How to leverage this Saturday's "shop local" frenzy

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, the buzz around the fourth annual Small Business Saturday is reaching a fever pitch. For retail establishments, participation may be a no-brainer—Small Business Saturday activities bring in customers and counteract the Black Friday/Cyber Monday frenzy at “big box” stores and online retailers. But how can independent restaurants and bars take advantage of the “shop local” craze on November 30?

1. Attract and retain new customers

Consumers will be out in full force on Small Business Saturday, and they’ll get hungry and thirsty during a long day of shopping. According to a 2012 poll by American Express (where the Small Business Saturday campaign originated), 59 percent of consumers planned on eating in a local restaurant to mark the occasion.

If you want to attract those shoppers to dine and/or drink with you, try using a clever slogan in-store, out front or on social media, or offer a special menu item or promotion. For example, American Express cardholders get a $10 credit when spending $10 or more at the Boston eatery Porters Bar & Grill. Porters has been promoting the special on their Facebook page for weeks, including the creative touch of using the Shop Small logo as their profile picture. The National Restaurant Association recently offered tips for members to make the most of Small Business Saturday, such as offering limited-time specials that customers can cash in after November 30 and utilizing the #SmallBizSat hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.

Remember to keep track of what these efforts cost—you’ll want to have a record of what you spent on your Small Business Saturday marketing, including expenditures for supplies, staff time, and discounts. (You can also take advantage of the free promotional materials that American Express provides.) This will help you to determine the return on your investment and plan for an even more successful promotion next year. Solutions like Swipely make marketing success easy to measure, not only on Small Business Saturday but for any marketing campaign you run, from Burger Night to Restaurant Week.

As customers take advantage of your Small Business Saturday offer (or any special), it’s a great time to promote your loyalty program! This is an ideal way to bring those new customers back and make sure your business stays at the top of their minds.

2. Use free tools to promote your offer

There is certainly no shortage of materials out there to help you promote Small Business Saturday. It’s easy to use the wide variety of welcome mats, printable signage, marketing materials, and social media and email templates available. They’re free, and the payoff for a few minutes spent checking them out might just surprise you.

Restaurants and bars also have a great opportunity to maximize the $10 incentive that AMEX offers cardholders by offering a bonus deal. Take $5 off the cost of gift certificates on November 30 and you’ll be able to promote it as $15 off (your $5 discount + AMEX’s $10 back = $15 total savings for customers). Now there's a holiday promotion for you—triple the offer to entice customers, at no additional cost to your business. Check out how Butter Lane in NYC is using this benefit to sweeten the deal for their customers and increase both cupcake pre-orders and registration to their cupcake classes.

You can also use information from your social media accounts and other data-gathering tools during and after the event to help you learn how popular your promotions were and which kinds of customers they attracted. Putting these details together with anecdotal reports from your staff, comments from customers, and your own expert observations will paint a clearer picture of your success.

3. Team up with your local business association and neighbors

Businesses that stick together tend to grow together. You’re surrounded by a community of fellow entrepreneurs, so it’s worth a few calls and a few minutes on the web to see who you might team up with on November 30.

This year, American Express is rolling out a new tool for merchants: Neighborhood Circles. Browse the site to find others in your area participating in Small Business Saturday, or start a Neighborhood Circle of your own, inviting other business owners to join forces in promoting the event in your area. This is a good starting point for developing a local network of support.

While you’re in the process of supporting your community, give something back by offering an opportunity for your fellow business owners to unwind after what could be their busiest sales day of the year. They will appreciate the gesture and it won’t go unnoticed. Try offering a modified “industry night” special—a new cocktail or menu item for local merchants as a day-of promotion. Make sure to share the special in your Neighborhood Circle a couple of days ahead of time.

4. Get staff involved

Small Business Saturday has some major advertising power behind it already, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put your own spin on promoting the day—the holiday season is here, and customers are practically swimming in places to spend their “eating and drinking dollars,” so make sure your business stands out.

On November 30, make sure your staff is as prepared and excited as you are. Encourage them to help with planning your promotions—you could hold a staff contest to name a unique sandwich or cocktail that you’ll offer that day. Encourage them to add ideas to a holiday playlist, participate in decorating your dining room, or lend their creative talents to signage or social media.

Of course, they’ll be on the front lines as well, interacting with guests about your special promotions, reminding them that it’s a great time to make a gift card purchase, or perhaps reservations for one of the upcoming holidays. This proactive approach not only allows you to make a new sale, it helps drive new guests back into your establishment well into the new year. Be sure to keep track of who’s returning—the most valuable customer you can get from a promotion is one who becomes a regular!

5. Extend Small Business Saturday into December

Last year, American Express released some impressive statistics on consumer spending around Small Business Saturday. With Experian predicting an 11 percent increase in holiday spending this year, the impact on revenue could be even greater.

But you don’t have to stop capitalizing on this opportunity when you close your doors on November 30. Look for ways to extend the holiday by promoting gift cards and other holiday gift ideas with in-store signage and mentions from your servers. You’ll not only drive sales through the height of the holiday season; you’ll also get the chance to impress even more diners who come in to use their gift cards after the new year. This extended boost in business is a valuable payoff on your promotion. Use the available tools—your business management software, point-of-sale system, or other technology—to keep track of the number of new customers your campaign brought in, as well as how many of them continue to come back after Small Business Saturday.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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