Local businesses are part of a growing and strengthening network of buy local supporters throughout the country. Small business owners get to know their customers, work well with other locally owned businesses and advocate for a stronger community through buy local groups. These sorts of relationships are one of the key differentiators separating small businesses from national chains, and they’re one of the many reasons why more and more consumers choose to buy local.
The holiday season presents a unique set of challenges to building and maintaining these relationships. Maybe your business is simply too busy for you and your employees to the take time to chat with each customer. Perhaps the gift-driven nature of the season is driving a flood of new customers, and you’re faced with starting several of these relationships from scratch all at once. While the increased business is good for your bottom line, the time taken away from building relationships could hurt your business’s ability to grow in the long run. After all, it’s your loyal customers and partners who are most likely to recommend your business to other locals and visitors.
Connecting with New Customers
Whether they’re townies or tourists, you’re likely to see a new crop of faces in your shop or restaurant during the holiday season. As with any time of year, it’s important to get to know as many of these new faces as possible. Even if they’re from out of town, it’s worth getting to know them —they could be coming back year after year!
Maintain your commitment to new customers by collecting their email addresses at the point of sale. This way, you can build a relationship with them over time by keeping them in the know about new products you offer or new promotions you launch. If there’s a popular gift item they’re looking for that has sold out, you can offer to set one aside for them when you restock and alert them when it has arrived.
In addition to email, you can use this time of year to build relationships through social media. Ask new customers to follow you on Twitter and like your Facebook page. On social media, you can quickly and easily update them about any last-minute deals you offer or any holiday hours you put into effect. Growing your social media following during the holidays when there are plenty of opportunities for engaging content can help you grow your organic reach and earn engagement from your followers as you head into the new year.
For an ongoing approach, consider implementing a loyalty rewards program for your new and returning customers. The program could be a frequent shopper card that earns customers free or discounted products after a certain number of purchases. Rewards programs give consumers a compelling reason to come back to your business – and research shows that they work. According to a study by BIA/Kelsey, a leading research and advisory company focused on local advertising and marketing, 64 percent of businesses that use rewards programs report their program brings in more money than it costs to maintain.
Connecting with Existing Customers
In addition to converting new customers to loyal ones, you’ll want to keep track of your already-loyal fans. Repeat customers spend an average of 67 percent more on a given purchase than new customers. In addition to a loyalty rewards program, you can offer specific incentives to your usual faces. For instance, offer returning customers a discount on their purchase if they bring a friend along with them on their next trip to your business. A referral discount like this not only gets those loyal fans through your doors, but it also encourages them to bring you, new customers. Then, you can build a relationship with those new customers using your email list and rewards program.
Connecting with B2B Partners
During the holidays, it’s easy to be absorbed by the influx of customers, but it’s important to spread holiday cheer among your business’s partners, too. Send your existing partners a holiday card or a small gift to remind them of your appreciation and get them excited about what you’ll be working on in the coming year. Additionally, consider sending holiday cards to nearby small businesses that you haven’t worked with yet to introduce yourself and let them know what you’re all about.
If you share a shopping center with several of your partners, consider implementing a quick and easy multi-store promotion. For instance, when customers shop at your store, they can earn 10 percent off at another local store in the shopping center, and vice versa. Keep it simple to give last-minute shoppers a quick and obvious incentive to choose local businesses in the days leading up to the holidays. If it proves to be beneficial for your businesses, cross-promoting in this way is something you and your local partners can maintain beyond the season.
Connecting with Buy Local Groups
There is plenty of local fun to be had down on Main Street this time of year – and much of the entertainment is probably provided by your community’s buy local group. Head out to your Main Street’s holiday parade or volunteer at a canned food drive. While you’re there, be sure to learn about the sponsoring organization – buy local groups offer programs and promotions to highlight small businesses all year long, making them valuable allies for your business.
If you’re already involved in a buy local group, don’t let the holiday season dull your involvement. As a member, you likely have access to a wealth of tools, including promotional materials that you can use in your store. If available, download these resources and use them at the point of sale and throughout your shop or business to remind customers that you’re local. After all, research consistently shows that consumers want to support local businesses rather than national chains.
Despite the hectic nature of the season, the holidays are a great time to build and maintain relationships in the community. It’s possibly the one time of year when almost everyone is focused on similar goals and themes: giving gifts, giving back and spreading holiday cheer. As the holidays inch closer, make the most of the season before it’s too late by leaving each new customer and partner with a lasting impression of your business. After all, ‘tis the season to buy local and the season to meet new people!