Shop Local: Authenticity as a Key Holiday Promotion

Independent brick-and-mortar retailers have a key advantage over big box competitors: Their stores are rooted in their communities. Small business owners can leverage that sense of place and connection to people who live there in a way that’s very hard for Target or Best Buy to replicate.

On Nov. 21, retailers will promote local shopping with America Unchained! (and Canada Unchained!) events organized by local business alliances. The American Independent Business Alliance has a tool kit here.

By now consumers and business owners broadly recognize the buy-local movement and it seems to gain attention each year, particularly with the recent focus on local food. It’s no coincidence that the America Unchained! promotion comes the week before Black Friday. Small retailers want to get customers’ attention before the post-Thanksgiving sprint begins.

Yesterday I asked Becky McCray, author of the Small Biz Survival blog on rural and small town businesses, what local stores can do to boost sales during the holidays. McCray, who also owns a liquor retailer in Alva, Okla., offered several ideas that we’ll unspool in our ongoing coverage of the holiday retail season, but here’s one to think about now: focus on Thanksgiving instead of Christmas.

Outside of supermarkets, most chain stores don’t promote around Thanksgiving. They’ve long since started Christmas-related marketing, which begins earlier each year. Thanksgiving is not a gift-giving holiday. My sense is that it’s one of the few American holidays that still feels authentically about what it has always been about, and heavy-handed marketing around it would seem cheap.

So how can small retailers tie promotions to Thanksgiving? By marketing with authenticity, McCray says. “It’s a great time to emphasize family, to emphasize togetherness,” she says. This is a natural for food and wine stores, but it’s less about what the store sells than putting the products in the context of how people can use them “to provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere in their home right now,” McCray says. Even a hardware store can highlight this as a time to make small repairs to ready the house for guests. “Every retailer has some connection to people’s lives,” she says. “That’s why we exist.”

If you spot a creative local holiday campaign or Thanksgiving promotion, let us know in comments below or on Twitter.

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