Summertime in Gainesville means different things to different people. For some, it’s an opportunity to spend more time with the family, for others it means exploring our city’s beautiful natural spaces. For many of us, it’s largely business as usual, only with more available parking and less traffic to battle. If you’re a small business owner in Gainesville, however, it’s likely that the summer months mean a slowdown in sales.
A significant percentage of our population is made up of students who don’t reside in Gainesville during the summer. This, coupled with the number of people who spend large chunks of the summer traveling, makes it almost inevitable that businesses will see a decrease in foot traffic during the summer. Small business owners face an even larger challenge during this slow period, as they don’t have the cash flow cushion enjoyed by larger companies or chains to help get them through the slump months. So, what’s a small business owner to do? Luckily, there are several tried and true tactics that can help fight the summer slowdown, as well as clever “outside-of-the-box” ideas, too.
To risk stating the obvious, it’s a good idea to ramp up your marketing efforts during the summer to attract the attention of customers who remain in town. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this, either. You can offer a slight discount on first-time purchases for new customers, encourage repeat business by implementing a “summertime only” reward program or loyalty card system, or offer occasional incentives such as giving away small free samples (let’s face it, people love free stuff!) Best of all, all these ideas can be inexpensively promoted through in-store signage, social media posts and email blasts.
A great summer strategy for attracting attention and creating buzz for your small business is to promote a special in-store event. A great local example of this is the event held each summer at Sweet Dreams ice cream shop. About ten years ago, Sweet Dreams owner Michael Manfredi had the idea of hosting an annual, one day only “Crazy Flavor Day” event in celebration of National Ice Cream Day, which falls each year on the third Sunday in July (this year it’s on July 17th). During the day-long event, the normal Sweet Dreams offerings are removed from the case and replaced with 36 creative flavors, such as Maple Bacon, Chocolate Lavender and Lemon Basil. The event, always held at their location at 3437 W University Avenue, is promoted on Facebook and draws in tons of customers eager to sample the limited time only flavors.
In a creative twist on the long-used practice of placing products or services on sale at a lower price during slow times of the year, many businesses have begun holding “pop-up sales” to drum up business. The idea is to announce via social media that a short-term sale is going to suddenly “pop-up” sometime that week, but not to disclose the exact date or time. This causes potential customers to want to check-in at your store more frequently than they typically would in the hope that they’ll catch the special sale. The more often they visit, the more likely they are to make a purchase!
Not all tactics for maintaining business during the summer are short-term strategies. Some small businesses avoid seeing a major drop in sales during the summer by permanently positioning themselves not to rely on the fluctuating student population as their main customer base. For example, local restaurant Mildred’s Big City Food, owned and operated by Tara and Bert Gill, has enjoyed 17 years of success in Gainesville by largely catering to a demographic that doesn’t leave town during the summer. Mildred’s, located at 3445 W University Avenue, and their sister restaurant, Blue Gill Quality Foods, located at 1310 SW 13th, place a focus on providing high-quality, locally sourced menu items that change seasonally. Troy Weindorf, General Manager at Blue Gill, says that their restaurants enjoy a loyal customer base and place an emphasis on keeping repeat guests happy. “We cater to a clientele that cares about eating locally and organically. We provide menu items people can’t get anywhere else and focus on consistency and top-level service. That’s what keeps people coming back, regardless of the time of year,” says Weindorf.
A couple other things to consider:
Spend time during the slow summer months planning a marketing strategy to target incoming freshman and be ready to implement it as soon as the semester begins. These new students will be calling Gainesville home for the next four years, so why not get them hooked on your business right off the bat?
Slower times of year offer a perfect opportunity for getting around to renovations you may have been putting off. Take advantage of the extra time to clean, organize and spruce things up a bit!