How can a local business just starting out effectively advertise?
August 27, 2007 11:59 AM   Subscribe

My wife recently took her home-based and internet-based candle/incense/etc business into the bricks-and-mortar stage. We have a good idea on what to do for internet advertising, but need suggestions for effective local business promotion.

The store (link to the site and more about the store is in my lone Projects posting) is located in Arlington, TX, down the road from a well-trafficked shopping center with a Tom Thumb (grocery store chain), Starbucks, Blockbuster video, etc-- in a smaller shopping center that is also fairly active.

The shopping center the actual candle store is located in a moderately well-traveled, and is two stores down from a few other fairly-well-trafficked stores (a Chinese restaurant, a barbershop, pizzeria, etc). Business has been ranging from slow-to-okay-to nil. She's set up an ad with the Yellow Pages, and will have a coupon for the store in an Arlington Memorial flyer given out at the hospital that suggest local businesses to go to for gifts. She's dropped off some promo cards at the businesses in her immediate shopping center. But we're at a loss as to how we can more effectively advertise and get the word out to get people into the store.

Any ideas?
posted by ShawnStruck to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are there local colleges, coffee shops, live music venues and bookstores that may have bulletin boards or places to leave advertisement cards? How about alt-weeklies who can help you with relatively inexpensive program advertising?

I'd focus on the places where you are most likely to find your audience and let the business grow organically. But I'm not paying your lease.
posted by paxton at 12:09 PM on August 27, 2007

She needs to find out what the peak business hours are for all her surrounding businesses and make sure she is OPEN during them. The other owners should be more than happy to talk about their experience in the area.

Nothing worse than going out to dinner and seeing all sorts of interesting shops around that closed for the day already.
posted by hermitosis at 12:13 PM on August 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't know the city, but a good way to reach out is to send a card and some sort of free sample to businesses in the area that cater to people who may be interested. I'm thinking yoga and massage studios, therapy clinics, churches, anyone who may have a professional or even casual interest in her products-- brainstorm a list. Handwrite a card to each that essentially says, "New to the area, looking forward to providing x, y, and z to the community. See you around!" Enclose a few business cards. People LOVE free samples.

Are any of the small businesses nearby buying ads in local papers? Would they like to split the cost of one?
posted by hermitosis at 12:23 PM on August 27, 2007

In case it's not clear, I mean that you should send greetings and samples to the BUSINESSES, as their employees probably live nearby and will be curious.
posted by hermitosis at 12:25 PM on August 27, 2007

Response by poster: She needs to find out what the peak business hours are for all her surrounding businesses and make sure she is OPEN during them. The other owners should be more than happy to talk about their experience in the area.

She has that covered, and she has a pretty good relationship with the business owners in her immediate shopping center area.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:25 PM on August 27, 2007

Best answer: What about expanding/elaborating on the gift baskets on the web site? I assume you're including the URL in all your ads so people can look online.

Custom ones are great, but it might be a good idea to have some stock ones for certain price ranges. And promote the hell out of them around holidays like Christmas, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.

Are there local wedding magazines, newspapers or trade shows? Would that be a good fit for one of your home party things? You might test the waters by running a coupon in one of those.

Lastly, alternative newsweeklies are often a lot cheaper than the daily when it comes to ads.
posted by Atom12 at 12:34 PM on August 27, 2007

I know here in New Orleans, "neutral ground" signs along nearby medians are very popular way to advertise new and re-opened businesses. You can get coroplast (corrugated plastic) signs with little metal stakes for pretty cheap.
posted by radioamy at 12:52 PM on August 27, 2007

Best answer: I had a candle business, too (100% soy candles). We mainly sold wholesale to stores in the St. Louis area, and we hit the arts & crafts fairs as well.

