What role does your shop play in your community? Supporting non-profits in your area is an opportunity to build ties and to enhance your store’s reputation. It’s also great to be in a position to give back to those who support your business – and getting involved locally helps set your independent store apart from its big box and online competitors.

Some days requests for donations seem non-stop, and we know that we can’t give to every cause. Our shop gives a $25 gift card to a wide range of non-profits, because we know that a gift card will bring a customer into the store. Setting a policy in advance about what type of groups you will support, and which ones you don’t want to give to (in our case, sports teams) is very helpful when responding to requests.

We don’t usually give cash to a cause, however we do sometimes donate to organizations that our employees are active in. Some years we have sponsored a group team in the Komen for the Cure walk, and we’ve also backed staff members doing a fundraising event like this one.

Giving your time can have a big impact on your community. We do a lot of work to support our fellow merchants on Monroe Street, and I serve on a number of non-profit boards. Many shops encourage their employees to volunteer, even offering  incentives such as paid time off. A group volunteer project is a great team-building exercise.

We work with the University of Wisconsin to facilitate class projects. There is of course a real benefit to us, or to our shopping district, in having a student group focus its attention on a particular challenge we’re facing. But there is an investment in time required to mentor the students, and to evaluate their work.

The public schools in our area have asked from time to time to have someone come talk about retailing at the elementary level, or to participate in a job fair in a high school. And although it was difficult to match the career allure of the FBI agent who went ahead of me the last time I did this, it was a great opportunity to talk about the benefits of working in retail.

An article by Matthew Hudson for The Balance Small Business has some additional ideas for community involvement, and I’m sure you can come up with more on your own. Be sure to feature your good deeds in your social media, on your website and in the store. Being an active community partner can help you reach potential new customers, and make existing ones feel good about supporting your business.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder