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Shop Local: Authenticity as a Key Holiday Promotion

Posted by: John Tozzi on November 13, 2009

Independent brick-and-mortar retailers have a key advantage over big box competitors: Their stores are rooted in their communities. Small business owners can leverage that sense of place and connection to people who live there in a way that’s very hard for Target or Best Buy to replicate.

On Nov. 21, retailers will promote local shopping with America Unchained! (and Canada Unchained!) events organized by local business alliances. The American Independent Business Alliance has a tool kit here.

By now consumers and business owners broadly recognize the buy-local movement and it seems to gain attention each year, particularly with the recent focus on local food. It’s no coincidence that the America Unchained! promotion comes the week before Black Friday. Small retailers want to get customers’ attention before the post-Thanksgiving sprint begins.

Yesterday I asked Becky McCray, author of the Small Biz Survival blog on rural and small town businesses, what local stores can do to boost sales during the holidays. McCray, who also owns a liquor retailer in Alva, Okla., offered several ideas that we’ll unspool in our ongoing coverage of the holiday retail season, but here’s one to think about now: focus on Thanksgiving instead of Christmas.

Outside of supermarkets, most chain stores don’t promote around Thanksgiving. They’ve long since started Christmas-related marketing, which begins earlier each year. Thanksgiving is not a gift-giving holiday. My sense is that it’s one of the few American holidays that still feels authentically about what it has always been about, and heavy-handed marketing around it would seem cheap.

So how can small retailers tie promotions to Thanksgiving? By marketing with authenticity, McCray says. “It’s a great time to emphasize family, to emphasize togetherness,” she says. This is a natural for food and wine stores, but it’s less about what the store sells than putting the products in the context of how people can use them “to provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere in their home right now,” McCray says. Even a hardware store can highlight this as a time to make small repairs to ready the house for guests. “Every retailer has some connection to people’s lives,” she says. “That’s why we exist.”

If you spot a creative local holiday campaign or Thanksgiving promotion, let us know in comments below or on Twitter.

Reader Comments

Carolyn Higgins

November 15, 2009 03:18 PM

I love this post. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm a little offended by the Big Box Store ads this year; trying to convince us that even though many of us are unemployed and broke we need to spend money - and they have just the way to help us!

I work with local small businesses and I keep telling them that this is a turning point for them. With everything that has happened in the last year; the collapse of the banking and auto industries and corporate bail-outs consumers are mistrustful of the large corporate behemoths.

It's time for small businesses to capitalize on that. We need to promote our strenghts: our integrity, our independence, our dedication, our loyalty to our communities - our authenticity. You hit the nail on the head with that. We small business owners are living the American dream and often struggle to stay alive while large corporations are getting our tax dollars and squandering them away.

Our society has changed over the last year and a half. Small businesses it's time point out and emphasize why you are different from Walmart and the mall stores. Take John's advice, focus on family, togetherness, and community and you will do well this season.

-Carolyn Higgins


December 15, 2009 04:28 AM

The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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