The Successful Retailer Is A Good Local Citizen

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To get a bigger bang for your advertising buck, I advise dealers to try getting more deeply involved with the community in which your retail business is located.

Make your contribution in the name of goodwill rather than advertising alone, and you should see an increase in store traffic. That is the best method for building a loyal following of customers who are more apt to overlook a lower price from your larger competitors. Why? Because they'd rather buy from "one of us" where the boss who supports local events is easy to reach and is known in the area for his or her friendliness and honesty.

I was reminded of this the other evening while watching my local public service television station. It happened to be during a pledge week when the station was attempting to raise money to cover its costs of bringing good programs, free of commercial spots, to its viewers.

During the frequent breaks in one of my favorite programs, a representative from a local business made a pitch to the audience to support the station's efforts. All one had to do was phone a local number and pledge a dollar amount of support to one of about 30 volunteer operators who also worked at various businesses in our town.

Then, at one point during the evening, another person from a local business appeared on my TV screen to announce that his company would match the total amount of money viewers would pledge during the next five minutes.

The station management's frequent on-air thanks to that company were probably worth more than the thousands of dollars that the firm could have spent elsewhere on commercial advertising.

If supporting your local public TV station in this manner is not your cup of tea, or if they already have more volunteers than they need, there are many other ways in which you can demonstrate that you're a solid local citizen.

How about making a video tape of a neighborhood school's ball game, dance or other group activity with the kids? It's not difficult to imagine that every parent, relative and friend of a participating youngster would want to see a showing of that tape. Indeed, playing the tape in the store at pre-announced times can get you more traffic than you'd need to make the effort worthwhile.

A more direct way to make customers out of shoppers lies in allying yourself with a men's or women's group at a neighborhood church or school.

Promoting the fact that you will donate a percentage of what those members spend in your store during a certain month will surely show that you care. A word of caution, though: If your community has more than one such organization competing for members and funds, don't support one at the risk of offending the others.

Finally, there's the approach of educating the public. If, for example, you were to run a class on how to make better use of a computer, camcorder or any other product with which your store is identified, your reputation for expertise is practically assured. Then, to ensure that you are not educating customers for your competition, offer a purchase discount for class attendees.

Even if you've only been in business for a short while, chances are you recognize the importance of building store traffic.

However, the pressures of operating in a business climate inundated with superstores, Internet offerings, and so on may be keeping you from doing what you already know must be done. In that case, I suggest that you take a deep breath and ask yourself, "If I were a local shopper, what would attract me to my store?"

Jules Steinberg is president of Jules Steinberg & Associates, 425 Sunset Road, Winnetka, Ill. 60093. Phone (847) 446-7312; e-mail JSteinb611@aol.com.

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