It’s easy to ignore what’s happening around your business as you try to concentrate on what’s going on inside, but connecting with other businesses in your area can have significant effect on your own sales.
It might be useful to join your local BNI or ‘breakfast club’ group to get your networking started, or look for local meetup.com or social media groups for small businesses or entrepreneurs. Or take a more direct approach and walk around your own town centre taking a notepad with you – make notes as you go, and you can use these notes to make contact via telephone or email at a later point, or better still, pop in to these businesses and meet with their teams.
The best connections will come from other small businesses who are not direct competitors but are working in a similar industry, i.e. an independent men’s clothing store establishing a relationship with a women’s clothing store in the same town. They don’t sell the same items but there is a massive opportunity for collaboration.
Putting in place a verbal agreement to refer business is a good first step but think about what else you can do to refer customers and help each other out. You could include their leaflets in your bags based on a reciprocal agreement for them to do the same. Make sure you are carrying out your side of the bargain and sending people their way too.
Partnerships with small independents feel the most natural but be open to consideration of how the larger organisations in your area can benefit your business. If you can reach the right person within a local big business, and you can offer something unique exclusively to their staff, it might succeed in getting a poster on their noticeboard or a message out on their internal communications. Gyms and health food stores are perfect for this type of collaboration as their products will have appeal to the HR teams of big companies, as the prospect of a healthier workforce and fewer sick days will have great appeal.
Many town centres have a BID running and membership is typically not optional. This means you’re paying for this service so you should look to get the very best value out of it. Go along to the meetings and observe how other retailers are working with the BID to get new customers and bounce around ideas for collaboration. Often BIDs work with retailers to create local shopping directories or seasonal offer booklets with vouchers for each store. These booklets are a great first step in raising your town centre’s profile as a destination. With the help of this literature and a bit of PR (which the BID should be able to promote) you and your neighbouring retail businesses can invite visitors from outside of your normal catchment area to come for the day and experience all that your town has to offer.
You could extend your reach beyond other businesses by contacting local clubs and community groups that could partner with you on promotions like sports clubs, schools, kindergartens and other groups. They could use your shop to connect with more people in the community.