By Eric Groves

Holiday Strolls are all the rage with local business owners working together to shift consumer spending away from big box and online merchants to local merchants throughout the holiday season. These unique experiences work to unite the entire local community and provide a great framework for how to continue this great trend throughout the year.

A number of small business owners recently shared their secrets for holiday stroll success on Alignable.  Rebecca Melançon, Executive Director at the Austin Independent Business Alliance, in Austin, TX, reports on a fun event held in various locations around the city.

“We do a Holiday Window Shopping contest in our IBIZ Districts. We have eight districts around town with collectively more than 400 businesses in them. Because they are specific, defined streets, we can have some fun in them. Each business decorates their window for the holidays and sends us a photo of the window. We create an online poll for the public to vote on their favorite window, first in each district, then as a grand prizewinner from the individual district winners. We do posters with contest info and a QR code specific to the district that are posted in each window. We advertise this heavily to encourage people to come out, stroll the district, view the windows and vote. With the QR code, they can scan it while standing in front of the window and see the voting choices in the district. “

Melancon continues, “Whenever a customer votes, they are entered into a drawing to win stockings filled with gift cards and coupons that the businesses donate. As the winners are selected by popular vote, the competition really heats up. Businesses promote this through their network of customers to come vote for them so it gives AIBA lots of promotion too. We do trophies for all the winners and press photos of the presentation. The grand prize winner gets a free upgrade in their AIBA membership and a $400 ad in IndieAustin, our member magazine. The contest lasts from Thanksgiving till Christmas.”

Demian Woodrow is president of the Wellesley Square Merchants Association in Wellesley, MA, reports, “We have a very successful holiday scavenger hunt with over 60 merchants during our annual Holiday Stroll (a one day event). We hide a snowflake in each participant’s store. Families go into each store and when they find the snowflake we stamp it off on a punch card that everyone has. After completion they drop the punch card off at one central location and they are entered win a drawing for three lucky families which includes either a $25 gift card x3 or a product of that value from each participant. Each family that wins gets around $2000 worth of gift certificates from around town. This allows all the customers to at least go into each store which they might not have been in before and if they win, bring some extra business just in time for the holidays.”

Says Woodrow, “The families are so appreciative and one family made me even tear up last year. The father had lost his job and the kids didn’t know yet and they were able to get gifts for the family since they won all these gift cards. To me, that’s what it’s all about. So worth it!”

How do you measure the success of your event?

It’s important to recognize these events are designed to generate awareness for you and the other local businesses in the community and will not necessarily lead to phenomenal sales the day of the event. Since this is an awareness-generating event you should set your goals for the day as follows:

  • Make it easy for consumers to wander through your business and explore (hence the Elf on the Shelf or Snowflake contest).
  • Engage with consumers, thank them for coming to the stroll, and ask them about their favorite local businesses.
  • Share what you do and offer them the opportunity to stay connected with you by joining your email list.
  • Measure your success by the number of consumers you engage, the percent that you make a personal connection with and the growth of your email list.

Have an email campaign ready to go and within 24 hours of the event. Send a thank-you email to everyone that joined your list during the event and make them feel good for supporting the local business community. It’s also a great opportunity to give them a special offer or coupon that they can use during the holidays.

Happy Strolling!

Eric Groves is the co-founder and CEO of Alignable, the free social network for local businesses and organizations to connect and collaborate with others nearby. Eric has been a local marketing expert and enthusiast since 2001, authored The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing, and believes that local businesses are always stronger together.