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Attracting Local Customers
by Tracy Dryovage
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January 9, 2023
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Last week while I was perusing social media, I saw someone post that they went to a long-standing local restaurant, after living here for many years, and found it wasn’t nearly as expensive as they imagined, and the food was amazing. I wish I heard that more often.  As a local commercial lender and a SCORE mentor, I hear from my clients their struggles with bringing in the local business, especially in the off season. Here in Northern Michigan many of our businesses are seasonal, however there are still expenses to be paid and payroll to be met. There are some options to help with seasonality. If your business is in a good position and can qualify for an operating line of credit for the shoulder season, that is ok, but that still costs money. And interest rates are steep right now and the Fed just signaled they will keep rising through 2023. If you are profitable, you may have saved for the slow season and can use your savings to supplement, although not everyone has the margins to be able to do that. Especially with the recent rise in Costs of Goods Sold. There is no “one size fits all” way to overcome these types of obstacles, but these obstacles do exist. So, what else can you do? And why just rely on seasonal sales? People live here all year, too. When I think of the local businesses that thrive all year … the one thing comes to mind?

Creativity! Some of the successful things that I have seen done locally include:

  • Holding Events: If you are retail, plan a workshop or hold a fashion show. If you are a restaurant, plan an event that may showcase a particular food item or ethnicity you are known for. Collaborate with your vendors to hold events.
  • Use social media wisely: Join the local Facebook groups and be ACTIVE in them. Support other businesses, share their events and they will share yours (make sure you tag each other). Don’t just try to sell your products or services to the group but become known as a local business that can help solve problems with your product or service. Don’t forget email campaigns, as not everyone is on social media. Have a sign-up book on your checkout counter for email promotions.
  • Sponsor the local sports teams with donations or ask to volunteer at sporting events.
  • Collaborate marketing with complimentary businesses. A clothing store and a shoe store could plan a sales event together.
  • Feature neighborhood leaders in your marketing and in-store promotions.
  • Team up with your favorite charity. If you aren’t in a position to donate, offer to just use your place of business to host a fundraiser for them.
  • Team up with real estate offices/realtors … remember the Welcome Wagon? New people are moving to this area all the time.
  • If you aren’t a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, you may want to consider. They have events where you can showcase your products or services for free to minimal cost.
  • Offer off season discounts or specials to locals, if possible.

I am sure there are other ideas out there. If you have them, share them with your other community business owners. It would be great to see and hear more people talk about local businesses and the great experiences they had, that they were unaware existed. Yes, you need to get them in there, but a little creativity could go a long way in getting them in! Local support should be an integral part of your success not just in the off season, but year-round.

If you are looking for additional help with marketing or ways to help drive clients into your business, reach out to us at SCORE-Tip of The Mitt or go to www.tipofthemitt.score.org.

Tracey Dryovage is Vice President of Commercial Lending at First Community Bank in Petoskey and a volunteer business mentor and Chapter Chair with SCORE’s Tip of the Mitt Chapter. To request SCORE’s free and confidential mentoring services for small business, call (231) 347-4150.

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About the author
Tracy Dryovage
Tracy Dryovage is vice president for commercial lending with First Community Bank in Petoskey, as part of the “Scoring in Business” column series provided by SCORE’s Tip of the Mitt chapter.
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