5 Community Involvement Tips for Retailers

Independent retailers need to become part of the community in which they serve. The retailer's survival depends on the customers in the town or city buying from them. This is a simple truth. But did you know that being a part of the community can be a bigger driver in your sales than an ad in the newspaper or a billboard along the highway? Customers want to support the business that support their community. They want to buy from retailers who give back to the community.

Often times, we read about the big national brand coming into town and running the local store out of business. We tend to chalk this up to better buying power. But the truth is, if the store is "owned" by the community, they will protect it from the big box store. The best way to do that is to make your store and its employees part of the "family" of your town. You need to wow your customers and exceed their expectations because when you do, they will pay more and shop more. 

Here are 5 simple ways to give back to you community:

1. Volunteer Your Time or Space

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It doesn't take much space for a small group to meet. Consider volunteering your facilities to local clubs or related organizations. For example, if you sell comic books or other collectibles, loan your space to the local collectors club for their monthly meetings. If you don't have the space, give of your time. If you sell books, offer to read to pre-schoolers at the library's story time. Besides getting the personal satisfaction of helping others, you'll be interacting with potential customers. 

A friend of mine is the CEO of Rockler Woodworking. Their stores allow the local woodworking guilds to meet in the store for free and it builds a great bond with the community. 

2. Provide Education

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Most retailers are experts about the products they sell and have a wealth of information to share. Check with the local college or library about teaching a class in your expertise. The best way to do this, though, is to conduct the class right in your store. The retailer who provides education today is the one who is separating itself from the rest of the pack. After all, if you are the "local" store, then you know the "locals" better than anyone. And your education shows you care about the people and the community where you live. 

3. Sponsor an Event

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Whether it's the Relay for Life, Red Ribbon Week or some other local program, most communities have at least one large event in need of sponsors. Read the local newspaper for upcoming events. Can't find a local event that fits your business? Host your own. All it takes is a little planning, support from your suppliers and favorable media coverage and you have the makings of a wonderful marketing opportunity and a great community event. There is always someone looking for sponsors for their 5k run. 

But if you do this one, make sure its not a check you wrote, but an actual commitment your making to the organization. Your logo on a t-shirt as a sponsor gets lost. You telling your customers about the cause and why you're involved and in visiting them to join you is a totally different customer experience. And it shows that you care about more than your sales

4. Adopt a Project

Once you start looking for an organization to become involved with, you will probably find your community has many projects, big and small, that could use your hands-on help. The best project is a local school. Parents are the best advertisers and the most loyal customers - when you love on their kids that is. 

Get all of your employees involved. And better yet, get your cusomrer involved. In my shoe stores, we had a cat roaming the sales floor at all times. This cat was from a local shelter we supported. If a customer adopted the cat and gave them a home, we would pay the adoption fee for them. We became know for this in our town and eventually people started asking us if we could help them with their cats - and they weren't even customers just members of our community talking about us to everyone. Many times a customer would drop by just to visit the cat! And often times, the new product we just got in would catch their eye as well. 

5. Join an Association or Club

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Getting involved can help build a bond between your business and the community. It also lets you meet others who may share common interests and needs. Become a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau or another club to make some business connections, as well as some friends.

But like the other ideas above, don't simply write a check. Get involved. That is the only way you will get a true ROI.