Some ideas:
- Offer to fill jars/containers for people. Lots of people have old Partylite, etc. containers laying around and they jump at the opportunity to have them refilled. On your web site, you say that the candles are 70% soy-based. If the other 30% is still vegetable-based and not petroleum-based, the wax should clean up with soap and water making it easy for people to clean out their jars and bring 'em in. We charged 90 cents/ounce for refills.
- School fundraisers worked well for us, too. These are good because you have people collect orders for you and THEN make the candles. You need to be calling schools NOW though to get on board with the fundraising programs. Let the school choose 5 scents or so - it makes it a lot easier when you're filling the orders.
- We really liked wholesale accounts ... we got those just by walking in with samples and leaving them with the shop owners. It was surprisingly easy. There's no reason you can't still go after the wholesale accounts.
- Craft fairs are ok depending on how many other candle sellers are there. It's a good way to get your name out.
- Don't forget about marketing to brides and people holding baby showers. We made baby-powder scented candles in baby food jars for showers. Little votive-sized candles also make great wedding favors.

It's a tough, tough business. We got out of it because we moved out of the area, and we weren't prepared to make the financial investment it would take to scale it up to the next level. I do know people that are successful, but they typically work all week at the store and then are gone every single weekend to a craft show. Not a whole lot of down time, for sure.

Remember - it's August! People are not thinking of candles just yet. We found that we got 75% of our business between Oct. - Dec.
posted by Ostara at 1:10 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

She should distribute coupons offering 1 free votive, or a free pack of incense. Anyone willing to drive to the store for 1 free votive/pack of incense is likely to buy more.

Maybe she could work out a deal with the restaurant next door that she'll provide free candles for their tables if they'll leave a card on the table indicating where the candle came from.
posted by textilephile at 5:38 PM on August 27, 2007

Best answer: I was just reading an article related to this this very morning :) I agree with the comments about free samples, they really are the way to go in today's try-before-you-buy society -

Also does she have a reputable-looking website with all the information about her products and contact details? The web is the first place most people stop for information these days. If she is able to sell products through her site that would also help, I know you can set it up pretty easily and cheaply these days through PayPal or Shopify.

Also eBay is a fantastic tool for getting into the search engines as they have massive search engine power. By setting up a simple eBay store, listing some products, her business could be found online much more easily - don't concentrate on the sales through eBay so much but definately use them as a funnel to direct traffic to your actual business website. I think stores at eBay are about $15 a month.

I hope that helps! All the best :)
posted by katala at 8:12 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ostara makes some really valid points. (And has a fun user name.) I'm a soap maker, not a candle maker, but in discussions with local (DFW) candle makers, they seem to have the same business model that I do, which is to say fully 75% of our business is between October - December.

Something you might consider is visiting local office buildings with "gifts" for all the receptionists at the firms. If you can get the front person on your side, and displaying your product at her/his desk, you're halfway to making sales with the people who walk past it.

I've found that the local "craft" shows are a complete waste of time. Any non-juried show will be filled with vendors full of selling "made in China" crap.

Some of the national touring ones have good reports, but there's a lot of candle makers in the DFW area who will show up at all the ones that cost less than $300. Before doing any show in the DFW area, check or Trust me when I tell you that the vast majority of Dallas shows suck beyond all belief. I can't really speak to Fort Worth, as I've only broken out the passport and gone that far west once, and it was worth it. Unfortunately, some of the best shows are outside shows, and those are killers for people who make candles or soap.

Good on y'all for taking the risk. I wish you all the success and business that you can handle! :)
posted by dejah420 at 9:44 PM on August 27, 2007

Another way to reach brides would be at bridal shows. Typically they're in the winter (which will be a slow time according to other posters).
posted by Atom12 at 6:52 AM on August 28, 2007

This idea came from a trade magazine and was very effective for my Arts & Crafts supplies store. Write a press release and send it to all the newspapers in your area. Many smaller papers are happy to publish free copy.
You might start with an article about your store and follow up with others that might spark interest, like: tips & tricks, how to & history.

Also if you give some samples (or other efforts) for a charitable cause the other people involved with that charity will give generous "word-of-mouth" advertising.
posted by misspat at 10:45 AM on August 29, 2007

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