Here’s a thumbnail sketch of my home city in the summer: spectacular rocky coastline, pristine lakes, cozy shops and eateries . . . and miles of gouged-out roadways, not to mention highways and side streets strangled by cars from both natives and tourists.
No, my city isn’t all that different from many other places in the summer.
Ironically enough, summer — the season of peak potential for many small businesses — can also serve up maddening logistical challenges. Whether it is swarms of visitors choking highways and city streets, or construction crews racing to rebuild roads before the snow flies, summer often makes it downright difficult for clients and customers to get to your business.
But there are ways to fight back against the physical hurdles of summer. Here are seven:
Boost your visibility. No matter the time of year, it’s always essential to let clients and customers know that you’re open and ready. But that’s particularly true in the summer, especially if conditions make it more difficult to get where you are. If you advertise in the local paper, consider boosting the size of your ad. Play up the angle that you’re worth fighting the crowds or the backhoes to reach.
If, by chance, your business is at ground zero of heavy road construction, put up signs along the road that let drivers know you’re still around. “You may want to put the signs at the very start of road construction in both directions. Say that you’re open, give the hours you’re open and let people know that you’re worth the drive,” says author Marcia Layton Turner, who wrote “The Unofficial Guide to Starting a Small Business.”
Dangle creative incentives. Some shoppers would happily sacrifice a limb for even 10% off. Not to suggest wholesale amputations, but discounts and other pricing carrots are another way to lure customers through crowds and construction. Rather than simply offering lower prices, tie the bargains to the challenge of getting to you, such as “summer crunch coupons” or discounts that are only good while the jackhammers are rumbling.
Take your business to them. Although it’s always great when customers make it to your business, give some thought to going mobile yourself. If, for instance, you run a restaurant in the heart of a traffic-choked city or village, provide delivery service of selected items. (Ever try to drive to a Bar Harbor, restaurant around 5 p.m.? You’re likely to look like Gandhi by the time you get there.) The same strategy can also work for certain types of retail operations such as office-supply stores and other businesses where customers can phone in orders. “If something is keeping your customers away, providing a delivery service is an excellent way of solving the problem,” Turner says.
Accentuate the Web. If conditions make it difficult for people to get to you, make your company’s Web site more than an ancillary service. E-mail clients and customers and make certain they know that your products and services are just as accessible via cyberspace. (For an e-mail marketing solution, check out bCentral’s List Builder. For e-mail marketing tips, see this story.)
Plead for sympathy, if you really need it. Oh, the slings and arrows of heartless misfortune. You don’t have to reach Joan of Arc on the martyr scale, but encouraging a bit of sympathy for your business can occasionally prove an effective marketing tool. To illustrate — if, by chance, yours is a seasonal business that just happens to be located in the heart of construction no-man’s-land one summer, it might not hurt to drop a note to your local paper or television station suggesting a story about your plight. Indeed, Turner says she knows of a restaurant which was flooded with patrons after a story appeared detailing its unfortunate location within an expansive road construction project.
Be in the know about road projects. Don’t wake up one morning to discover a hard hat twirling one of those Stop/Slow signs outside your front door. Stay in touch with your local public works department so you know about upcoming construction projects and how, if at all, they may impact your business. Since those jobs are generally mapped out well in advance, you can usually pin down construction dates and the specific nature of the work (needless to say, a complete repaving is a good deal more troublesome than patching potholes). That way, you know what you’re going to have to deal with and can plan accordingly, from earmarking extra funds for advertising to planning specific marketing strategies.
At last resort, close down. It goes without saying that any work at home business that has to shut its doors because of seasonal traffic problems probably shouldn’t have been in business in the first place. However, if you run headfirst into a one-time construction project straight from H-E double hockey sticks — such as a five-mile road rip that runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day — a last resort is closing down your business until conditions return to normal.
Know, of course, that such an option runs the risk of alienating customers who may not return once you reopen. So, it’s essential to let everyone know that yours is a planned shutdown with an equally mapped-out return. Plan on a grand rebirth, with freebies, discounts and other goodies. Says Turner: “If you find you’re going to be completely cut off for a while, you might want to think about taking some time off. But make sure you have one big party when you reopen.”
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