Winter months following the holiday season can be a difficult time for downtowns and small businesses. Unless your community is fortunate to have a thriving winter sports and tourism economy, retail and downtown businesses can find themselves slowing significantly. Businesses can use this slow time as an opportunity to plan marketing strategies and increase involvement with downtown revitalization and planning committees. Downtown leaders should use this time to get input on potential programs or events, and possibly grow your volunteer base. If your community is at a tourism peak, consider these suggestions for your shoulder seasons.
Take advantage of the slow times. Use this time to experiment with marketing techniques and plan on what works best for your community and downtown businesses. This may be a great time for businesses and attractions to incorporate group-saving coupons (see Constant Contact, Groupon, Living Social and Save Local). Encourage business owners to offer special discounts for customers who write Yelp reviews, check in on Facebook or Foursquare, or upload a microbrew on UnTappd to see if they can further capitalize on those social media markets.
Liven up your committees. In most small towns and Main Street communities, volunteers are the heart and soul of creating a thriving business district. Are there a few business owners who have expressed interest in being involved in committees, but are simply too busy to make it to your meetings? If now is their slow season, make sure they know about your committee meetings and personally invite them to attend. Be sure to send a calendar of all committee meetings and downtown events for the year as soon as possible.
Evaluate your commercial district’s past year. Plan for the first committee meetings of the year (if you have not already had one) to be focused on evaluating the past year, and setting goals for the next year. For example, event committees should evaluate both positive and negative attributes of each event, and determine if they should be changed or removed from your calendar of community events.
Don’t be afraid to remove an event that has not been successful and does not receive a good response from the community and business owners. With a fresh look and (hopefully) new, excited volunteers on your committee, there may be some great new opportunities to engage the community.
Consider new events to bring residents and tourists during the shoulder seasons. Think of holidays and events that happen during this slow period and see how you can incorporate that with a twist to make it uniquely yours. If your community wants to have a downtown event at this time in 2014, start planning now! A few possibilities for January and February include:
- Family-friendly Mardi Gras and Carnival, and incorporate some unique, local flavor. Ask your local thrift stores, vintage and costume shops to sponsor by offering deals to customers for costumed Mardi Gras events.
- Work with restaurants, salons, chocolate shops, florists, lodging, local wineries and breweries to plan a Valentine’s Day dream-date package to market to residents and potential visitors. Include in the package a list of other entertainment, dining, and shopping options so they have plenty of places to check out while in your town.
- Consider the lesser celebrated (Groundhog Day, Feb 2; Chinese New Year, Feb 10) or off-the-wall holidays (National Pie Day, Jan 23) that you might be able to have some fun with.