Small Business Saturday started early in Lake Arrowhead, CA this year. It was a gift to both the merchants of Lake Arrowhead Village and to the community!
In early July the multi-level parking structure for the downtown was shut down for repairs. Can you imagine losing the bulk of your parking right in the middle of high season? It was a devastating blow to everyone. It was thought that the structure would be open by Labor Day Weekend, but that was not to be.
The structure did not re-open until Halloween.
Lake Arrowhead is a Southern California resort destination. To have this happen in the middle of summer was nearly unthinkable. The Lake Arrowhead Merchants Association (LAVMA) did what they could – they reimbursed the ticket price for anyone who took the local trolley to the Village, they rented vacant areas in the vicinity for additional parking, but overall, it was a big inconvenience.
Small Business Saturday to the Rescue
Earlier in 2017 I attended Main Street America’s Main Street Now conference with my Tourism Currents business partner Sheila Scarborough. There I met the Small Business Saturday team and I applied to be a Neighborhood Champion for Lake Arrowhead Village Merchants Association (I handle their marketing). As the summer wore on, I started speaking with the LAVMA board about how we could incorporate Small Business Saturday early in the Village to get the local traffic back once the parking structure was opened. I thought I would share what we have done as it is certainly worth your while to become a Neighborhood Champion and “officially” participate in Small Business Saturday.
- June: LAVMA decided to use the Small Business Saturday Passport Program idea and we slightly modified the Passport template that was provided to us in the early summer. (American Express gets you everything you need early so you have no worries!)
- Late September: LAVMA hosted a lunch hour meeting to brief all members about the upcoming program and that began to get the merchants, who had been deflated all summer, excited.
- A brief rundown of the Passport program: Passports would be distributed at all participating businesses as soon as the parking structure was open. LAVMA purchased special hole punches (a variety of shapes rather than the traditional circles) and passed one out to each business along with the Passports. For each purchase made, the business would punch that Passport once. It was decided that in addition to promoting the Small Business Saturday program all participating merchants would provide two “quality” items to be included in 2 gift baskets that would be given away the Monday following Small Business Saturday. One basket for the Passport with the most punches and one basket to a random Passport chosen from all turned it.
- Mid October: Small Business Saturday sent out 2 huge boxes full of promotional material for our businesses. Posters, postcards, shopping bags, doormats, pens, balloons – it was amazing what we received for being official Small Business Saturday participants. My favorite item though was the 72” x 48” banner that was included. I had it modified to show that Small Business Saturday was now in progress and had it ready to hang at the entrance to Lake Arrowhead Village as soon as the parking was open.
- Halloween: We got the word the structure was open and because of our pre-planning our Small Business Saturday Passport Program was ready to launch.
- Marketing: I purchased an $80 Facebook ad regarding the Passport Program which has been blanketing our local zip codes. We wrote a blog post on the website about the program and directed all social media to that blog post. We have made regular Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts that have had strong engagement. We also sent out press releases to the local media. Posters listing participating merchants have been distributed throughout the Village.
Results So Far
Our merchants are reporting strong sales for both weekdays and weekends. The community has been very receptive of the program. The Passport Program has allowed LAVMA to help the community understand that while they were certainly inconvenienced all summer long, our neighbors and friends who own our small businesses – the ones who support all of our local teams, causes, and organizations – suffered also. Thanks to becoming a Neighborhood Champion and official partner in Small Business Saturday, LAVMA was able to change the critical narrative regarding the parking structure into more of a positive discussion about the value of our small businesses to our community.
An unexpected byproduct of the Passport Program has been that a few merchants actually became LAVMA members so they could participate in the event. Yay!
Small Business Saturday is still a few days away, but thanks to American Express and the Small Business Saturday people, Lake Arrowhead Village has been able to bring people back to the Village with a fun, positive program and as a result we have been able to turn a bad situation into one that has been good for both our local businesses, locals, and visitors.
Has your community embraced Small Business Saturday? If not, you definitely should!