Merchants share holiday sales strategies

TRAVERSE CITY – Michigan retailers are projecting an average 4.5 percent sales increase over last year's uninspiring holiday season, according to the Michigan Retailers Association (MRA). The state's expected holiday sales increase matches the National Retail Federation's forecasted 5 percent rise in holiday spending nationwide, along with the International Council of Shopping Centers' prediction of 4.8 percent sales growth for the season.

"September was one of the strongest months of the year and provides some sorely needed optimism for the upcoming holiday season," said MRA Chairman and CEO Larry Meyer.

The Downtown Traverse City Association is planning four shopping events in December to help make merchants' holiday wishes come true. On Dec. 3, "Family Day/Kids' Shopping Day" will offer specials, gift-wrapping and activities for children, such as ornament-making, from noon until 4 p.m. A "Holiday Open House" with refreshments, in-store specials, entertainment, caroling and carriage rides takes place from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Dec. 8, and Dec. 21 marks the annual "Men's Night" event, including sales between 5:30 and 9 p.m.

The TC Business News asked downtown merchants what individual promotional and marketing activities they were implementing in order to attract customers this holiday season.

Adam Reid, owner, Cold Stone Creamery

"We're going to do coupons in the paper, maybe even some direct mail advertising. We're also offering gift certificates and gift cards during the holiday season. We're trying to promote our (ice cream) cakes more. We also have a new product line that's ice cream "to go," and we're going to see how it works out this holiday season."

Nicole Maile,

owner, Euphoria

"I might do another direct mailing before Christmas but, other than that, I'm sticking with what the DTCA has planned, with Ladies' Night, Men's Night, those different events. I've cut back a little bit on advertising this year."

Darla Stites, owner, What To Wear

"Our holiday postcards offer two opportunities to save. The first was for our Holiday Preview Sale in November. The other is for the 10 days before Christmas, when it'll be 20 percent off storewide. We're also involved in all of the events that the downtown association (DTCA) is putting on, so we'll be offering specials for the Women's Night, which is something new that they're doing this year. Also the Men's Night, Midnight Madness … so we try and stay involved in all of the activities downtown and offer specials and refreshments."

Phil Anderson,

owner, Diversions

"I'm still trying to decide about TV (advertising), which is usually my number one choice, not just for Christmas but for any time of year, because that's the only one of all the media that actually seems to bring people in-at least, people who come in and say they're here because of it. I know that we're going to be featuring certain items, like gloves. We're thinking about actually advertising that we're not just hats, because a lot of people think that we are. I'd like to do something on the beer and wine supplies, too, because that's a great gift."

Mary Daily, owner, Kilwin's Chocolate Shoppe

"When we do advertise, it's in there that we try to fit any budget and we do custom baskets and boxes with our handmade, quality chocolates. We are offering our buy one, get one free on ice cream all winter long, and that's already taken off very well. We're trying to get people in to sit during the holidays, have their hot chocolate and ice cream."

Craig Golden,

owner, Golden Shoes

"We do very little advertising, and the advertising we do is in the (Northern) Express and Traverse Magazine. That's it. It seems to work. People know that we service, and that's the name of the game. That's the best advertising for us."

Nathan Mahan, manager, The Camera Shop

"We're doing radio advertising and a lot of word of mouth. We're letting people tell everybody else about our business. That's a large majority of it. People talk about how good we are."

Wayne Schmidt, manager, Captain's Quarters

"We've always done specific mailings at times and made sure we're not out of stock on any goods… We continue to offer free gift wrapping for holidays and for birthdays. It's also our staffing levels; I think that makes a key difference; when people come in, we know who they're buying for, either as a friend or a customer of the store. We do some good radio advertising…we'll probably do another holiday mailer, too, to let people know, 'Hey, we have these items here…come on in!'"

Maurie Allen, owner, Captain's Quarters

"We're going to continue to utilize our exclusive licensing agreement with Grandma Betsy to provide hot, spiced cider to anyone who's interested in staying warm and fuzzy throughout the holiday season (laughing). That's all we're going to do; that's all it takes!" BN