As a small business owner, competing with the big box stores and corporate chains may seem like an uphill battle you can’t win. However, you do have one advantage over those impersonal retailers: You aren’t beholden to some corporate leader in a boardroom across the country or the world. If you haven’t already cashed in on this benefit, it’s time to combine the strength of your ecommerce model with your regional connections by starting a “shop local” campaign.
Seek additional financing.
Once you have decided to launch this type of community-based push, remember that it will come at a cost. Before you do anything else, sit down and come up with an estimate of how much money you will need to accomplish your goals. If you’re like most struggling business owners, you probably don’t have a drawerful of extra cash lying around, so you’ll need to pursue other options.
In order to obtain that quick infusion of capital, you can start by seeking funds from friends and family if you so desire. Just keep in mind that this may lead to complications down the road. Therefore, be sure to draw up specific contracts that include clearly defined repayment terms.
Another option is to take out a loan. The Small Business Administration backs a wide variety of these from various lenders, while providing many other services for entrepreneurs, including mentorship programs. Going to an alternative or nontraditional lender is another option that involves much less pre-qualification paperwork (and fewer requirements) than you would find if you tried to borrow from a bank.
Collaborate with other local sellers.
In today’s cutthroat business environment, it may seem like any sort of cooperation between you and other businesses would be counterproductive. Although that “us vs. them” mentality is hard to shake, letting it go can bring benefits to everyone involved.
This cooperation can take place across a wide variety of industries and business models. Just look for a common bond – perhaps your commitment to environmental sustainability, or the fact that your storefronts are located in close proximity to each other. Working together for mutual gains can mean sharing the same event space, splitting the costs of advertising, and even making your partnership more appealing by offering credits or rebates for participating. Anything you can do to generate buzz in the community is a plus.
Lay the foundations of your event with marketing.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know the power of social media in getting the word out about new products or promotions. Hopefully, you have already made sites such as Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook cornerstones of your marketing campaign. If you haven’t, now is the time.
That’s because your would-be local customers don’t just need to know you’re there; they should view your store as any integral part of their own community who locally sources services, equipment, and staff. Oftentimes, people have a strong desire to support one of their own, and a community-based social media marketing campaign can accomplish that.
Websites are great, but don’t forget about other tried-and-true vehicles that can help you in getting the word out about your consortium of area businesses, and what you have to offer. Area newspapers, radio stations, and even bulletin boards can be powerful ways to get your campaign on the right track.
Reward loyal customers.
Once people start checking out what you have to offer and making purchases, your next priority is to keep those customers coming back for more. Locking them in as long-term loyal buyers is key if you want to make a lasting difference in your local footprint. To that end, offering incentives for repeat purchases, and friends and family referrals can be a very effective strategy.
This is where the online component of your operation really comes in handy. Because you accept online payments, you may already have access to a gold mine of valuable customer information, including physical and email addresses. Using your point of sale system, you can easily sort those buyers according to location. Then it’s a simple matter to get in touch with the ones who live nearby for the purpose of inviting them to your brick-and-mortar location. Once again, rewarding these repeat customers with loyalty points, free merchandise, or discounts is a surefire way to get them to feel positive about what you have to offer. Not to mention the genuineness of your customer-centered approach.
Use technology to attract and keep customers.
Your ecommerce store already capitalizes on the convenience and flexibility that the internet affords your customers. Now it’s time to also harness it to inform and entice potential customers. Once you get a group of local service providers, restaurateurs, and retailers motivated to launch and maintain a “shop local” campaign, why not take it up another notch by developing a dedicated website that features all of the participants, and offers discounts and other incentives? Since everyone seems to be inseparable from their smartphones these days, you might also consider creating an accompanying app that could even feature location-based prompts that invite potential customers to come into a particular store when they walk or drive within a certain range.
If you are a small business owner during these times, you should consider every possible technique at your disposal to bring in customers, and keep them coming back. While selling products and services online via your website is important, you should not overlook the riches that lie at your very doorstep. A “shop local” campaign will enable you to strengthen your network of relationships with other business owners in your area as you continue to cement that all-important bond with customers.