“Community Engagement To Make a Difference” by Bob Phibbs via The Retail Doctor Blog

“Community Engagement To Make a Difference” by Bob Phibbs via The Retail Doctor Blog

Retailers play an important role in community engagement by supporting local causes, participating in local events, and partnering with other businesses. Retailers are the glue that brings the community together and betters it through cause-related marketing and collaborations that build strong connections within their local communities.

Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week to celebrate small businesses’ contributions to our country.

That’s because these hardworking entrepreneurs create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year. As part of Small Business Week, the Small Business Administration showcases the impact these entrepreneurs create.

This week, I’m sharing how they build community through various means. Let this showcase ideas you can use in your downtown association or retail store.

Retailer Collaboration

A group of merchants in Long Beach, CA, got together several years ago with a fun promotion involving Barbie. They hosted a unique event, and each business did something to tie into the gimmick: Barbie. You can see how each business contributed on the back of the postcard below.

Barbie postcard

I loved this promotion because so many times, businesses, particularly downtown areas, know they want to do “something” but do the tired, the tried, the boring. The “everything 20% off with coupon” or BOGOs (buy one get one free) are being sold to businesses large and small as the way to market your business and drive sales.

You can hear the customers as they open their feeds, grab the mailer or click the link, “Yippee – another junk sale where everyone puts their last year’s castoffs on racks, drags them out to the front of their beautiful stores, and people paw through them looking for “bargains.’ Pass.”

This Barbie promotion stood out because it was so different, visually eye-catching, and fun. Plus, they involved EVERYONE on the street, not just retailers but even the architects.

Let’s be honest, don’t you wonder what “Barbie-inspired drinks” would include?

They did a great job promoting on their Facebook and Twitter pages and through direct mail. The local paper also picked up the story.

With the new Barbie movie coming out this summer, I think several creative types could create an excellent community-building event. 

Cause-Related Marketing

The Great Decorate is an event held in Birmingham, Michigan, where merchants in the downtown development area compete to decorate Christmas trees and raise funds for a chosen charity. It started from one restaurant owner’s desire to provide a team-building exercise for her employees. In 2019, eight teams decorated Christmas trees and raised almost $16,000 for foster teens about to age out of the system. One child was adopted and got to spend Christmas Day with a family.

This past year, the event has expanded, and all merchants in the downtown area were invited to participate. The establishment that raised the most money for their tree also won a prize. The event is intended to bring people to the downtown area during the holiday season and create a festive atmosphere while giving back to the community. In 2021 they raised nearly $70,000, evenly split among 20 local foster teens.

The event raises funds and provides a support network for foster teens. That’s important because 20% of children in foster care will instantly become homeless after they reach 18.

To bring such an event to your downtown area, present the concept to your events committee or development authority and get their support. And don’t worry about starting small.

Here are some of the great pics from last year’s contest:

Radical Transparency To Share

Becky Okell, who co-founded Paynter Jacket, a UK company that sells clothing in limited-release collections called batches, shares what and how they have built the business. As she said in an interview for Buffer, “As an online clothing brand, [community] is not going to happen unless we really invest, try, and work for it. [But] building a community for us was super important [and] working in public was a huge part of doing that.”

But does building community work? They sell out each batch of their jackets in minutes, not months. 

They also have meet-ups worldwide to keep their community engaged and offer a podcast to answer questions. That’s important when they only make four batches of products per year. 

I particularly enjoyed the video they shared of how their batch number 3.5 went live in this video.

Helping Other Entrepreneurs

Tonya Cross, the accessory designer of Accented Glory, created a non-profit organization in Salisbury, NC, that hosts personal development and small business workshops. As the facilitator of these events, she understands the struggles of finding funding and resources to build and grow a business.

That’s why she spearheaded the Salisbury-Rowan Black Business Pitch Contest, reaching out to local black business owners for support.

Cross asked them to sow monies into the pitch winner and to act as pitch judges. She also contacted other black businesses and asked them to provide business services to the winner. Within 24 hours, Cross received verbal commitments for monetary and service packages for the pitch winner. The response was so overwhelming that the pitch committee could also award service packages to 2nd and 3rd place winners.

The pitch contest also allowed the audience to participate and vote for their favorite pitch, serving as a unifying force for the community and investing in a nearby business owned by a person of color.

Bringing Community Together

So many people forget about the daily job retailers and small businesses do to bring people together.

Teresa Lorenson with Bloom Where You’re Planted shared that they went viral with this picture of a 90-year-old great-grandpa in the corn pit at their pumpkin patch. 

Read about my participation in Lemonade Day and how it is teaching young entrepreneurs

In Sum

Retailers are pivotal in fostering community engagement and strengthening the bonds between local businesses and residents.

By participating in cause-related marketing, collaborating with fellow retailers, and supporting other entrepreneurs, they contribute significantly to the vibrancy and growth of their communities.

As we celebrate Small Business Week, let us recognize these creative entrepreneurs’ contributions and appreciate the unique ways they bring communities together – especially after the pandemic.

Their efforts create memorable experiences, drive economic growth, and ensure the sustainability of our local neighborhoods.

Do you want to stand out in a crowded marketplace? Do you want your downtown to be memorable instead of morose?

Do you want to gain fans and profitable customers?

Put your heads together to do something other than another sidewalk sale, and you’ll find you’ll make memories, entrepreneurs, and sales.

We are pleased to mention that the author Bob Phibbs aka the Retail Doctor (who has contributed to BRA with outstanding articles like this one and so many others that we have reposted over the past few years) has also contributed to BRA monetarily. We value his relevant retail insight and encourage you to learn more about his offerings by clicking on the following link to his website:

– Doug Works, Executive Director BRA

We, at Board Retailers Association, are here to help you to succeed by providing resources and programs that enable you to lower day to day costs, increase margins and create more remarkable customer experiences. We provide a voice for our Retail Members and will never share your information. BRA has been “protecting retailers and a lifestyle” for 20 years.

We, at Board Retailers Association, absolutely see the value in increased goodwill, customer loyalty, and customer experience by encouraging BRA Retail Members to align with and collaborate with at least two non-profit Community Partners every year. Our current list of BRA Community Partners in no particular order include @4Ocean, @boardsforbros, @theskateparkproject, @surfersforautism, @skateparkrespect, @surfskatescience, @grindforlife, @surfingheritage, @exposureskate, @lookbacklibrary, @createaskate, @skateshopday and @surfshopday. If you would like to be introduced to the awesome people behind any of these outstanding organizations, email and include “BRA Community Partner intro” in the subject line.

If you are not yet a BRA Retail Member, you can easily opt in to either Regular (no cost) or Distinguished ($100/yr.) Membership via this super simple join form