The holiday season is filled with the usual characters playing their parts: the big box retailer offering the latest and greatest; the advertisements for the Wii and Xbox systems, the skateboards, and the small appliances. Those typical and well-known gift items, coupled with the huge deals big box retailers offer, make competing for holiday shoppers seem daunting for the small business retailer. How can a shop create marketable gift ideas for its customers?
In this holiday season at small businesses across Eugene, Oregon, two solutions stand out: Keep it unique, and keep it practical.
Eugene Toy and Hobby is successful, in part, because of the different toys it stocks. “We have the Melissa and Doug line, which is harder to find at the big retailers,” says co-owner Mark Agerter. They also stock other unique items, like the board game “The Settlers of Catan,” attracting parents and grandparents looking for something other than the latest video game. Chris Donahue, a manager at Down to Earth, a Eugene home and garden store, says that customers have been purchasing more practical gifts for several years now. “Fruit trees and seeds are really popular,” she notes. “People are really thinking ahead this year.”
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Buying a practical gift at a home and garden store is easy, but it might seem out of the question at Passionflower, an upscale gift shop, where unique reigns supreme. Owner Jewel Murphy’s shop offers such finds as a golden pomegranate pendant, bursting with red, jeweled seeds, or the Apples I Have Eaten book, a charming photo tribute to apples. Neither seem particularly practical, but Murphy changes that easily. While showing the apple book to a customer, she suggests pairing it with some homemade or locally made applesauce, or with a few of her adorable red cloth napkins, for a complete gift. She notes that her product mix is quirky and fun. It’s also clear that part of her success is being able to marry her unique products with other, more practical elements.
Sometimes combining the unique with the practical involves taking an unusual step. This is most obvious at Harlequin Beads. Manager Mona Brummett says that for the first time, the shop is promoting its jewelry recycling process. A customer can bring in an old necklace or piece of jewelry, and Brummett and her staff will help her disassemble it, and create a new piece, or sometimes several pieces. Customers will often bring in a favorite necklace or set of earrings from a grandmother or aunt, and then find ways to split it into several items, so that multiple family members can share the heirloom. These make wonderful custom gifts, says Brummett.
While customers have always been able to recycle their jewelry at Harlequin, this is the first time the store is actively promoting the service. “Customers want to make heartfelt gifts inexpensively and with things they already have,” says Brummett. Most businesses don’t consider capitalizing on recycling, but, done in this way, it definitely gives customers a practical option while still allowing them to give a unique gift.
This concept of combining the unique with the practical for the holiday season isn’t limited to products. Ben Sappington, of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, notes that while big box retailers can offer the deals, small businesses can work together to offer more intimate holiday events designed to attract customers. As the Director of the Regional Prosperity Initiative, he has seen several successful promotional events where small retailers provide an evening with music and wine for customers. One good example is the fledgling Coburg Station, a small shopping center of mostly small, local businesses. Coburg Station is holding an evening Christmas Celebration, encouraging families with children to enjoy music and free treats, and, of course, shop.
“Small businesses are trying to create a more personal shopping experience with their customers,” says Sappington, and these small events can help them create that experience. At a time when pushing through a crowded Target or Best Buy is the norm, the relaxed Christmas celebration is unique and practical.
By focusing on these two elements, small retail businesses can compete with big box retailers. Customers this season are looking for ways to maximize their spending power, but they are also looking for the unique and practical gift for their family and friends, and small businesses are in the perfect position to best fill that niche.
Image credit: allerleirau