Create a ‘Buy Local’ Blitz for Holiday Shopping

by QuickBooks

4 min read

How do you convince shoppers to spend money in their own community during the holiday season? Pool the power of local businesses! This strategy has worked particularly well for merchants in the city of Bixby, Okla., where this year they’re mounting the seventh “Buy Bixby” campaign.

When customers shop at one of 110 participating businesses in Bixby, they receive tickets for a chance to win cash and prizes, including the grand prize of $10,000. Local business owners share the cost of the advertising and prizes through sponsorships, and the increased sales-tax revenue benefits the city government, which coordinates the event.

“Buy local” programs allow small businesses to support one another at a lucrative time of year: The holiday shopping season accounts for 20 percent to 40 percent of many retailers’ annual sales, the National Retail Federation reports. But Bixby’s “buy local” campaign isn’t just for merchants who sell gifts. Participants this year include restaurants, banks, pet hospitals, dentists, a dance academy, an insurance agent, and a church.

“It actually helps us in our slower time of the year,” explains Kris Nirk, owner of the Tire Barn, which has participated in “Buy Bixby” since its first year. “Patrons in this community want a chance to win $10,000.” When they come in for a car repair, oil change, tune up, or another service during the “Buy Bixby” campaign, they receive 10 tickets for every $100 they spend.

To create your own “buy local” program for the holiday shopping season, consider these seven tips from Bixby:

1. Start early. Jeffrey Beltran, who coordinates the program for the city, began contacting potential participants in July. The early start allows enough time for local stores that are affiliated with larger corporations to work through approval processes. Participating businesses must pay their sponsorship fee in full by early October, before the city orders marketing materials. The 2013 campaign launched on Nov. 2, well before Black Friday.

2. Offer an option for every budget. Bixby has five levels for business participation, sponsorships which range from $150 to $5,000. At the most basic level, the company’s name appears on all event marketing pieces and is listed on the local cable television channel, and it receives a roll of 2,000 tickets; each additional roll of tickets costs $10. Higher levels allow a business to receive additional benefits, such as having its logo on posters and other marketing materials, a sponsor ad on the Buy Bixby website and a banner ad in the city newsletter, which goes to 20,000 residents. Participants at the highest sponsorship level also may bid to have their business serve as the location for one of the live radio-station broadcasts during the campaign.

3. Allow some flexibility. Businesses must issue at least one ticket per customer and no more than 100 tickets per $1,000 purchase. (Beyond that, they may choose how generous to be with their customers.) In 2013, Beltran says, the city hopes to have businesses distribute 2 million tickets. Johnson’s Stepping Stone Cafe awards 20 tickets per purchase; owner George Johnson says the average bill is $21. “People come in every day,” he says, and they are eager to collect their tickets.

4. Spread the word. Advertising for “Buy Bixby” includes print ads, direct mail, posters, brochures, a website, and cable TV ads. “People will seek out merchants that participate,” says Jamie Rangel, manager of Tea and Magnolias, a home decor and gift shop. She overhears new customers who come in during the “Buy Bixby” event say, “I never knew this was here.”

5. Extend the excitement. In its first year, Bixby offered one $10,000 grand prize at the end of the holiday shopping season. In 2013, the prizes include four $1,000 cash prizes, a $1,000 bundle of services from the local cable company, and $50 prizes awarded to 20 winners during each of the three remote radio broadcasts. The first 2013 broadcast was on the kickoff day, Nov. 2, and the second Nov. 23. The final day businesses will distribute tickets is Dec. 15, and the 2013 grand prize winner will be announced during the final broadcast, Dec. 16.

6. Ask partners to add to the prize pool. Businesses often increase the number of prizes by working with their vendors. “At each event we give away a prize about every two minutes,” Beltran says. During the remote broadcast on Nov. 2 local consumers also won T-shirts, a cooler, a grill, and a 32-inch flat-screen TV, he says. Doc’s Country Mart was so busy during that period that it had trouble finding enough shopping carts for the customers, he says.

7. End early. Bixby ends it program by mid-December, before people leave town for the holidays. “We don’t want to lose that crowd,” Beltran says. The winner has three business days to claim the grand prize — or another winner is drawn. If your year-end effort is a success, you can think about extending your “buy local” campaign beyond the holidays.

Tell us how your community encourages shoppers to “buy local” by leaving a comment below.

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