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Ring In the Holidays and Ring Up the Sales

By Marcia Richards Suelzer, MA, JD | November 23, 2015

"Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it," a pundit once observed. As you continue your preparations for the 2015 holiday season, keep this excellent advice in mind.

The harsh reality is that few small businesses can win by trying to imitate the big-box stores and slashing prices dramatically. Mega-businesses have a number of advantages in the price-slashing arena: They can demand low prices from wholesalers and they have a vast array of other products to offset the losses taken on the specials.

But, that doesn't mean that you can't have a successful holiday sales season. After seeing every permutation of the 'game' global thermonuclear war resulted in total destruction, Joshua the computer in the movie War Games observed: "the only winning strategy is not to play." And then, he suggested, "How about a nice game of chess."

Playing a different game can be your winning strategy as well. Don't compete on price for mass production items. Instead, focus on quality service, unique product offerings and a deep knowledge of your customers and your community.

Begin with Your Customer in Mind

If you have ever braved Black Friday at a major retailer, you know the "pleasant and peaceful" aren't adjectives that spring to mind. Capitalize on that by making shopping pleasant for your customers. Happy customers will be year-round customers!

Some tips include:

  • If you are planning a Black Friday sale, start your sale in the late morning or early afternoon, rather than at 4 AM.
  • Consider skipping Black Friday all together and going all out for Small Business Saturday (see below).
  • Are you near a big box store? Take advantage of your location by offering a "rest station" - featuring coffee, tea and cookies -- or a "reward" of 5% off for showing you a big-box receipt. Restaurateurs might want to consider opening earlier than usual to capture the early AM shopping crowd. (The discount for showing a sales receipt works for restaurants as well.)

At this time of year, it is more important than ever to know what makes your business unique and what your customers' value. Ask yourself what you can do that your competitors can't do--or can't do as well. Capitalize on what makes your business special.

Work Smart

Our articles, "Understanding Your Target Market Is Critical for Success" and "You Must Understand Your Competition" can help you define your unique selling proposition.

Publicize Your Holiday Events and Sales

In order to do business, you have to have business. This means that you have to have a publicity and communications strategy into place. This need not be extensive and elaborate in order to be effective. Consider these ideas:

  • Social media. Update your Facebook page for the holidays. Consider a cover page photo that shows your products in use. Restaurants should consider showcasing a seasonal menu offering. (Guidance regarding what is permitted and what is not can be found in the Facebook Page Guidelines.) Develop special offers that you promote directly on your Facebook page. If you have a Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest account, follow a similar strategy for those social media sites. (Twitter is particularly valuable for promoting daily specials, while Instagram and Pinterest are great for showcasing your best selling products .)
  • Email. Send out an email blast to your customers spotlighting the products that make your business unique. Let your customers know of upcoming sales and holiday events. If you don't already have an email sign-up, now is the time to get started.
  • Website. Obviously, if you are an online business, or have a significant online presence, you know the critical importance of having an updated and fully functional website. This means that you need to review each page to make sure that it conveys your holiday messaging and any special prices. Make sure that any discount codes are working as intended. Even if you don't consider yourself an online business, take the time to review your website and make it as festive as possible.

Partner with Others to Increase Customer Interest

The local business owner is part of a community in a way that large-scale chains are not. Tap into this--especially during the holiday season. Partner with nearby businesses to create paired discounts or holiday promotions. Participate in any holiday events offered by your area's Chamber of Commerce or merchants' association. (Our story, "Use These Tricks to Scare Up Halloween Business," provides examples of how businesses can work together, so that everyone benefits.)

Participate in "Small Business Saturday"

The national chains and big-box retailers have their "Black Friday" events, but the following day, "Small Business Saturday" is rapidly gaining traction as the day independent retailers and restaurants can shine. Although Small Business Saturday is a promotion of American Express, you do not have to accept the American Express card to participate in the promotions and publicity.

The Small Business Saturday website offers a variety of marketing tools that you can personalize to help you get your message out to your community. These resources include:

  • Digital banners and logos that you can use on your website or blog
  • Artwork for signs
  • Social media and email templates that include pre-written posts, examples of blog posts, tweets and emails.

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