Houlihan said the day was a hit last year, bringing in three times more business than a normal Saturday, and this year was even better.
Houlihan said the day helped to shine a spotlight on downtowns that may have faded in the minds of consumers since the popularization of shopping malls, big-box stores and online retailers.
"I definitely think it's good for downtowns in general, because back in the day, downtowns were really relevant," Houlihan said. "Now these downtowns are fighting against these huge big-box stores, and I think people forget how much character these little one-off stores have, and the different things they can offer."
Offering a wider selection of specialty items and focused attention on each customer is the calling card of small businesses working to establish a loyal customer base.
When asked how she competes with larger retailers, Peggy Stowe, third-generation owner of Stowe's Shoes and Clothing in Burlington, said, "Mainly customer service, because you can't really compete on price. And you're not going to find any of these shoes in Wal-Mart or Kmart. We have what customers want, and we do gift-wrapping."
Stowe said she participated in Small Business Saturday, but offered sales for the season earlier in the fall. She said she doesn't normally keep a high markup on her products and times her sales of boots and warm clothing with the first changing of the seasons.
C y b e r M o n d a y a l s o caught on locally, with 30 Skagit County businesses offering discount vouchers for 12 hours Monday. Businesses from bowling alleys and eateries to pottery shops signed up with Skagit Daily Deals, which listed the offers on a central page.
E r i c L i n t , o w n e r o f Skagit River Brewery, said he offered a 60-percent-off voucher to try and bring in customers who have never experienced his pub before, and to reward regulars.
Meanwhile, local chambers have created their own rewards programs to try and stimulate holiday shopping with member businesses. In Mount Vernon, 21 businesses give punch cards to shoppers that are punched with every $5 spent. After a card is filled, a shopper can enter it in a drawing to win gift certificates each week and a grand prize after Christmas.
The Anacortes Chamber of Commerce sponsors a similar program called "Keep the Cheer Here," where shoppers play a "Where's Waldo"- type game finding a large red Christmas ornament in unexpected areas of participating shops. Once enough ornaments are found, customers can enter to win locally redeemable gift certificates.
Miller, owner of Read Me A Story, said she helped come up with the idea to make people more aware of the variety of gifts and products available in her customers' own community instead of large retailers or online.
"Anything we can do to keep local stores on people's radar before they think they need to go out of their community first," Miller said.
Mark Stayton can be reached at 360-416-2112 or mstayton@skagitpublishing. com. Follow him at Twitter. com/biz_svh.
(c)2012 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.)
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