Where I live the downtown has been going through a revival.
A decade or so ago the area was kind of off limits. At that time I was in college and I don’t really remember anybody every really talking about going downtown.
Flash forward to today, though, and it’s one of the areas where you’ll find the most locals and visitors. And one of the cool aspects of the rebirth has been the influx of specialty shops.
Antique stores, music stores, consignment shops, clothing shops and more. I like to think of them as specialty shops or stores.
It’s a unique time for local businesses. As an owner or operator of one it can seem like an impossible task to compete with the online world. It certainly is a losing battle to compete with the online retailers at their game, but you can win by doing what they don’t do.
I remember reading about Sam Walton. His company. Walmart, was vilified for coming into small towns and seemingly putting small retailers out of business. But Sam pointed out that smart retailers would move right next to Walmart and sell what Walmart couldn’t sell.
Anyway, there is plenty of opportunity to market your local specialty shop using old and new marketing strategies.
Here are a few of my favorites.
Right now Instagram is one of the most popular social networks. That might change in the coming years, but even if it does the ideas in this section can work with something similar.
As a specialty shop, you have unique products. You’re probably an artist or have a good eye for unique items. You may even craft some kind of unique product that really makes people stop and pay attention.
That type of product does very well on visual networks like Instagram.
Make it a point to post a photo of every item on Instagram. Start with one per day, but really look to boost that as you get into it. When people discover things they like, such as an Instagram profile, they want as much as they can get.
Start with the items. Move on to photos of the store. Then the people visiting the store. Then the outside of the store. Then surrounding areas near the store.
The more you post the more you’ll learn what people like and you can build on that.
Use local hashtags to get the attention of people in your area.
Instagram has video capability. Definitely get involved in their Stories functionality, but also look to create video for YouTube. It’s also one of the biggest opportunities for businesses, including local businesses, right now.
The tricky thing with video is that there is a learning curve. There is editing and styling. You either have to go low tech by doing it yourself and committing to putting some time in or you have to find someone to come in and help.
You might be able to find a friend of a friend that will do it for cheap. Maybe an intern from the local college. Just realize that they’ll be learning with you. The quality may not be high. And you’ll eventually have to find a replacement when they go somewhere that pays them.
But it can still be worthwhile.
If you’re not sure what to create video for there are two things I recommend:
First, document what you do in the store. Have the video person ask you about a product. Have them document an interaction with a customer or your process for sourcing your items. If you’re a craftsman, definitely have them document the making-of process.
Second, solicit questions from customers. Anytime a customer asks a question take note and then take time later to answer the question with a video and post it. If one person is asking something you can bet that many more are searching for the same thing online and likely on YouTube.
3. Local Influencer Marketing
Even if you’re in a small town there are influencers. There always have been. Some people just command more attention and thus hold more influence than others in any type of community.
The cool thing about the world today is that there are different channels where influencers spend their time and hold the attention of the community.
Instagram is one place. You can search for your city and instantly see the 9 most popular posts for your city at that moment. Identify the accounts. See what they’re about. Send them a message just letting them know that you love what they’re doing. If you can, offer them something for free. One of your products if possible. Maybe you source vintage clothes and you see that someone in your area has great style. Send them a message that you’d love for them to check out your store and in return you’ll offer them a free item. Do that enough times and they’ll start posting about you to all their followers.
Another medium to check out is the local news. TV, radio and even the newspaper. These places still have big influence in communities. See who the anchors are or the writers or the radio hosts. Reach out to them to see if they’d ever be interested in checking out your store. Again, offer them something free in return for their attention. Maybe you specialize in vintage watches and you notice that a TV anchor always has a great watching. Maybe you can’t offer them a free watch, but you could offer them a free cleaning.
Don’t ask for anything in return. Trust that the more you do this the more attention they will bring, but you can’t expect it otherwise the process will fail.
4. Event Marketing
Most towns have events that command a lot of attendance and attention from the community. Look to find ways to get involved in these. Music events. Charity events. All kinds of things. For one you might be able to be a sponsor. For another you might be able to offer some kind of service or even free products.
You could even offer your location as a meeting place for community meetings or something like that.
5. Website (Local SEO)
One question local businesses have today is whether a website is necessary or not. I tend to agree with Moz, one of the foremost leaders in SEO, on the matter. They believe that websites are more important for small businesses than ever.
One reason is that people will search for things with local buyer intent. So if you sell vintage clothes and someone in your area searches for “vintage clothes” they will see results for vintage clothing stores near them.
Obviously you want to rank well. Moz has found that businesses with the best websites often have the top results for searches such as this.
It’s never been a better time to have a specialty shop. The way you market and earn the attention of customers has changed over the last several decades. You can’t market like it’s 1950 anymore. But you can certainly use the strategies of today to earn attention and earn new business.