I'm sure you've all seen the social media memes and heard the radio ads reminding you to shop at small businesses during the holiday season, but sometimes that is easier said than done. Big chains can be more convenient, sometimes less expensive, and more reliable for returns and exchanges. But as a jewelry designer and small business owner (and supporter) myself, I have found that there are a number of benefits that you may not have thought about when shopping "small." Here's a few tips and ideas that can help you (and thus your local business owners) when shopping small this holiday and year round. Most of these apply to craft or handmade vendors, but you may be able to apply this to other small businesses like car repair, retail stores, print shops, etc.
- Negotiate to get the price you want - While not all of us feel comfortable haggling with business owners, believe it or not, a lot of us are more than willing to work with you our on prices. An easy way to see if a business owner is open to negotiate is by simply going up to them and asking them if they are running any specials. Usually you can tell by their response if there is any wiggle room in the price. They may show you to the sale items or straight up tell you that they will be happy to negotiate with you on price if you find an item that you interested in purchasing. Though this isn't the case with every small business (especially if they have high overhead or their prices are already obsurdly low), but many small businesses are happy (and even expect) you to bargain with them. I firmly believe that it is better to give a few bucks off then to not sell anything at all and have a customer walk away.
- Tell them how much you want to spend - Okay so you tried haggling but there is no way that you are going to get that $30 item for $10. The next best thing is to tell the business owner what you are looking to spend. Sometimes there are clearance or older items that they are more willing to give a deep discount on. Since they know what type of item you are interested in now, they should be able to point you in the direction of a lesser priced, but equally appealling alterative.
Last week I had a customer who was trying to find a Secret Santa gift for a coworker. The budget was $10. Clearly none of my newer, more extravagant sets that I was displaying were going to fit the bill but I had an entire stash of older items under the table. I pulled them out and proceeded to show her items that I was willing to go cheaper on. Both were happy: she got a great deal and I got rid of an older item.
- Custom or adjusted work - Another benefit to shopping small is that a shop owner is more likely to go out of their way to get the customer what he or she is looking for. For example, you've got your eye on a specific piece but the item is too long, the wrong color or has someone else's name on it even. At a big box store, it's take it or leave it, but with a small business owner, they can often tweek an existing item or custom make a new one to your exact liking. I personally bring my tools with me to my craft shows so I can do on-the-spot adjustments. Don't like that type of clasp? No problem? Too long? No problem. Want me to swap charms or pendants? No problem...you get the idea.
The only way to know if a store owner can alter something is by asking them. Instead of simply walking away, next time ask them, "I like this pendant, but I was looking for something in red. Can you custom make that or swap this pendant to another necklace." You will be very surprised how many small businesses are happy to make adjustments.
You can even give your business owner pictures of items you are trying to match, dimensions you need, even wedding colors to help them customize your item. I've even had clients buy the beads and pendants themselves and I simply did the assembly. Point is, if there is something specific that you are looking for, small business is the way to go.
- Repeat customer or bulk discount - Once you are a regular customer, you have a leverage with your small business owner. You've developed a repoire. They know you by your first name. So now's the time to ask for a discount. If you've been paying what everyone else is paying for a while now, perhaps the owner is willing to give you a little discount on your next purchase. If not, you may still be able to get a bulk discount for buying a few extra this time. It may cost more than you are used to spending up front, but will save you money in the long run. Assuming the item is non perishable, of course.
- Referral bonuses - This is a creative, but often unused technique that can save you money with small businesses with whom you already do business. With little to no money for advertising, getting new customers to find and use their business is not always easy. That's why small business owners LOVE referrals. The next time you patron your favorite small business, ask them if they give referral bonuses, say, maybe a small discount or a free item, when a customer mentions their name when purchasing. Even if the small business owner had never done it in the past, they may be open to new ways of marketing they hadn't thought of before. On a side note, your craft or handmade vendor may even do home shows where they will give you deep discounts or free products based off your party sales. Ask them if they do home shows.
- Discounts in other ways - This is your opportunity to think outside the box. If you are shopping local, you might consider asking the owner if they are willing to gift wrap or mail your items for you. You might get these extra services for free or at the very least save yourself a trip to the post office. Many small businesses have online stores and already have the capabilities of packing your items in the best way so they don't get damaged. Even if they charge a small fee, it's worth it to avoid the hassle.
- Bartering - Assuming you have something to offer, small business owners are often willing to barter goods or services in exchange for their own. No one likes to support other small businesses more than, you guessed it, other small businesses. Are you a printer, tax accountant, marketer? Ask a small business owner if they are willing to barter goods and services. So you aren't a vendor, but perhaps you have something else to negotiate. Maybe you can offer non-professional services like babysitting, housecleaning or cooking? Strike up a conversation with your local business and see if there is anywhere that your services can fit in. You never know.
- Social media benefits - Small businesses rely a lot on social media for free advertising and marketing to get our names out. And because of the power of social media, many of us are willing to give discounts or free product in exchange for sharing our posts on your social media accounts. If your small business owner doesn't have a sign in their store or booth about social media rewards, ask them about it. You may have helped them find a new outlet for customers they hadn't thought of yet.
- Nonprofit organizations or donations - Another method small businesses utilize to get their name out is through donations. If you have a cause that is in need of monetary or material support, small businesses are a great resource. They often will donate their products or even cash as raffle prizes or direct gifts in exchange for radio, print or social media exposure. They are great resources for schools, needy families during the holidays, to help raise funds for victims of tragedy, etc. No matter how small you think your cause is, small businesses are always willing to help. All you have to do is ask.
- Exchanges or repairs - While it is always helpful to know the return or exchange policies of those you shop with before you buy, inevitably you may find yourself unhappy with something you purchased. It's always better to let a business owner know that you have a problem with something that you bought from them before heading to social media to rant. Small business owners suffer far bigger losses from unhappy customers than the big guys, so more than likely they will do what is necessary to set things right. My suggestion is to politely and privately share your concerns with them. If you show kindness and understanding, you will be surprised what they are willing to do to keep your business.
Well, I hope you all enjoyed my first blog post and found some helpful information on how to make buying local work for you. Happy SMALL BUSINESS shopping!