The most wonderful time of the year is also the most competitive. For retailers of all shapes and sizes, the holiday shopping season means big business. For small and independent retailers, though, the holiday season comes with a unique set of challenges, as national chains, big-box stores and online-only retailers run increasingly flashy Black Friday promotions and season-long gimmicks. To level the playing field, small businesses should work together to achieve holiday season success.
By collaborating, small businesses can build strength in numbers. They can share lessons from years past and tap into each other's customer bases. They can grow quickly and distribute losses, just like their larger counterparts – but it's not all about playing like the competition.
Small businesses can also work together to multiply their impact on the local economy. Research shows that independent retailers recirculate more than three times as much of their revenues into the local economy as national chains and big boxes do. Independent businesses make an even bigger difference than online-only retailers like Amazon. By boosting their holiday sales, small businesses can make the season even more meaningful for the entire community.
The first step to working together is getting to know the other small businesses in your community. Main Street organizations (often known as independent business alliances, downtown business districts and Local First initiatives) bring small businesses together with empowerment campaigns and advocacy programs all year long. During the holiday season, these groups tap into local traditions and nationwide trends to help small businesses compete with their larger counterparts. In doing so, Main Street organizations provide important networking opportunities to help small businesses band together.
Once your small business connects with local partners, the real planning begins. Keep these ideas in mind as you work with fellow businesses this holiday shopping season.
1. Rally your neighborhood.
For small businesses, no holiday season strategy is complete without a Small Business Saturday game plan. Each year, Small Business Saturday brings millions of Americans to Main Street to kick off the holiday shopping season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year's celebration, which will take place on Nov. 30, marks the 10th anniversary of the growing initiative.
Beyond planning for your own business, you can sign up to rally your entire neighborhood in support of Small Business Saturday. American Express, which created the shopping holiday, offers a host of promotional materials to Neighborhood Champions to help them drum up enthusiasm for Small Business Saturday in their communities. Neighborhood Champions organize events, build teams and otherwise spread the word about Small Business Saturday. While doing so, they help create a consistent brand and celebration among their communities' small businesses, allowing consumers to easily navigate Main Street on the big day. You can find ideas and downloadable event-planning resources online from American Express to get started as a Neighborhood Champion.
2. Join local traditions.
Even if you can't commit to rallying your neighborhood, you can still celebrate the holidays with your community. Local Main Street groups, downtown associations and chambers of commerce fill the holiday season with local traditions, including holiday parades, light displays and caroling sessions. Each of these events represents a new opportunity to make connections in your community. By working with the host organization, you can network with other small business owners and local leaders. By participating in the event, you'll introduce your business to local residents and consumers during the important holiday shopping season. In this way, you can drive traffic to your business and to other small businesses in the community at the time when people are most likely to shop small.
A focus on local traditions has another advantage: It's genuine. While national chains and big-box retailers slash prices to the tune of classic jingles, you and your fellow neighborhood businesses will create a campaign that's true to the community. As a result, the connections you make with consumers and community members will run deeper than a catchy commercial or a flashy catalog. By connecting your business to a treasured tradition, you'll leave a lasting impression that serves your team well into the new year.
3. Enhance wayfinding.
If there's any single indicator of the resurgence of local downtown districts in recent years, it's the rise of wayfinding initiatives. These projects involve making downtown plazas and public squares more inviting by installing signage to aid navigation. Wayfinding signs point visitors to public parking, points of interest and public transportation. They help people move through downtown business districts more easily, making Main Street businesses more accessible. Particularly during the busy holiday shopping season, accessibility is imperative for downtown businesses.
For the holiday season, consider adding some festive wayfinding signage to your community. Send shoppers to small businesses, to a holiday lights display and the nearest hot chocolate cart. By making Main Street more navigable, you'll encourage residents and visitors alike to explore all that downtown has to offer this time of year.
4. Keep the kids in mind.
The holiday season feels especially magical when you're under the age of 10. When planning for your community, don't forget to incorporate the youngest residents. After all, most holiday shopping is done by Santa, right?
Give kids a small business scavenger hunt to keep them engaged while their parents shop. They can look for a special treat or prize at each store their parents visit, and local businesses can start to build relationships with the next generation of consumers. Let local businesses take turns hosting weekly children's activities (such as decorating ornaments) at their stores. That way, parents have an incentive to visit different small businesses each week of the holiday shopping season. These tactics spread the love for small businesses in your community, allowing them to make the most of the holiday season even after Small Business Saturday.
5. Invest in online retail.
It's no secret that online shopping has skyrocketed in recent holiday seasons, and experts expect the trend to continue. Deloitte's annual holiday retail projections predict online holiday sales to near $150 billion in 2019. Big-box and online-only retailers will continue to battle it out with free last-minute shipping and unbeatable prices, but a coordinated effort from small businesses can add a new platform to the mix.
Small businesses often struggle with online retail. Whether it's due to a lack of manpower or a product of prioritization, the failure to maintain an e-commerce platform can hurt businesses this time of year. To make online retailing easier, small businesses can work together to develop a holiday season platform. You could create an online gift guide by promoting the hottest items from your combined inventories in a single online store. Use an e-commerce tool like Shopify to make the technology easy to use and manage. Finally, promote your platform on Small Business Saturday so customers can check it out all season long. [Looking for an e-commerce platform or shopping cart software for an online store? Check out our reviews and best picks here.]
It's still early, but your preparations for the holiday shopping season should be in full swing. As you plan, find ways to work with other small businesses in your community. By teaming up for the holidays, your local business community can execute bigger campaigns and achieve bigger results. This way, this holiday season won't be all about the big boxes.