Customers aren’t the only ones who can support small businesses. From pop-up events to local directories, partnering with fellow business owners can help you both in non-obvious ways. Collaborations can help you get some much-needed perspective during an emotionally intense time, increase revenue, elevate your brand, and these days, enable you to continue serving customers.
It also has a ripple effect. Successful businesses are more likely to reinvest in their communities and hire people in the area.
If you’re looking for some ideas on where to start, below are a few inventive ways business owners are collaborating, connecting, and trying out new ways to reach customers.
Marc Magliozzi is the owner of Dozzino, a popular Italian restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey. He found a unique way to support another local business owner: Allowing her to set up shop in his empty restaurant.
“I’m kind of lucky that we have a corner property and I have windows all around, so we’ve been serving our food out the window,” explained Magliozzi. “But I have a friend who owns a bakery, Sugarsuckle, and she would bring her kits in… because she’s kind of out of the way. And customers would be coming into our restaurant getting stuff from her.”
For Magliozzi, the goal is about “making sure that not just us but everyone around us survives.” Businesses that have gone through difficult times may be more used to seeking support through the community. “We went through Sandy here in Hoboken,” Magliozzi shared. “I have that mind frame where I don’t want to see stuff like that happen again where places go out of business.”
>> Listen to Magliozzi share more about his experience partnering with local businesses on Talking Squarely.
Teaming up with a business with more space
If you don’t have extra room, find a business that does. Strike up a conversation to see if another business owner would be interested in partnering on a package deal that includes both your products or services, or creating a socially distant shopping experience.
Schuyler Bull has experience making customer events work during the pandemic. He’s the owner of Fort Orange General Store in Albany, New York, where he sells locally made home goods and other gifts with an eye on design. In the summer, Bull teamed up with a local farm to host a maker’s market, enabling shoppers to take advantage of the farm activities, like pony rides, while shopping at his outdoor market.
Creating a safe experience with another business can help you both tap into different customer bases. It also gives you room to create a memorable and comfortable event for people looking to get out of their houses.
Creating an incubator
Angel Gregorio, owner of The Spice Suite in Washington, D.C., doesn’t just sell decadent spices. She also has “a dream incubator,” a membership club for local Black entrepreneurs, whom she calls the SpiceGirls. The group hosts pop-up events at her retail store, and they also support each other through educational opportunities and other community initiatives.
“We have become known for the ways that we allow small Black business owners to share space with us, completely free of charge,” Gregorio explained on Talking Squarely. While Gregorio’s in-person events and workshops happened before the pandemic, they’ve also extended the program online. You can find a list of members and links to their businesses through a virtual marketplace she set up on her website, called the Spicegirlin Marketplace.
>> Hear Gregorio share her experience supporting Black entrepreneurs on Talking Squarely.
Similar to Gregorio, Bull also offers an incubator program for local makers, allowing entrepreneurs to rent a 10′ x 10′ space inside his store.
“By proving the viability of brick-and-mortar retailers in a downtown setting, our store has been an influence and example for four other businesses to open or relocate to downtown Albany,” said Bull. To date, a florist and an apparel brand have participated in the incubator program at Fort Orange General Store.
Hosting a socially distant pop-up
Pop-up events are a fun and flexible way to reach your community, whether you’re using another business’s space or your own.
Bull of Fort Orange General Store went the pop-up route inside his store, offering a holiday pop-up. He spread the event out over a month, enabling two vendors to sell their goods per day, instead of having all of the vendors cram into his store on one day. This allowed him to still use his retail space, while enabling customers to buy goods from all the vendors they would see in a holiday market in a typical year.
“The amount of positive feedback we received was overwhelming, as [local makers] have had no other opportunities to ‘set up shop’ all year,” Bull shared. “We had the space to do so safely and our customers were eager to support them, so it made for a great event series.”
Finding support through social media
Social media has been a saving grace for many businesses. For Cheryl Tisland, who runs Burst of Butterflies, a DIY pottery studio in Chandler, Arizona, it’s been especially valuable.
“All of the shop owners here have been pretty close,” said Tisland. “During this time we’ve been sharing and Facebooking, and talking to each other about how do you do this, and what can you do about this, just trying to figure out more ways to bring people to the downtown area here. And keep our businesses going and our revenues flowing.”
Tisland is also a member of a ceramics studio association, where she’s able to get support from other businesses in the arts who are pivoting. Virtual groups have given Tisland a space to get support, and they can also be useful for coordinating events, promotions, and other ways to get the word out.
If you’re not already a member of a neighborhood or industry business group, look on Facebook for groups that you can plug into, or consider starting one if it doesn’t already exist.
>> Listen to Tisland share more about community support on Talking Squarely.
Launching joint marketing initiatives
For some customers, it can be hard to know which businesses to support, especially if they don’t have an online presence. One solution is to build a directory or newsletter sharing neighborhood businesses with customers looking to buy from local shops and restaurants.
Ali Haberstroh created a directory of small businesses in her native Toronto, called Not Amazon. It started as a simple Google Sheet linked from an Instagram post, and it got big. The list turned into a website of 4,000 local businesses, and has led to increased website traffic and sales for many of the companies featured on the list.
Creating a directory of your own and sharing it across social media (Nextdoor in particular can be helpful here) can give customers a starting point. Register with your local chamber of commerce and neighborhood business associations to start building a network of other entrepreneurs with whom you can potentially partner.
A number of businesses have also found success in sharing products and services from other entrepreneurs on their social media accounts. Similar to #FollowFriday, this encourages your following to check out another business that might be relevant to them.
Collaborating with other businesses has helped the sellers highlighted deepen their connection with their communities. Turn to the business owners near you to start a conversation about how you can test out some of these strategies, and you both may get some emotional support along the way.
“Partnering with other businesses does not need to be complicated,” said Bull. “Simply providing each other the opportunity to collaborate, share, and grow is enough to make for a successful event.”
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