• December 24, 2014

Local small businesses seek big holiday boost

Niche stores focus on marketing unique services to draw customers

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Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 4:30 am | Updated: 9:07 pm, Sat Aug 3, 2013.

It is no secret the holiday season is extremely important to any retailer’s bottom line. If it wasn’t, big-box retailers probably wouldn’t expend so many resources to market Black Friday.

Big boxes know holiday shoppers can make or break their fiscal year.

While local small businesses do not have the resources of big-box competitors, the holidays are no less important to their survival.

This year, several local small businesses are getting creative to grab their share of the market.

Dale Koebnick, owner of the Bead Bistro in Killeen, opened her business, which sells beads for arts and crafts, about six months ago. She has a limited marketing budget, and it is a challenge for her to get the word out about her store. But what she lacks in resources, she tries to make up for with passion and originality.

“This is my first Christmas, and I am not expecting a huge crowd waiting outside of my door on Black Friday,” Koebnick said. “I am still learning my demographic and building a customer base. One of the things I am doing is offering Christmas-themed jewelry making classes. We just did one last week, and it was a success. We will be doing another one in December.”

Although she is a small-business neophyte, apparently Koebnick has good instincts. Marcus Carr, director of the Central Texas Business Resource Center, said the idea of offering a unique class is exactly the type of thing a small business needs to do to compete. He also applauded the synergy created by tying it into the holidays.

“To succeed in a niche business like that, you have to market what is unique about your business,” Carr said. “Don’t try to compete with the big-box stores. Look at how your business is different and then market your uniqueness.”

Carr said having the lowest prices is not always an advantage.

“If it sounds cheap, customers might think it is cheap,” he said.

Taking the idea a little further, Carr explained businesses need to be careful when offering specials around the holidays.

“When it comes to getting people through the door, you have to be smart about it,” he said. “I have seen so many small businesses give away the farm. They want to attract customers, so they put a product on sale and they shoot themselves in the foot by going overboard.”

Boosting sales

Erin Shephard, owner of Lone Star Pin-Up Photography in Killeen, is trying to walk the line this holiday season. She is offering multiple specials to her customers, but she is aware that she cannot give away too much.

“We are doing a big sale this year, but we don’t do that very often,” Shephard said. “Our customers know it doesn’t happen very often, and they have to capitalize quickly. Because we do it so rarely, we don’t feel like it costs us anything.”

Shephard is looking to exploit Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday to boost sales this year.

“We are closed on Mondays, but we will be running the same online specials for Cyber Monday that we ran for Black Friday,” she said.

Direct marketing

Grazyna Musick, owner of TruBlu Polish Pottery and Gift Boutique in Harker Heights, is not too concerned with Black Friday.

“Black Friday is not that big for small businesses,” she said.

“But we are really hoping a strong Small Business Saturday will launch us into the holiday season.”

To that end, Musick is focusing on a direct marketing campaign for her preferred customers.

“I have built up a preferred customer mailing list,” Musick said. “A lot of our specials will only be available to them. It makes it more personal.”

Like many successful small businesses, Musick depends heavily on social media to get the word out. She laughed when asked about her marketing budget.

“It is non-existent,” she said. “I use Facebook extensively to reach my customers and network with other small businesses. You can do a lot with a little using Facebook.”

But she warned it is not so simple.

“You don’t want to overdo it, and you don’t want to under-do it,” Musick said.

“But in this area, whether it is the holidays or not, you always have to work hard to build your customer base. We have a very transient population in this town. With a small business you don’t have the luxury of a marketing department.”

Step up service

Diane Drussell, programs coordinator at the Central Texas Business Resource Center, said it is common knowledge that small businesses need to offer superior customer service to thrive. But she said that need is accentuated during the holiday season.

“In an economy like this, they need to step it up, period,” Drussell said.

“I think as far as that goes, they have to be ready for the crowds. They have to have enough sales people on the floor. They have to have enough product on the floor. You have to set up systems so customers can zip through the line.

“Small businesses have to tap into customer service. Bad customer service at major chain retailers is a common complaint. You just aren’t going to get a lot of it at Walmart or Home Depot. For people who work at the bigger stores, lets face it, it’s a job. For small-business owners, it needs to be a passion.”

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