The Journal Gazette
Friday, November 19, 2021 1:00 am


Being creative appeals to shoppers

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Connect with customers and be creative.

Small and locally owned businesses that do so can better compete against larger stores, a retail strategist said in a recent newsletter as the holiday shopping season promotions went into high gear.

“Small businesses have survived the judgment made about them as 'nonessential' and now there is a groundswell of support that didn't exist just a few years ago,” wrote Bob Phibbs, marketing mentor and CEO of The Retail Doctor.

Many Fort Wayne-area businesses, including those downtown, are participating in the Days of Holly Shopping, encouraging shoppers especially on Saturdays between Nov. 27 and Dec. 18 to support local restaurants and retailers. It's an expanded way of looking at what used to be a one-day Small Business Saturday, the day after the old one-day “Black Friday.”

Nationally, too many retailers and restaurants have used Small Business Saturday as a discount day without recognizing that is “not the way to give value to customers,” Phibbs said.

“Especially with supply chains still broken, you put a 20% off sale, you're going to sell out of all of your best sellers – then have to go back to your vendor (who has raised prices) to refill. That doesn't scale. It doesn't build profits. It doesn't make sense,” Phibbs said. “Smart retailers understand that job No. 1 is to find a way to connect with your customers in a real way. That is not going to be through a discount that is quickly forgotten.”

Phibbs likes the idea of small businesses working in concert and building a sense of community but says the key is providing memorable experiences.

That could include:

Instead of just promising to give a certain amount of sales proceeds to a charity, offer an organization space in the store to sign up potential volunteers. If offering hot chocolate, make sure it's not bland. Consider a hot chocolate bar with milk, dark and white chocolate, colorful sprinkles, “the works. Make it something visitors find remarkable when they leave.”

If you're a jewelry store, everyone likes the idea of a champagne reception. Get some plastic flutes and some sparkling cider. Offer to fill a flute for customers while they browse. Add another surprise element by gifting a bottle of champagne to a customer who spends more than $1,000, but don't promote it as a gift with the purchase.

Kara Slocum is using more than one strategy to appeal to shoppers at Good Shepherd Books & Gifts but also create an experience.

The store at 915 S. Clinton St. is participating in the Days of Holly Shopping and will offer 20% off any one regularly priced item, said Slocum, the manager. But customers will also be treated to packaged Christmas cookies and wassail – a spiced apple cider.

“A lot of people just say 'What is wassail?' and just out of curiosity, they want to come and check out what it is,” Slocum said. “The wassail smells really good, too; it just makes the store smell really nice with cinnamon and spices.”

Along the kid-friendly lane, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at the store from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 27, she said.

Getting through the business slowdown COVID-19 caused was a challenge, but Slocum is pleased with the steady improvement since.

“I think people are heeding the warning of getting out and shopping early,” she said. “We are already seeing an uptick in sales and I'm hoping it continues on all the way through Christmas.”

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