As small businesses across the U.S. enter a pandemic holiday season, Northeast Indiana leaders are finding new ways to encourage residents to shop local in 2020 with deals, discounts, and promotions.
Not only does buying local support the dreams and unique, creative ventures of area residents, it also boosts the local economy. A 2018 study commissioned by American Express found that for every dollar you spend at a small business, 67 cents stay in the local community.
Here are a few ways to take advantage of #ShopSmallSaturday in the Fort Wayne area—and keep shopping local throughout the holiday season.
About 50 minutes Northwest of Fort Wayne, leaders in Warsaw and Kosciusko County are putting impact investing to work with an innovative Buy One, Get One gift card deal. Buy $20 worth of “Kosciusko Cash” to redeem at more than 40 area small businesses, and you’ll get a free $10 gift certificate. That’s right. You’re essentially getting free money to spend locally, and you can redeem up to $100.
A variety of small businesses ranging from fitness centers to car shops and boutiques accept Kosciusko Cash.
So how does it work?
Rob Parker, President and CEO of the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce, says the deal is fully funded by the Chamber, which invested $50,000 of its savings to make it happen on the bet that if shoppers get free gift certificates, it would tempt them to spend more locally. Parker
So far, it appears to be working. In just over a week the promotion has been live, it’s generated more than $22,000 of spending in the local economy, Parker says. He estimates that number will rise to $150,000 once marketing ramps up and the holiday season gets into swing.
To encourage widespread participation, the gift cards can be redeemed at a variety of businesses, ranging from restaurants to fitness centers to boutiques, furniture shops, and car shops (see a full list on the Chamber’s website).
So how can you participate? Simply go to the Chamber’s website, and purchase gift cards online, which can be emailed to yourself or to a friend as a gift. Your free gift certificates will be sent via email, too.
While the system is paperless, Parker points out that shoppers must redeem all gift cards and certificates in-person, not online. Gift cards can be redeemed until 2025, but the free $10 certificates must be redeemed by May 2021 to get money into the community.
About 10 years ago, Parker says the Chamber of Commerce did a similar gift card promotion using a different vendor, and it resulted in fraudulent activity. This year, he’s confident that by taking the process in-house and using a system similar to Groupon, the Chamber will be able to ensure that merchants and shoppers alike have a good experience.
Just ask Elise Wright, the owner of Elysian Co., a women’s apparel, home goods, and gifts boutique, in downtown Warsaw. Since the Kosciusko Cash program began, Wright has enjoyed its top sales, redeeming more than $2,000 of Kosciusko Cash through her store in about one week. Elise Wright, styled by Elysian Co.
Wright opened Elysian’s brick-and-mortar retail store in November 2015 and joined the Chamber of Commerce about one month ago. When she and her employees heard about the Kosciusko Cash deal, they were immediately excited about it. Since then, they’ve been breaking down the concept for their customers on social media and telling their in-store customers about it at the cash register, helping them sign up on their phones and redeem free $10 certificates on the spot.
“Customers would look at us with stars in their eyes when we told them about the deal,” Wright says. “They love that they’re able to utilize it right on the spot, and it encourages them to spend more money in our shop.”
Elysian Co. specializes in women's clothing, home goods, and gifts.
Along with the personal benefits, Wright says she’s excited about the program’s potential to provide a lifeline for other small businesses in the area. While her sales at Elysian this year are surpassing year’s past and she's extremely grateful to her customers, she says the success is bittersweet because other small businesses are hurting. She encourages local business owners to utilize the Kosciusko Cash program and to make the most of their social media, which has helped Elysian stay top of mind for consumers.
“The main thing is just staying in front of your customer,” Wright says. “It’s really multifaceted being a small business owner, and you have to do a lot of things. Sometimes, the mundane things or the constant things, like social media, are the things you need to really focus on.”
In Fort Wayne and Allen County, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. (GFW) is running an awareness campaign called SHOP SMALLidays in 2020.
Aaryn Eady, Director of Investor Engagement, says that while GFW has historically participated in Shop Small Saturday by promoting its small business members’ discounts and deals, they’re extending the impact this year. Eady
“We wanted to make sure we extended our support past that one day and were intentional about supporting small business throughout the holidays,” Eady says.
As a result, GFW has created a SHOP SMALLidays webpage on its website where small businesses can advertise holiday deals through Dec. 31.
“That could be discounts for in-store purchases, curbside pickup, to-go service, online orders, or delivery,” Eady says.
The SHOP SMALLidays webpage on GFW's website.
For shoppers, the platform is intended to be a one-stop-shop for local deals, discounts, and information. For merchants, it’s a simple way to get the word out about their promotions. So far, Eady says a range of small businesses are taking part in the program, including:
· Early Childhood Alliance
· The Find
· GiGi's Genesis Health Bar
· NeighborLink Fort Wayne
· One Eleven Design
· Three Rivers Running Company
The SHOP SMALLidays promotion is open to all Allen County businesses with fewer than 150 employees. GFW members interested in participating are encouraged to contact Eady at [email protected], so they can submit deals and discounts.
To make the program accessible to non-GFW members, Eady's team is offering highly discounted GFW membership rates this winter, as well. Contact her for more information.
Along with GFW, other organizations in Allen County are innovating to support small businesses, too. The Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District’s annual Holly Trolley event on Shop Small Saturday has been extended to four Saturdays in 2020 to encourage socially distant in-store shopping. See Visit Fort Wayne’s website for more information.
The seven rural communities of East Allen County, known as the NewAllen Alliance, are also promoting small businesses with their own awareness-raising campaign called Be Local Buy Local.
The NewAllen Alliance is running a Be Local Buy Local campaign.
Kristi Sturtz, NewAllen Rural Liaison with the Alliance, says this campaign is an outgrowth of the group’s Stellar Communities designation from the state of Indiana, which has given them funding to accomplish multiple rural revival projects. As many of the area’s Main Street communities come back to life with small businesses, the Alliance wants to remind shoppers about the importance of buying local.
“If you can choose between spending money somewhere out of town versus going to your local restaurant or shop this holiday season, we’re encouraging you to support your community,” Sturtz says.
To get the ball rolling, the Alliance put together a list of 10 simple ways to support local in 2020:
(1) Buy gift certificates to local businesses and give them as presents to family and friends.
(2) Adopt an elderly neighbor or a struggling family and give a small gift basket of items from your local businesses.
(3) Purchase gift certificates and send them with a thank you note to medical workers, teachers, and other essential workers.
(4) Write a thank you note to a local business owner just to say thanks for being a part of the community.
(5) Share positive experiences at local businesses as well as their sales and promotions on social media sites.
(6) Give your server or store clerk a bigger than normal tip.
(7) Make a small donation to a local nonprofit that helps your community.
(8) “Pay it forward” one time this holiday season.
(9) Drop off a treat to any local medical facility in your community to thank them for all they do and to acknowledge the extra stress they are all going through.
(10) Say one kind thing to a neighbor, friend, or a stranger you meet in a local store.