In reporting on the results of the survey (see D&WC,December 1998), it was found that home fashion retailers, managers and designer/decorators, when questioned about retail advertising, stated they relied on community involvement as one of the best sources for custom and in-home leads.
Through involving yourself in your local community, you can create person-to-person contacts that establish relationships that will lead to business. Today, more than ever, consumers want to purchase from companies that support their communities. Recent studies show that when consumers select a retailer from among several that they perceive as equal, they choose the one who contributes to causes they find dear. And, community involvement gives you an opportunity to publicize your products and services to a new group of potential customers who may not otherwise see your ads or other promotions.
WHY IS COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT SO VALUABLE?
Many people say "success lies with who you know, not what you know." Actually "what you know" is also crucial to the success of any business, and not a subject to be disregarded. However, it is true that business is about relationships. Knowing people who believe in you and your work—people who will recommend you, refer to you and open doors for you—can make the difference between an unsuccessful enterprise and a successful business. Community involvement can help increase the quality and quantity in terms of who you know.
Some of you may say, "I have lived in the same community my whole life, so I already know everyone who is important." The danger in this attitude is that even if you are standing still in your community, many residents are coming and going. On average, in the United States, 15 to 20 percent of families move every year. Becoming involved in the community will help you get to know new residents and establish your presence as a leader in their new home turf.
Many small business owners say they don't like to combine business with personal relationships, yet I have noticed these are the very people who, upon meeting someone in a social setting, ask as an opening question, "What do you do for a living?" then spend most of their social time discussing business. The fact is that business and personal interaction often are closely intertwined. Community involvement is an ideal way to let people get to know you and your skills on a personal level, so they can use that positive experience to select you as their supplier in a business setting.
Others worry about the amount of time it takes to become involved in their communities and say these activities take them away from their businesses. In fact, community involvement should be considered as a part of your business, rather than something that takes you away.
There are many ways you can get involved in your community, depending on the availability of organizations in your locale, your budget and your interests.
In every community, there are many organizations you can join to increase the image of your business in your community. Depending upon your aims, interests and the type of people you'd like to meet (specifically, your ideal customers) these include:
• Professional and trade organizations such as builders and developers groups, associations of decorators and designers, architecture and preservation societies.
• Civic groups such as Rotary Club, Optimist, Kiwanis, American Association of University Women, etc.
• Business associations such as a local Chamber of Commerce.
• Networking groups that assist members in gaining sales by harnessing the outreach power of all members of the group.
When you join a local organization, make sure to become actively and regularly involved. Just signing up and being listed on the organization's roster of members won't get you much positive visibility. Participate in activities, serve on committees and assume a leadership role because this is how you and your business become widely known.
Show people you can get things done effectively and on time, and demonstrate that you have integrity. This professionalism translates to a positive image of your business and gives people confidence to buy from you or refer you to a friend or family member.
SPONSOR A LOCAL CHARITABLE EVENT
Act as a sponsor or co-sponsor of a local event such as a 10K race or food fair. Your name will be prominently featured in event brochures, signage and clothing.
Such events may attract a different audience than the one you normally reach in your advertising and direct mail promotions, so you can gain publicity with an entirely new potential group of customers.
HAVE A SALE TO BENEFIT CHARITY
Offer a special sale that designates a percentage of the proceeds to benefit one of your favorite charities. Then widely publicize the sale as a community event in support of a local cause.
Because your sale is supporting a worthwhile cause, you may be able to get free publicity in local newspapers and television, unlike the limited potential of free media publicity during a typical sale.
DONATE TO A LOCAL FUND DRIVE
Make a cash donation to local organizations, and when you do, make sure to donate in the name of your business rather than in your own name. Your donation will be listed in the organization's marketing materials and directory, and you'll get publicity for your business.
Donate a product or gift certificate for a charity raffle, auction or fund raising drive for a local cause such as a school, medical charity, children's organization or local public radio or TV station. Your donation will be featured in the auction brochure, and depending how you structure your gift, you can almost always create additional business. For example, if you donate $100 worth of your products, most people will use that $100 gift toward a larger purchase. You also can offer a free consultation, which may lead to additional business.
Try to structure your donations so you can publicize something unique about your business. For example, if you live in a yachting community, donate a gift that highlights your expertise in covering the unique windows on a boat. This will enhance your image as an expert in this specialty area.
VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME
Volunteer your time with a local organization. Not only will you feel good about yourself and your contributions to a good cause, but you will get a chance to meet many of the leaders of the community and share their dedication to those who support you and your business.
The publicity you receive from community involvement is virtually always positive, unlike advertising which can be viewed as negative by some people and neutral by most. Potential buyers who are attracted by your community involvement will want to buy from you because they appreciate your support of their community. They will be less likely to be driven by price considerations than prospects you attract from discount advertising or direct mail.
Best of all, community involvement can be a relatively inexpensive way of promoting your business. The cost to join and participate in most groups, make a cash donation to a charity, or provide a prize for a fund drive is usually less than the cost of one ad insertion in a local newspaper or the cost of a direct mail campaign.
Take a chance at getting involved in your community. It can make you well-connected with influential people in your community and can give you a good feeling to be giving something back to the community that supports you and your business.
Kay Pegram is founder of Kaymar Communications, a Playa del Ray, CA-based independent marketing services firm for companies in window fashions and other industries. Pegram's previous window coverings industry experience includes serving eight years at LouverDrape and as director of marketing for the Tempo companies.