Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Keeping It In The Neighborhood

by Barbara Wujcik, editorial coordinator

When I stopped in a neighborhood gift shop recently, I found a perfect gift for my brother — a Chicago White Sox-themed deck of playing cards. The woman at the counter asked if I wanted it gift wrapped. At first I said no, but she suggested it could be wrapped in team colors and pulled out some black wrapping paper. With a white ribbon this small, fun gift took on some extra charm.

That’s the kind of thing that neighborhood gift shops do best. They provide that extra service and a personal touch, and that’s why people come back to them. There is also a toy shop in the same area where a salesperson will walk around with you and point out things that are good for the kids of a certain age. The place has many repeat customers.

These shops feel more like visiting your neighbors than shopping. Think about it. People tend to buy from people they like and are comfortable with. They want them to succeed and continue. It’s all about making connections with your neighborhood.

I’ve read news stories recently about “frugal fatigue.” People are getting tired of watching every dime. I’m not saying that customers are going to run out and start spending madly, but I think someone might treat themselves to some earrings, a new bag, personal care products or a small home decor piece. And as one company rep told me “gift occasions — birthdays, births, weddings — continue no matter what." Your shop can be the place they come to for those gifts.

Get to know your neighbors. Take a look at who’s walking down your street. See a lot of young families? Might be time to put in more kid’s items; plan store hours so moms can come in after they drop their kids off at school. Think about sponsoring a youth sport team. Carry merchandise that reflects professional and collegiate teams in your area. And, of course, be sure to thank customers for shopping locally.

Participate in sidewalk sales, pet parades, charitable activities — show people you’re a good neighbor. Hold occasional open houses to thank people for their patronage and hold sales around neighborhood festivals. The more you connect with the community, the more people will want to come in just to see what’s new. It will, after all, be like dropping in on a neighbor.

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