ShopTalk

How to survive the summer slump

Barbara Green owner of Sensibly Chic Designs for Life

Charlotte business owner Barbara Green share tips for how to survive the summer when balmy temperatures and holiday travel take away customers, clients and sales. T.Ortega Gaines ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
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Charlotte business owner Barbara Green share tips for how to survive the summer when balmy temperatures and holiday travel take away customers, clients and sales. T.Ortega Gaines ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

It seems like a cruel joke: longer days but shorter lines. More people outside but fewer people in the door. Tourists on vacation but less money spent at the local mom-and-pop.

For many small-business owners, slower sales and shrinking business are the harsh realities of summer.

But there are workarounds to ensure your business doesn’t evaporate this season. Charlotte-area business owners told ShopTalk how they stay busy and bustling on those lazy summer days.

Get your stuff out the door

It happens at this time each year: The number of people wandering inside Sensibly Chic Designs for Life, a Plaza Midwood shop where Barbara Green sells kid- and pet-proof furniture, dwindles.

“The minute the kids get out of school, my business takes a nosedive into the ocean,” Green said. “People are spending money on vacations, and they’ve got the kids – they certainly don’t want to fix up their house. No one’s coming into the showroom. It’s like a morgue during the summertime.”

Green’s solution to overcoming the sales drought: pet festivals. Each summer, she attends outdoor festivals, where she interacts with customers and promotes her products. Last weekend, she networked at Charlotte Pride’s canine fashion show and Dogtopia’s charity dog wash.

She takes a jar full of dog treats to every event and offers festival-goers the chance to guess how many treats are inside. If their answer isn’t too high or low, they win a pet-proof sofa cover, she said.

“It’s really important to get out amongst the people,” Green said. “They’re not going to be coming to you. You have to be coming to them.”

Fidel Montoya, owner of men’s boutique Silverfly at the Metropolitan, understands that concept. Now’s the time he’ll take his inventory outside to draw customers unwilling to shop in blistering heat.

“We roll racks outside, we provide some music outside and lots of promotion,” said Montoya, who opened Silverfly Sport in South End June 6. “Sometimes, we’ll invite food trucks to our area to create more of a presence.”

Sponsor something outdoorsy

Dericus Scott’s walk-in clientele at Standing Ovation, his Matthews-based barbershop, tends to slow in June before picking up again in late July and August, he said.

To offset lost traction, Scott paid $600 to sponsor the Matthews Athletic & Recreation Association’s youth baseball team. For Scott, whose many adolescent customers already play on the team, the sponsorship displays his support for the community and keeps his business visible.

The deal came with a banner that hangs on a fence outside an athletic field and shows Standing Ovation as a sponsor. His business’ name is on a team jersey and, last month, he organized an event at the barbershop where a former Major League baseball player signed autographs.

“I feel like that’s a way of giving back to the community...a core value of my business,” he said. “I’ll probably be doing football this year, as well.”

Make major marketing moves

For entrepreneurs without marketing budgets or expertise, promoting their ventures “doesn’t come natural,” said Lisa Perry, owner of Concord-based Perry Productions, a digital marketing firm.

But novices need not fear. They can take steps to boost their marketing efforts and stay ahead of the curve when sales start surging again in the fall and winter, said Perry who will lead a summer marketing series in Harrisburg starting Friday .

Some of her tips include:

▪ Planning ahead: Use the lean weeks to map out how you’ll market yourself in the fall and winter, when the pace of business picks back up for the holidays. “You should be planning your Christmas in July,” Perry said.

▪ Making social media fun: Put stuff on social media that’s seasonal, informative and entertaining, “even if it’s not related to what you do,” Perry said. Whether you post about events in the community or share fun things to do this summer, followers and fans will consider you a resource. And take photos of your staff and customers and post fun things about them, such as their favorite vacation spots, she said.

“It’s not always just about ‘Hey, we’re having a sale,’” Perry said. “Building relationships (online) is just as important as selling.”

▪ Going back to school: Take online courses or tutorials that will educate you on new business or tech trends. Perry uses lynda.com, an online technology and business skills resource, but also advocates finding tutorials on YouTube and Google.

Give away cool freebies

Patrick Collins, owner of pick-up and delivery dry cleaning service Collins Cleaning Valet in Matthews and Charlotte, considers himself a conscientious businessman – one who’s polite, personable and willing to pay about $900 for giveaways customers will appreciate.

And here comes the summer, when he and his employees deliver 300 to 500 waterproof nylon laundry bags to would-be customers’ doorsteps. Inside each reusable, drawstring bag – imprinted with the dry cleaner’s logo and phone number – recipients find a sales letter sealed in a Ziploc bag and a discount offer.

Such advertising is “very effective for us,” Collins said, adding that he’s aware people these days are leery of door-to-door solicitation. That’s the point.

“Not a lot of people do it,” he said. “I think that helps us a lot.”

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