Fall 2013
Community Matters! By Megy Karydes

Your point of differentiation from big boxes stores applies to more than just your product mix. It extends to the larger community as well. Here are five actionable marketing ideas for outreach that are well worth the effort.

Community outreach means different things to different retailers but all of them agree that being a part of the community is an important part of their business. We asked four savvy retailers and one forward-thinking independent sales representative to share with us how they maximize their community involvement.

1. Eventful times

Sonia Sotire Malloy, owner of SPLURGE Unique Gifts, Home Décor and Jewelry in Greenwich, Conn., has found that doing good while doing business has helped her to build a loyal clientele throughout the year and especially during the Christmas season.

While she donates product or gift certificates as silent auction items, Sotire Malloy is also asked to run several charitable events throughout the year including collecting filled Easter baskets for two local charities (her shop collected 110 this year) and donating pashmina scarves to chemotherapy patients at her local hospital during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“These efforts are often recognized by local press outlets which, while not the motivator, helps build awareness of SPLURGE in the local community,” she says.

EXPERT TIP: Be sure to let the media know about your charitable events, especially if they have a unique twist.

2. Give back

Cynthia Sutton-Stolle, owner of The Silver Barn in Columbus, Tex., feels community involvement is a year-round activity and part of being a good member of the community is to be responsive to its immediate needs. Recently, two children were badly injured in a car wreck and she rallied her community to coordinate a raffle to help raise money to benefit the children.

Throughout the year, Sutton-Stolle does everything from sponsoring lambs for the County Fair and offering a private party/dinner for 10 for a private school in her community that the school auctions off.

EXPERT TIP: Be alert for opportunities to be of service to your community and be proactive in your outreach. Showing that you’re always there and willing to help speaks volumes and customers will remember that giving, selfless spirit when the holidays come around.

3. Inviting ways

Kelli Trumble, owner of Alpha Beta Karma in Wisconsin Dells, WI, works directly with local schools throughout the year but rather than making straight donations, she invites students to be part of her shop so they feel connected to her, her shop and her customers.

“We bring current students and graduates in [from the Madison College Fashion Marketing program] to design paper dresses during Fashion Night Out events and special occasions for our window gallery on Broadway,” says Trumble. “People are constantly stopping and taking a closer look before taking a photo or two.”

She also engages the local high school fashion program in hosting the class in the boutique. “We give the students the opportunity to put together Lookbooks using all of our styles and product lines.”

EXPERT TIP: “The more engaged the community feels in your retail business, the greater the referrals, and developing new and repeat business,” adds Trumble. “It’s all about building loyalty.”

4. Exclusive events

Gina Lempa has the benefit of meeting with many retailers daily as an independent sales representative who represents Melrose International and Vickerman Company. One great way to engage with non-profits and drive traffic, according to Lempa, is to offer special day or evening events to a variety of organizations. Have them sign up on a calendar that you’ve pre-determined are the best days/dates for you and your business. After they’ve signed up, encourage them to let their members and supporters know by promoting it via newsletters, social media sites and word of mouth. The more people who attend, the greater the donation potential.

This collaborative marketing idea also helps you manage the many requests that retailers receive for donations, says Lempa. Instead of saying yes or no to the many requests you receive, instead enlist those people to sign up for your donation events and have them enroll their membership into a fun and different event focusing on their particular cause.

EXPERT TIP: “Gather all participants’ names and contact information and group affiliation, so that you are constantly building your customer database and invite them all back to celebrate and save during your fourth quarter Holiday open houses and events,” says Lempa.

5. Get technical

If realizing a direct correlation between your community involvement and the bottom line is an important measure for you, one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by donating gift certificates to various non-profits or providing them with customized codes so when a customer shops a percentage of the sale is earmarked for that specific organization. Neither of these activities is very time-intensive and you have the opportunity to reach a larger number of organizations. Also, your bottom line isn’t affected if the gift certificates aren’t redeemed and the percentage is only donated after a purchase is made.

Lauren Woods, owner of Cracker Jax in Dekalb, Ill., uses donations of gift certificates and gift baskets throughout the year to worthy charities and schools as a gesture of goodwill but also for loyalty-building. By simply providing an email address, she can keeps tabs on purchase amounts and once they hit $100 in spending, she gives them store credit which she hopes they’ll use anytime, including the winter months.

EXPERT TIP: After that initial visit, encourage return visits by getting them involved in a loyalty program. “We only ask for an email address and for every dollar a customer spends, they earn a point,” Woods explains. “Once they accumulate 100 points they receive a $10.00 store credit.”

Megy Karydes

Megy Karydes is a professional writer and president of marketing/public relations consulting firm Karydes Consulting. She specializes in the gift and home industry. You can reach her by visiting www.karydesconsulting.com.

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