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Local Rules: How To Boost Holiday Sales

Help small businesses increase their foot traffic this holiday season.
Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group
October 12, 2011

Though the amount of holiday shopping done online increases year over year, the majority of it still takes place at brick-and-mortar stores. However, it's not always easy for small, local businesses to get the foot traffic they expect—and depend on—to significantly impact the bottom line.

Becky McCray, founder of Small Biz Survival, suggests that the key to competing with the online giants during the holiday shopping season is to form a "human bond" with your customers—a practice that could work especially well during the holidays since the focus of the season is on family, connection and togetherness. McCray offers these four strategies to help attract holiday shoppers.

1. Tell your story

Remember that your business came from somewhere was founded by someone. Everyday, it touches real people. When you tell a true story, you build real relationships. People buy from other people they know and trust. For example, Carl's Bar in Hutchinson, Kansas, has a long history that goes back to 1945. When current-owner Dan Heimerman moved back to his hometown in 2006, he bought the bar, moved it to a new local spot, and revived its history. Customers can read the story of the original founders, Carl and Nona McCaslin, on the company's current website. By telling the story and making it a part of everything they do, Heimerman manages to thrive, even in the face of competition from nearby franchise eateries.

2. Stay true to your local customs

Being local, you have a better understanding of what your customers want than do the big-box retailers that target their market online. You know how your customers like to be treated and what touches their emotions. Let's be clear; technology is good, but in-person customer interaction is better. Take, for example, Pride Dairy, a local creamery in Bottineau, North Dakota, that makes Juneberry ice cream (among other dairy products). Would it work as a national brand? Maybe, but most in the U.S. has never heard of Juneberries and aren't familiar with the tradition of picking and selling them to the creamery—something the locals have been doing for decades. Sure it would be cheaper to buy commercially grown berries for their ice cream, but Pride Dairy understands that tradition matters.

3. When you have a competitive price, add more value

It's a common misconception that small businesses have higher prices than their online competitors. So take this opportunity to win over customers by competitively pricing your products. Show your customers the value your local business adds beyond price. When a local couple, let's call them Steve and Lucy, needed a steady supply of blades for their lawn care business, they always drove an hour out of their way to buy them from the big chain store. One day, the store was out of blades. So they checked their local mower and motorcycle shop. Not only did it have blades, but the shop sold them for less than what Steve and Lucy normally paid. Just think of the boost in business the local shop would experience if they advertised their prices more prominently.

4. When you have better quality, say it

This is where common misconceptions work in your favor. The general belief is that the quality of products found at big, mass-producing companies is better because of their access to better resources. So take advantage of local and handcrafted manufactured goods. Whittet's, the locally-owned butcher shop in Alva, Oklahoma (McCray's hometown), has a reputation for selling quality meats. Their reputation is so good, in fact, that restaurants advertise by saying they get their meat supply from the shop. And there's no better promotion than that.

So forget about advertising just products and services. Be specific about the advantages that you offer and share them in your ads, via social media, and make them front and center in your store displays. And most important, be sure your employees can provide the service and care that you promise. (Read more on promoting your business.)

How will your local small business compete with online retailers this holiday season?