Nearly every business starts off small. In order to experience growth and profit, owners must first learn how to appeal to customers in their immediate communities. That means offering an experience and product more attractive than those available through big box retailers and chain stores. Convincing shoppers to make purchases from locally owned and operated businesses requires innovative and tactical marketing techniques aimed at drawing in new customers and making them repeat shoppers. As a business owner, what can you do to encourage your community to shop local?
Build personal relationships
Big retailers may be able to undercut your business on price, but you hold an edge on customer service. By providing your customers with a personalized, one-on-one experience, visiting your store or restaurant will seem welcoming and more like second nature. If possible, learn the names of customers and greet them when they visit. The retailer-customer relationship will begin to seem more like a personal friendship, which may improve customer loyalty.
Learn your customers’ preferences
If you know what your customers like, you know what to sell. As regular shoppers begin to come into your store more frequently, start making recommendations to them based on their past purchases. If you own a restaurant, learn customer orders and ask if they will be having “the usual” before handing out menus. For some, this personal touch is expected from small, local businesses. In any case, the effort you put forth will be appreciated.
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Keep active communication with your customers, even when they are not shopping in your store. Build an email marketing list and sending out regular messages promoting new items, sales and store news. If possible, provide email-only coupons or discounts that encourage immediate visits from subscribers. Just be sure to use attention-grabbing email subject lines to encourage customers to read your messages.
Be active in your community
A business that is active in the surrounding community earns big points with the locals. Opportunities are always available to sponsor local little league teams, support neighborhood schools, volunteer to clean up a neglected part of town or participate in citywide events and festivals. The more active you are, the more publicity your business will receive among the customers you want to target most. As an added bonus, you get the satisfaction of knowing you helped your community thrive.
Make your business stand out among the locals by offering unique products or services. For example, consider purchasing products with a private label. Most goods, from jellies to apparel, can be packaged with your own brand. As popularity grows, locals will learn the product can only be purchased from your store. Other ideas include hosting your own customer appreciation parties and providing special services or experiences, such as free personal shoppers, gift wrapping or delivery.
Give your customers a financial incentive to return. If you cannot afford to slash prices, consider offering a customer loyalty card. For example, if you operate a coffee shop, give away a latte for every tenth visit. The costs of running such programs are minimal and are a profitable way of retaining existing local customers.
Shoppers know they can go to any retailer to find low prices and a wide selection of products. Though some may be inclined to shop local in order to boost the economy and support local businesses, others may need more of a reason to visit smaller, locally owned establishments. By learning about your community and the people in it, you can better compete with chain stores for business from local shoppers.